Over the years, leash pulling problems are the number one reason people have hired me as a local trainer. Fortunately, there are relatively simple things you can do to have your dog walking nicely by your side. I’ll outline a few different tips here. If you’re lucky, these tips may be all you need to stop your dog from pulling on the leash!
The first tip I’ll mention involves using a prong collar. I no longer use these at all. I include it as much for historical completeness about this problem as anything else. There are still trainers that use them. But the rest of the post will describe much better ways. Ways that result in a good relationship between you and your dog.
The Prong Collar
The prong collar used to be the go-to answer to a working dog that pulls on a leash. I myself used one on my previous dog and introduced it to many past clients.
Used correctly you CAN get amazingly rapid results. I’ve seen more than one dog learn to walk calmly next to their owner after just one session with a prong collar. But, again, you’re training your dog to obey because they will become uncomfortable if they don’t. And you are really just teaching your dog to walk nicely when the prong collar is on. Dogs do not generalize!
Another drawback of these collars is how they are put on and taken off. Models like the one pictured require you to separate the links when putting it on and taking it off. Over time, this can weaken the collar to the point where a strong tug will pull the collar off your dog’s neck. Then you have an off-leash dog. At the wrong place and time, that can be very bad and dangerous!
If you insist on using this collar, I strongly recommend finding a trainer to show you how to properly use it. It should only be used as a training collar, never a walking collar. Some dogs will pull when they see other people or dogs. If your dog comes to associate pain with seeing another person or dog, over time they can become aggressive in these situations.
Learn “The Turn”
By far, this is my favorite way of stopping a dog from walking ahead of you. You can do it while they are wearing any collar or harness. And their reaction to this training can sometimes be hilarious! There might be a “real” name for this maneuver, but I only know it from talking with other dog trainers.
I’m assuming you are walking your dog on your left. If they are on the right, reverse these directions.
The method is very simple. When your dog gets a step or two ahead of you, step normally with your left foot, but then pivot your hips to walk in the opposite direction. Your dog that was 2 steps ahead of you is now 2 steps behind you!
My current dog is a high energy GSD/Husky mix. When I first tried this technique with her she didn’t like the fact that she was 2 steps behind and immediately hurried until she was 2 steps ahead. I planted my left foot and turned around again . . . and again . . . and again. 5 times in all. I felt like the proverbial whirling dervish! The last time she came right next to me, stopped and gave me “The Look”. I’ll still do this now and then and every time now I get “The Look”. And then she agrees to stay next to me.
Warning! If your dog is very smart you may need a long session of going nowhere. That’s because your dog may figure out that you want to go down the road. So if you reverse direction, they just need to cooperate until you reverse again and go back the way they know you are heading. After that second reverse, they are out front again. With my current dog, we had one night walk of 3 miles when we were never more than a half mile from home. Once I turned, I kept going in that direction. Like all dog training, you may have to be creative.
This is the best, and slowest, way to get your dog to walk nicely. Depending on your dog’s history it can even take months to get your dog to walk calmly at your side on a loose leash.
First, teach your dog to look you in the eye, either when you say their name or give a command like “look” or “watch”. Take your time. First get the behavior in your living room. Then move to other rooms in the house. Then move out to the front yard. Keep finding greater distractions until your dog will look at you on command every time no matter where they are. This process can take weeks. Take your time.
If you practice clicker training, this is a perfect application. First, wait for your dog to look in your general direction. Click and treat. After a couple times, wait until they look at you. Click and treat. After a couple times, wait until they make eye contact. Click and treat. You get the idea. This method is well described in Nan Arthur’s book, “Chill Out Fido“. In fact, she goes all the way through loose leash walking in this book.
You’re then going to build behaviors. Have your dog sit and make eye contact. Take one step away. Click when they move toward you and treat at your side. Use this to get them start sitting at your side and looking at you.
Once your dog reliably moves into the side position, take one step forward. Reward them when they move back next to you. Do this at least 10 times. Then take two steps. Repeat and build.
Initially, this should all be in a distraction-free environment. It’s amazing how much harder this will be once you move out onto a public sidewalk or parking lot. The final reward, however, is that you will have a dog that pays attention to you while you’re walking and remains at your side. Heaven!
This can be a great transition solution after you’ve gotten your dog to walk in the general vicinity of next to you and before you’ve completed their “watch me” training. This is a dog collar with an extra loop that goes around your dog’s muzzle. If they pull forward, it gently pulls their head to the side which makes them stop pulling.
The key here is gently. Because of the way that it is designed to work, it’s not the best choice for all dogs. If you have a reactive dog this leader could hurt your dog by wrenching their neck.
Our current dog came to us with no training and extreme anxiety. At first, I would not use this with her. But once I got her to the point where her only problem was a desire to walk a couple steps ahead of us, this leader has brought her right back to our side.
And you can still use “the turn”, described above, when your dog is still consistently pushing into this collar.
Pulling on the leash is a common problem with many dog owners. I still feel sorry when I see someone being dragged down the sidewalk by their dog. It doesn’t look like a good relationship between dog and owner. Plus it’s hard on the owner’s body!
And walks are important. It’s one of the easiest ways to give your dog a bit of exercise and really should be done at least twice a day. On weekends, our dog typically gets over a half dozen walks a day. Because she does walk well, so they are fun for everyone!
Short term, the combination of a gentle leader and “the turn” can quickly give you control of your dog on walks. Long-term, teaching your dog to look at you and eventually move with you can all be introduced using positive reinforcement. Soon, your neighbors will be asking why your dog is always walking by your side when their dog is pulling them every which way!