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Training Your Dog Not to Pull on the Leash

  

By Jess Rollins
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Imagine your dog walking happily by your side, stopping when you stop, turning when you turn, and continuing with you past other dogs and people. He doesn’t pull on the leash, and he only goes potty and sniffs when you give permission. Leash manners is probably the most challenging thing you will probably teach him to do, but it is fun too and well worth the effort! Read on to begin to make this vision a reality.

Before we begin:

A head collar or front-attachment harness can help to discourage your dog from pulling, but he will need training to learn to walk beside you without pulling at all.

A front-attachment harness is a safe and easy to use no-pull device that is great for all dogs. Choose a head collar for dogs with aggressive tendencies or for those that need the maximum amount of control such as a small owner with giant-breed dog.

Gigo wearing a Gentle Leader head collar (left) and a Easy Walk front-attachment harness (right)

The front-attachment harness and head collar should only be used with leashes that are a maximum of 6 feet long. If the leash is too long, it is possible that he could get going fast enough to hurt himself if he were to hit the end of the leash abruptly.

A simple way to help your dog learn to walk without pulling on the leash is to stop moving forward when he pulls and to reward him with treats when he walks by your side. If your dog is not very interested in food treats, then you can a tug a toy or toss a ball for him in place of feeding a treat.

The steps below will go into more detail in order to help you to teach him how to have excellent leash manners.

Step 1:Walking with my person is delicious!”

  • Start by attaching your dog to a rope or leash that is 10-20 feet long (but not retractable) while he is wearing a standard harness. Get some pea-sized pieces of fresh meat or cheese to use to reward your dog and go to a familiar outdoor area like your backyard.

  • Decide whether you prefer your dog to walk on your left or right (left is traditional). Whichever side you choose, you will feed him his treat reward right by your thigh on that side. He will soon begin to stay near that side since that is where yummy treats appear!

  • Walk briskly and randomly around your yard. Whenever your dog happens to choose to walk beside you, reward him with praise and a treat next to your thigh on your preferred side. If he continues walking next to you, reward him for every step you take together. As he gets better at this you will not need to reward him as often. If your dog is completely uninterested in you, take him inside and then try again later at a time when he is a bit more hungry.

  • Practice until your dog is staying beside you more often than not.

  

Gigo walking by my side. Feeding Gigo a treat by my side.

Step 2: “It’s worth my while to watch where my person is going and go along too!”

  • Begin walking about your yard. Wait for a moment when your dog is walking off on his own, or is lagging behind to sniff or go potty. Say “let’s go” in an up beat voice, slap your thigh the first few times to make sure that he notices you and turn and walk away from your dog.

  • When he catches up with you reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk. If he catches up to you very quickly, give him an extra reward.

  • If the leash is tight and he does not come towards you, stop walking and apply gentle leash pressure. The leash pressure is meant to be a reminder of your presence and to make it slightly unpleasant for him to ignore you, but not to force him towards you. Praise him and release the pressure once he begins to come towards you. When he catches up with you reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk.

  • Continue to practice this Step in your yard until he is staying by your side most of the time and if he veers off away from your side, he comes right back to your side after you say “let’s go”.

 

“Let’s Go” and walking away.

Step 3: “I know when it’s time to smell (or to pee on) the roses”

  • Your dog needs time to sniff and relieve himself while on the leash, but it will help him to learn better manners if you decide when that will be. As you are practicing your leash walking with your dog, about every 5 minutes, at a time when you would usually give a food reward, instead say  something like “go sniff” and let him sniff around or go potty while he is on the leash. This is a privilege or reward, so if he pulls on the leash during this free time say “lets go” and walk in the opposite direction, thereby ending the free time.

  • When you are ready to end the free-time, say “let’s go” and begin walking.

Authorized sniff break!

Step 4: “Sometimes I really need to pay attention to where my person is going!”

  • Continue practicing leash walking in your yard as in Steps 1 through 3 but by using a shorter leash. Eventually reduce the leash length to 6 feet.

  • Practice walking extra fast or slow as well as stopping and changing directions. Reward him if he can stay by your side during these challenges.

  • Begin to reward him less frequently for walking by your side in normal circumstances. Continue to reward him for staying by your side when you walk in a different manner than usual (extra fast or slow, stopping or changing directions) or you encounter a distraction like another animal or person.

Taking it to the Street:

  • On your neighborhood walks you will apply the same techniques as you did in your yard, but now there will be additional distractions and challenges such as friendly strangers, squirrels and other dogs. Consider using a front-attachment harness or head collar for extra control and bringing fresh meat or cheese for use as treats.

  • Say “let’s go” and start walking. If he forgets about you or pulls, say “let’s go” and turn and walk in the opposite direction. Reward him with treats when he walks beside you. Be sure to reward him with extra treats when it was extra difficult for him to pay attention to you. Don’t forget to give him permission for sniff breaks.

Challenge:

  • Outfit your dog in a standard harness attached to a 6 foot leash.

  • Hold your dog’s leash and toss a ball or treat 20 feet away from you and your leashed dog.

  • If he pulls toward the object, say “let’s go” and turn and walk in the opposite direction. If he walks beside you while you walk towards the object, allow him to continue towards it until he reaches it and can take it as his reward.

  • At first, you might want to use a longer leash or a less desirable object to make this easier for him.

Troubleshooting:

  • If your dog is crossing in front of you, stomp or shuffle your feet a bit to make your presence more obvious.

  • If he is lagging behind a great deal, he could be frightened or not feeling well, so use lots of encouragement instead of pulling him along. If he is lagging to sniff or to potty, simply keep walking but be sure to apply only gentle pressure on the leash. Don’t forget to use lots of rewards when he does walk with you.

  • If after you’ve practiced these steps, your dog seems to be alternating between walking beside you and pulling, stop rewarding coming back towards you after he pulls and instead concentrate on rewarding him for taking a larger number of consecutive steps by your side.

Heel:

  • Teaching him to “heel” is useful for short periods when you need him very close to you and attentive to you. It can be very helpful when walking him past distractions like other animals.

  • Begin practicing in your home. Place a treat in your fist and let him sniff it. Say “heel” and take a couple of steps while leading him along with the treat in your fist near your thigh. Praise and reward him with a treat when he is following your fist with his nose.

  • Now, practice having your dog follow your empty fist. Continue to praise and reward for every couple of steps that he follows your fist.

  • Continue practicing “heel” and increase your standards with each session. Your closed fist will remain as a “hand signal” for “heel”. Try this outside and in more distracting circumstances.



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