Photo by Parker Knight
Pulling on leash is one of the most common behaviour issues in dogs. Leash training isn't that difficult yet many dog owners find it to be a very frustrating experience. Why do dogs pull and what can be done to fix the problem?

Why do dogs pull?

Pulling is in every dog's blood. When a dog is restrained by something, its first and natural response is to pull against it. Moreover, when you start walking along more quickly after your dog starts pulling, this is understood as a reward and, therefore, this encourages the dog to pull again and again. Whenever you follow your dog's type of behaviour instead of correcting it, you reinforce that type of behaviour. Last but not least, many dogs pull because they have never been shown pulling on the leash is unacceptable. They simply don't know there are other ways to behave on the leash.

How can I stop my dog from pulling?

First of all, you should make it clear for your dog that pulling results in no fun, no further walk, and no encouragement whatsoever. As soon as your dog starts pulling the leash, immediately say "No!" or another word in a clear loud voice, and stop walking at the same time. Your dog may be a little surprised and look back at you with a questioning expression. When your dog slackens off the leash, praise it immediately and give it a tasty treat. Start walking again only when the leash is loose, otherwise you'll reinforce pulling. If you walk a few steps without your dog pulling, encourage the dog by saying "Good boy (girl)!" and giving him or her a tasty treat. If the leash tightens again, or if you feel your dog has walked too far in front of you, say "No!" and repeat everything described above. When you do this right, your dog receives the following messages:
1) When I pull the leash, the walk doesn't continue.
2) When I don't pull, I receive praise and tasty treats from my owner.

It's impossible to tell when exactly your dog's behaviour will improve after you started following this approach. This depends on how early you started to work with a puppy, and how deep the pulling habit is if we're talking about an adult dog. You may have to stop & go many, many times before your dog gets the idea, but that will definitely happen eventually. You'll need to be patient and persistent!

Other tips

• Make sure walking time is not the only time you work on your dog's behaviour and obedience. Adopt the pack leader philosophy and follow it at all times when you communicate with your dog.
• Don't use retractable leads as they provide little control. Use a standard buckle collar and a strong lead.
• Command your dog to sit and stay while you attach the collar and lead.
• Always leave the house first, and invite your dog to follow you. If your dog is trying to guide you to the door or gets otherwise overexcited, take a break and ignore your dog for a while. It's impossible to train a dog when it's overexcited, so you'll need to wait until it calms down. Take the dog out only when it doesn't show unwanted behaviour, otherwise you'll reinforce the latter.
• When you start walking again, you may want to start walking in the opposite direction so that you become the one who leads, and the dog follows you on a loose leash. If you've walked a few steps with a loose leash, praise your dog.
• Stay calm and don't be frustrated if the process takes longer than you expected. Dogs don't respond well to anxious energy well. Patience and persistence are vital.

How can I prevent pulling behaviour?

To prevent your dog from pulling on the leash, you should basically follow the same steps and tips described above. Correct your dog's behaviour as soon as there are the first signs of pulling. It's always much easier to prevent bad habits before they settle deep in your dog's mind.