I ask this question when I first meet my students: “What is the most important thing you want to teach your puppy?” One of the most common answers I get is this: “I’d like to teach my puppy how to walk nicely on a loose leash, so she doesn’t choke herself and drags me across town on dog walks.” So, in this post, I’ll share my tips with you on how to stop your puppy pulling, so you can walk your puppy – and later on your grown dog – on a loose leash. It works for me, so I know it’ll work for you, as well.
In this article I’ll share the following with you;
- Reasons to Learn How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
- How to Teach Your Puppy to Be a Good Student
- Why Loose Leash Obedience Starts with “The Treat Zone”
- How to Use “The Treat Zone” as a Tool to Teach Your Puppy Good Habits
- How to Grow The Habit Moving Forward
- Learn to Distinguish – Are You Training or Going for a Walk?
- Complement Your Outdoor Training This Way
- How to Keep Your Puppy’s Attention on You
- Top Tools for How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
- Will You Help Me?
- FAQS on How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
A dog that pulls can be annoying, if not dangerous. Dogs of a large breed can easily pull away from or with their owner, causing all kinds of problems. Cars may dodge to avoid hitting the dog or the owner. People may have to change directions to get away from a dog who is seemingly out of control. It might not sound so bad, but what if a child then runs out in front of a car?
Even if nothing as terrifying as this happens, a dog who pulls on a leash is still annoying, if not painful, for the owner. A dog who pulls can aggravate medical conditions like arthritis and back problems and often the dog will choke herself. Not pleasant for either of you and not pleasant to watch. Even if it is a small dog, pulling will take away much joy both for you and your dog. And this means that pulling will often cause the owner to think twice before they walk with their dog on a leash.
This is such a shame! Think of how much fun and cohesion both the dog and the owner will miss out on in their daily lives. Exercise is important for the health of both people and dogs, so you need to address the problem. If you don’t know where to begin, don’t worry. Just keep on reading to learn how.
When I work with puppies, I start with several attention games, and for good reason. I’ve written about some of the attention exercises I use in an earlier post, so be sure to read more about them here.
These attention exercises are about getting your dog to pay attention and wait for your instructions. Puppies need to learn how to be good students. In fact, this is your foundation for all training to come – including loose leash walking. I can’t stress it enough – a dog or a puppy who pays attention to you is willing to learn, willing to please you, and eager to get the most out of your time together. Don’t underestimate why you want to teach a dog this skill, especially when it comes to how to stop your puppy pulling on the leash.
During dog walks, it will be apparent if you have not been training your dog to pay attention to you. Your dog will tug and pull because there is interesting stuff going on during your walks. There are many new smells and sights, such as cars, kids, and even other animals. All this can affect your pet’s behavior. For this reason, it is more likely your dog will be more distracted than usual. This means you’ll need to do an even higher level of attention training to be able to connect with your dog in these challenging situations.
However, loose leash training starts in a distraction-free environment and then slowly you’ll build the habit of loose leash walking, even when walking in the real world with lots and lots of distractions going on.
When loose leash training my puppies, I continue my attention work and encourage my pups to sit beside me instead of in front of me. I call this, “The Treat Zone.” This is a key step because it’s important that your puppy knows this is the best spot to get lots of praise and treats.
The reasoning behind this step is important. If you always praise your dog and give treats when she sits in front of you, your pup will naturally start to associate being in front of you with good things happening. This policy will not work when walking her on a leash.
Dogs are intelligent and quickly learn to associate being in a certain position, like in front of you, with good things, such as food, praise, and treats. This can easily become a big problem during dog walks, as your dog will naturally gravitate towards being in front of you.
Fortunately, as a trainer and owner, you can take advantage of how easily puppies learn. All you have to do is teach your dog that goods things happen when she stays next to you, rather than in front of you. This is establishing “The Treat Zone.”
Here’s how to do this:
- When your puppy comes to you, move around so when she sits, she’ll end up beside you, not in front of you.
- When this happens, look down at your puppy while praising her and giving her treats.
- After a while, your pup will feel like a superstar whenever she sits by you, so she’ll want to do it as much as possible.
- In case your puppy starts to sit a bit out of position from “The Treat Zone,” gently lure it into position by holding a treat over and a bit in front of the head until your dog sits just right. At this stage, give your dog the treat and lots of praise.
- When it becomes a habit, start with a small clap on your leg when your puppy sits down. Soon, this sound will equal sitting beside you, which will make the habit stronger. This variation of calling and clapping your leg makes it more challenging and fun in terms of training.
Important: Be sure to train often – repeat sessions at least three to four times a day for five to ten minutes at a time. Find a time when you have the privacy to focus on your pup. Sitting must be a reflex; something your dog does automatically. This means you must also have a reflex to look at your pup beside you, keeping eye contact often. Luckily, this is easy to work into your existing training schedule. Just make sure to focus on getting your puppy to “The Treat Zone,” before rewarding her during usual training and play.
Also, make sure to train without any interruptions until your puppy knows what to do. Only when your puppy knows exactly what to do you can add distractions, starting with a small one. When your puppy succeeds you can move on, slowly letting your puppy climb the “distraction ladder” one step at a time.
Many dogs pull because humans walk too slowly and because they are excited to be outdoors. A puppy’s “walk” is often treading, so the slower you walk, the more likely your dog is to get bored and pull. Keep this in mind when you set your pace, so you don’t have to follow your dog.
To take excitement into account before training, play with your puppy. You can also let her loose to run free in your yard for a while. This way, it’s much easier for her to calm down and listen to you during walks.
When your puppy sits beside you and not in front of you, start walking. Try walking backward while your puppy is walking forward. To do this, simply turn 180 degrees while your puppy stays put. This means your puppy will stay at your right leg instead of your left leg. In your right hand, have treats to offer your pup while walking.
By doing this, your puppy will want to give you a lot of attention as she searches for your next move. Concentrate on not walking into anything while offering treats and praise. Keep your view on the path ahead. Your pup won’t want to get ahead of you because all she wants in that moment is right in front of her – and so, the leash is loose.
If you’d like more information and a demonstration on how to do this exercise, here is a video to watch:[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdMVgCgmxqw[/embedyt]
Of course, this exercise is not fun when walking many miles with your puppy and it’s not how you should use it either. But this activity will give your puppy a strong understanding of where to place herself, which is just beside you with her nose at your leg. She’ll learn not to walk in front of or behind you, but right next to you.
Most importantly; be sure to keep the leash loose while walking.
When you have done this for a while, mix it up by taking just a few steps forward and then stop. Your puppy will be at your side because she has not yet thought of running or pulling. As you stop and look at her, your pup will sit because this is a habit you have you trained during your work on “The Treat Zone.”
This “tool” is important as stopping when you are out walking will give your puppy a habit of calming down and checking in with you, it’s actually your key to pause your puppy during your walks. And this tool you can use anytime, anyplace.
So use this tool when you’re out walking and your puppy suddenly wants to pull on the leash, you know, like if your puppy thinks it’s a race, or if a car drive by or if a cat runs out in front of you. Whatever the situation, just stop whenever your puppy pulls. Soon she’ll discover that by pulling she’ll get the opposite of what she wants. In time, your pup will learn that a loose leash is the better option.
But – and this is a huge but – you must always be consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull just once, you must train her not to do so at least 10 times to offset that mistake. And really, there’s no reason to let your dog pull that one time. It will confuse your puppy and you will get neck strain from walking her the next 10 times!
All of the above are all the necessary tools for how to stop your puppy pulling the leash: Be sure to use the attention training exercises and “The Treat Zone” concept. You also have the start-stop technique to help you calm your dog down. It also teaches your dog that to get what she wants, she must stay by your side and keep a loose leash.
Bear in mind that training your puppy is a process. It never stops, and if your dog is not getting better, she’s getting worse. Just like most people, your dog also needs a reminder and needs to practice.
By now, your dog knows to stop whenever you stop and knows that if she pulls on the leash, you’ll stop and she’ll have to stop, too. She knows that she must calm down when you stop and to stand still.
But to be able to do this in real life, she’ll need to practice these skills. And practicing this can be tough. When you are out walking, that’s precisely what you want – to walk – not stop all the time. So, even if you know it is the right thing to do, you often have to fight your dog’s wishes, as well as your own.
Therefore, it’s important to decide if you are going for a walk or if you are going to train your puppy before you go out the door. If you just want to walk or you are in a hurry, don’t bring your puppy. Leave your pup home, so you are not tempted to let her pull, simply because you don’t want to stop.
Fortunately, you can complement your outdoor training with these exercises at home:
- Find the best cookie; the one your puppy loves the most. Place it in front of her, approximately 15 feet or so away.
- Make your pup sit beside you and start walking towards the cookie with a loose leash.
- If she pulls, you will not only stop, you will take your dog back to the starting point.
- Every time she pulls, go back again.
- Only if your pup walks calmly without pulling should you move forward. This way she’ll learn that if she pulls, it will have the consequence of being even further away from what she wants. But if she doesn’t pull, she’ll get to the goal.
For this to work you must always be consistent. From the moment you start this training, you must never allow your dog to get what she wants by pulling. So never use a Flexi leash, because it rewards your puppy for pulling.
To vary this exercise, replace the cookie with a favorite toy, a favorite person, another dog, or another dog AND a favorite person – whatever it takes to get your puppy excited. Diversity in this exercise will teach your dog that no matter what is in front of her, she should never pull. This goes for training outside, as well. By adding distractions your dog will get better and better at controlling herself – and by this not pulling the leash.
Even though it is a simple skill for a dog to learn, it takes a lot of patience and consistency to teach, but hang in there. It’s so worth it in the end.
You may know how to stop your puppy pulling, but she is a puppy, so she’ll be distracted time and time again. Even when your pup grows up, she’ll still have to deal with distractions. So, how do you help your pup focus on you and what you want her to do?
First of all, understand that your puppy loves her walks with you. Some dogs love them so much, when their owner takes out the leash or slips on their walking shoes, they go nuts. It’s important to know when your puppy is in that state of mind because then she’ll have more trouble connecting with you. At first, try to stop your puppy from going crazy when you put on your shoes or take out the leash. Here’s how:
- Put on your shoes and coat as if you were getting ready to go out for a walk with your dog.
- If your dog goes crazy, go back into the house and sit down quietly for five to 10 minutes.
- Do this often until your dog understands that it is her actions in the hallway that make you go back inside.
- Even when your puppy has learned to calm down as you prepare for a walk practice occasionally.
So, now you’re ready to go. Your puppy is paying a lot of attention to you and is in the right state of mind. How can you keep it this way? Most importantly, you must not be boring, so don’t walk a straight line. Bring in a little Monty Python’s silly walks. If you don’t know about them, check it out here:[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV2ViNJFZC8&start=128&end=163[/embedyt]
Maybe you don’t have to be quite as silly but bring in some diversity on your walks. Walk at a different pace, take a turn once in a while, stop without reason and so on. This will ensure your puppy’s focus on you because she can’t predict what is going to happen.
Besides the diversity, both in walks and preparation for walks, what else can you do to help your puppy stay focused? Get your puppy’s attention often by asking her for a sit and then rewarding her. Asking for a sit gives your pup a job to do. Make your puppy sit beside you while talking and make the connection strong again before moving forward. When walking your puppy, don’t just go from point A to point B. Make lots of turns and stops while you pay a lot of attention to your puppy because this is also what you want and expect from them.
Another way to help your dog is by using the right collar. But, the right collar can be different from dog to dog. Some dog breeds are meant to be in the wild using all their senses and running a lot. My dogs are hunting dogs and highly sensitive to their surroundings. So, when I trained loose leash walking with them as puppies I used a chain choke collar.
A chain choke collar makes a distinct sound when pulled. Also, this collar tightens when jerked, so a dog both hears and feels a difference and this sound, as well as the tightening, helped my puppies remember what to do.
Some people think this kind of collar is bad for dogs, but I find this only to be true if you do not know how to use it. You must never pull continuously and you must never leave the collar on – this is only for practice!
When I used the chain collar, my puppies felt it tighten and that is because it was loose at all other times! So only when I jerked it slightly, they felt the collar. Now I use a slip collar, an all-in-one collar and lead, which I make myself out of leather. Occasionally I still give the leash a quick, slight jerk mostly upwards, only to remind my dog to come closer, go faster or slower, or to sit down. Where a normal collar will be tight around her neck all the time, especially if she pulls, this slip collar will loosen up every time she walks normally beside me – and she does. I let the leash hang loosely between us, so she often doesn’t feel the jerk, but feel the difference on the leash.
Last, but not least, always keep calm. It might seem as if you aren’t making any progress at all. You may even feel irritated when your puppy doesn’t get it right. But, you should never, ever take it out on your dog. Not when walking, not when training – not ever.
As in all other dog training, you must control your feelings. Understand and believe your dog doesn’t mean to be naughty – she loves to make you happy. Just show your dog what to do and teach her calmly, and with a lot of love and consistency.
I don’t correct my dog often because I don’t have to. Why? Because when we train, I do my best to keep her attention on me. I walk silly, turn, praise her, make sounds and run – all to catch her attention and keep her focused on me and our training.
Have you found value in this post? If you answered with a “yes,” be sure to share it with others. Share your best training tip on how to stop your puppy pulling, so this post can be so helpful as possible. Post questions if you don’t find the answers you need or just tell me how you liked it – It would be great to hear from you 🙂
Is loose leash walking the same as heeling?
No, loose leash walkers are content if their dog does not pull. The dog can be a little behind or a little in front or sniff a bit, but they should never pull on the leash. If you want your dog to “heel,” they should always walk right by your side. With heeling, dogs should keep their nose even with your leg. They should copy your pace, stop when you do and always pay attention to you. One is not more correct than the other, but to avoid confusing your puppy, decide which you prefer before you start training.
When is the best time to start training on how to stop your puppy pulling?
When you put the leash on a puppy for the first time, you must let them get used to it. But, after the first two or three times, you should start training. Puppies learn best before they turn 16 weeks, so do not wait too long. However, it’s a life-long training; a work in progress and you can start it anytime you want. It just gets a little more difficult as your puppy grows older. Remember to be consistent when you do start.
What is the most important thing to remember?
Never let your puppy get what they want by pulling. Stop and/or go back if they pull. Help your dog learn faster by being consistent.
What type of collar should I use to prevent my dog from pulling?
In my opinion, the collar does not make the difference – you do. Never the less, the right collar can help make a difference. As I mentioned, I use a slip all-in-one collar. When training young dogs I recommend a chain choke collar to teach them both from the sound of the chain and the feeling of the collar. The prong is a tougher version of this. Both help you control dogs, the prong even the largest, most powerful dogs. If you do not like chain collars, you can try a martingale collar. This is a lighter version and works roughly in the same way. However, it does not work quite as well on strong dogs.
If this is not right for you and your dog, you can try a gentle leader or a no-pull harness. Like the gentle leader, the no-pull harness will pull the dog to the side if they try to pull, and this makes it harder for her to do so. As you can tell, you have many options. What’s important is that the collar or harness you use matches you and your dog.
How can I correct my dog when it pulls?
The way you correct your dog is much more important than the collar or harness: A quick and light jerk of the leash will get you your dog’s attention. You do this not to cause your dog pain, but to remind them not to pull. Remember never to get irritated when you train your dog. The correction should never be more than a slight pop of the leash – that’s all it takes. If your dog doesn’t notice your corrections, you might consider changing the collar.
Can I ask my dog to lie down instead of sit?
Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter what you ask your dog to do. What you want is your dog to focus on you. If your dog is focusing on you because you ask them to do something for you, they can’t easily focus on anything else.
How do I get my dog to stop pulling towards distractions like children or other dogs?
It does not matter why your dog pulls. You must use the same method to stop the pulling each time. Never let your dog get what they want by pulling. Simply stop walking. Get your dog’s attention. Be consistent.
What if the dog pulls to another dog coming towards you?
Here it all comes down to how good you are at getting your own dog’s attention. Make the leash much shorter and go by the other dog, placing yourself between the dogs. This is just another way to make sure you’re always the center o your dog’s attention. If the other dog is still interesting, talk to your dog while jerking slightly at the leash, reminding them to pay attention to you and to walk beside you.