Breaking Bad Habits: Leash Pulling

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This is the second blog in a series of four that we will be posting each week in January for Train Your Dog Month.  In case you missed it, be sure to check out the first blog, Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs.  Read through to see what other behaviors Adopt & Shop trainer and pet safety coordinator Jessica J. will be covering this month!

There are many reasons why dogs pull on leashes, with the biggest reason being that they are simply excited!  Dogs need to get out of the house on a regular basis in order to get exercise and to stimulate their minds.  Going for walks also gives them opportunities for socialization and to familiarize themselves with their neighborhood, essentially creating a visual and a scent-based map in their mind so they can find home if they ever get lost.

2 dogs walking in the woods,

Alas, leash walking is not always the peaceful romp through nature with birds singing, a cool breeze passing through the trees and little Fluffy bouncing happily at our side.  It is not always what we imagine it will be when we first decide to get a dog.  Our dreams are short lived when we discover what we thought would be a pleasant, peaceful walk turns into a 30 minute stress-filled game of tug-o-war through the gauntlet that is our neighborhood.

Leash pulling might be something you can tolerate if you have a small dog, but leash pulling from a large breed dog like a Husky or Great Dane?  Well, walking dogs that big and strong could result in an emergency room visit, with doctors working diligently to reattach your arm back to your body!  Ha ha, okay,  your walks may not be THAT serious, but leash pulling is still a very rude dog behavior and one that definitely could result in injury if your dog pulls you over and drags you down the street.

woman being pulled by dog

So with that said, let’s put a stop to all of that annoying leash pulling, shall we?

Remember last week’s blog where I talked about recognizing what types of behaviors you may inadvertently be rewarding?  I hate to break it to you, but if your dog pulls and pulls and you follow your dog over to where he wants to go, you have just taught him that if he pulls you hard enough then eventually you will give in and let them have what they want.  Therefore, the golden rule for loose leash walking is: IF YOUR DOG PULLS, HE DOES NOT GET TO GO WHERE HE WANTS TO GO. Moving forward is the reward for walking without pulling, so your dog will only get to continue the walk when there is no tension on the leash what-so-ever.

Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

  • First, begin by walking by controlling the length of the leash with your left hand and looping the handle around your right wrist for safety.
  • In a happy tone of voice, tell your dog “Let’s Go!” and start walking.  Keep your left arm down by your side.  You should not be holding your left arm up causing tension on the leash.
  • If your dog rushes forward and pulls, IMMEDIATELY stop walking (even if you are in mid-stride) and do not move an inch until your dog comes back to you and the tension goes away.  The SPLIT SECOND that tension disappears, continue your walk.
  • Timing is everything when it comes to loose leash walking, so when you first start out your walk may look something like this: Take 2 steps-STOP-GO- take 3 steps-STOP-GO- take 1 step-STOP-GO-STOP-GO- take 5 steps-STOP-GO and so on and so forth.  Even if it takes you 30 minutes to walk 50 steps, remain consistent with your leash training and your dog will catch on to the game.
  •  If you are waiting for a long time and your dog does nothing to relieve the tension, turn around and walk in the opposite direction, tapping your thigh and encouraging your dog to come with you.  Praise when they follow and the tension disappears.
  • You can even use treats to reward your dog when they come back to walk nicely at your side!

woman giving treat while walking

Walking on a leash is not difficult to teach, but it does require consistency.  Therefore, when you start leash training it is important that you follow the training every single time you put the leash on.  If you have to be somewhere in a hurry, leave for your walk early to ensure that enough time is allowed to reinforce the training.  Even if it takes you half an hour to complete what should be a short walk, invest the time and do it right.  Dogs are smart creatures and they are always going to test their limits when you first start to teach a new command.  If you yield to them, they will learn that they can get what they want if they push you hard enough.  So be clear and consistent in what you are asking them to do.

What if my dog only pulls when he sees people or other dogs?

2 dogs displaying leash aggression

If your dog pulls and also lunges or barks at them, he may be showing signs of Leash Aggression, which stems from being under-socialized.  Socializing your dog is an extremely important and essential part of raising a well-rounded and mentally healthy dog, so you should consult a professional trainer about how to safely socialize your dog if they are already showing signs of aggression.  If you have a puppy or a dog who just gets excited in the presence of other people or dogs and pulls on the leash to greet them, simply turn and walk your dog in the opposite direction until they discontinue pulling and their attention is back on you.  When you have their attention again, you can turn back around and continue walking in your original path again. If the dog resumes pulling, turn around and repeat the process, essentially playing “Doggie Yo-Yo”.  This teaches your dog that the more he carries on and behaves inappropriately, the further away he gets from what he wants, and the better behaved he is, the closer he gets!

Tips to Improve Your Walks

      • Avoid jerking the leash as punishment or correction.
      • Make sure the collar is fitted properly. It should be tight enough so that you can only slip 2 fingers underneath it (not 3 or 4 or your whole hand).
      • Keep a hold of the leash at all times.
      • Keep your energy calm and neutral, praise your dog when they are walking nicely.
      • If you feel uncomfortable with your dog meeting strangers, it’s OK to tell them you would prefer they not meet your dog right now.
      • Keep your training sessions positive and fun!

puppy walking on a loose leash


With consistent hard work, you and your dog should be walking in sync in no time!  Once your dog is walking nicely on the leash, I encourage you to start opening up your dog’s world by taking them to new places and introducing them to as many people and dogs as you can. A dog that is exposed to the world they live in will be a more confident, emotionally healthy and happy dog in the long run.

Stay tuned for next week’s article in our Breaking Bad Behavior series on Nuisance Jumping!

What common “bad” dog behaviors would you like to know more about? Leave a comment below!

21 Responses

  1. carole ord says:

    My dog pulls and whines….ive tried going the other way..he whines louder and barks..he gets excited if he thinks we are going to the field or park..he is socialized..we gave two dogs..hes walked twice a day..parks three times a week…he whines in the car.when he knows we going to parks and the biggest problem is hes worse when he sees a cat…its exhausting at times…ive tried everything…..

  2. Julie M says:

    Hi, my dog is a nightmare when road walking as soon as we start off he’s on alert Looking out for cars, vans buses anything with an engine. He’s like a lunatic jumping around barking pulling to try to get to them. He’s already been clipped by a car but this still didn’t cure him. He is so bad that we can’t let anyone else take him out as it is too dangerous. We are willing to try anything to cure this a he’s a great pet apart from this.

    • Estelle W. says:

      Hi Julie: This is a very dangerous problem, not only for you and your dog, but for drivers of cars that may come into contact with your dog. Please consult a certified trainer with experience in working with dogs with a high predatory chase drive. Good luck!

  3. What do i do when my english springer continues pulling even though ive stopped walking and virtually chokes herself until shes sick?
    Because of this i only use a harness on her as dont want her to hurt herself.

  4. leanne says:

    Hi thanks for the tips in this blog. My issue is my dog trying to chase my cat I have her on a lead if the cat is around to try and prevent this butbif my cat is outside and she can see her she will jump at windows scratch the doors and just go completely bananas. She is only 6 months old and only wants to play (I think) butbits becoming a very annoying and stressful habit. Please help!!
    Many thanks Leanne

    • Estelle W. says:

      Our trainer says: The best thing you can do for the well being of you cat, is to be sure to have high spaces and go to zones that are 100% dog free. Tall cat trees or shelves can be a great way to achieve this. Now that your cat knows where he can escape, start working with your pup. Each time your cat is near, reward your dog for looking at you with a high value treat (such as hot dog or cheese). Start to ask for more and more eye contact when the cat is around. Then start to ask for more difficult tasks such as sit or down when the cat is in the area. Turn the visual of the cat into a cue to come to you and work on obedience. If your cat wears a bell collar, you can even use that as another cue to come to you by shaking the collar and giving a treat. Start very close together, then move further away from your dog as you shake the collar and give a reward when your dog returns to you.

  5. Suzanne says:

    My 4 year old 108lb lab/huskey is a good walker but as soon as we get close to the park where he can run free he starts to not only pull but jump up on us, he will start pulling backwards to try and get out of his collar and if that does not work he will start to paw at his collar and jump on us. He has 3 trigger spots that this happens and we really don’t know how to correct his, he is not interested in treats when he is on a walk so this kind of positive reinforcement does not work when he is good. We use a pinch collar on his walks which does work but once we get close to the field he has no concept of pain. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Estelle W. says:

      Hi Suzanne: Chelsea, our trainer, has this info for you:

      This is a very common issue that many pet parents face when bringing the pet to a known and loved location. Even if your dog is not food motivated, there are many ways to ensure positive training without using pain or corrective methods. The first thing I would suggest is start walking there more often. Many times when our dogs start acting up in a particular spot, we begin to avoid that spot. This just makes that area more novel ad exciting for our pups! Start walking there as often as possible.

      Along your walk, bring with you something spectacular (such as a squeaky tennis ball, a rope toy, or just some attention could do just fine!). Say your dog’s name periodically through your walk. As soon as your pup looks at you, they get the toy/treat/praise! Be sure you are practicing this well before you arrive near your trouble location. Now, as you are getting closer to the trouble zone, begin to slow down.

      Counter your dog’s excitement with slow steps and as much eye contact as you can get. Keep a positive focus by saying your pup’s name or a watch me command as you walk slowly towards the zone. If your pup starts pulling, jumping, anything… stop. Plant your feet and completely ignore your pup. You might end up standing there for 10+ minutes, but just completely ignore whatever your dog is doing. Make sure that you are just holding the leash in your hand, not pulling back against your dog. As soon as your dog calms, looks at you, or comes back to you, give some praise/toy/treat/anything good! And keep stopping every time your pup puts pressure on the leash until you get to your destination.

      This is a timely process, but it is worth it. You are still giving your dog that excitement, but teaching them how to contain it rather than punishing him for being excited. The most important part of training is that you and your dog are both enjoying the learning process.

      I hope this helps! Please write back in and let us know how you’re doing!

  6. Hilary says:

    I have a 6 month old puppy that pulls on the leash, especially on the way to the dog park. I always stop when she pulls and she will quickly come back to my side, or sit down and wait for me to start walking again – which is great! BUT, as soon as I take a single step, she bolts forward, sometimes so hard that she tumbles when she gets to the end of the leash (I use the easy walk, front attaching, harness). Walking is very frustrating and slow. Do you have any suggestions?

    On a totally seperate note, we seem to have potty issues as well. She is potty trained, but has these strange small accidents where she doesn’t even squat to go but pees in the air while walking! I know she’s potty trained because I’ll be gone for a few hours, where she’s left in a large room, and we won’t have any accidents (when I arrive home I take her out and she immediately pees). Thanks!

    • Estelle W. says:

      Hi Hilary: It sounds like your puppy just needs some more work and positive reinforcement on leash training. You may try reinforcing her good behavior with treats, which you give when she follows your command, stops and pays attention to you. This is slow work, but consistency will pay off. Regarding the peeing, it sounds like she is just too excited to take the time to make a full pee stop. I actually have a dog who does this and as awkward as it looks, it does make me laugh. When you see her start to pee, stop, and tell her something like, ‘stop and go pee’ and give her a treat. All the issues you have sound like natural puppy exuberance, so don’t be discouraged. Just be consistent, calm and remember to praise excessively when she does good. Good luck!

  7. Frieda Schwerdtfeger says:

    I have 8 yr old chihuhua & got very tired of her pulling me to smell all the time when I took her for a walk. I trained by counting to 5 & she stopped & would start walking again. Now each time she stops to smell I just count to 5 & she stops. She is a very smart dog. The only problem I can’t get her to do is pee on her pad at home. She will but, when she doesn’t get her way she will pee on the rug. I’ve had her since she was 6 weeks hold. I don’t know how to her to stop.

  8. Nicole says:

    My 4 yr old Yorkie has so many behavior problems because we adopted him I suppose. He knows how to go potty outside, but he still pees in the house. I know he has a small bladder- but he doesn’t know how to TELL me he has to go. This post will help me so much with his pulling. He also barks at moving objects? My horse, the tractor, etc. I think its cuz he is smaller than them. Any suggestions??


    • Annie M says:

      Hi Nicole, Your dog probably has behavior problems because his previous owners didn’t take time to train him. As Jessica J. points out in her first training blog, “dogs do not arrive in our homes naturally knowing how to co-exist with us in a human world.” He is a purebred terrier as well, so he is naturally hardwired with certain traits, Yorkshire terriers were bred to bark. All Yorkies were bred to make noise in some form or another especially to alert their masters to the fact that they found something. Jessica does cover excessive barking in this blog, and here is a great one about housebreaking. If your dog is still peeing in the house, you aren’t finished with the housebreaking process. These should help! Good Luck!

  9. Cris Kelsey says:

    I have a 5yr old Dobie that I got from the shelter 4yrs ago. I just moved to a place that is not fenced in. The old place was. My problem is that Sooner will not go to the bathroom on a lead. I even got 50ft of clothesline, so it would be very light weight. I have spent an hour and a half walking her and she will not go. As soon as I let her off she goes. She always comes back but sometimes she runs up to people and just by being a Dobie can be scary. She would never hurt anyone, but strangers don’t know that. Please help me. Thanks

  10. Cathy B says:

    Hi Charles, I have a similar problem with my blue heeler mix. She licks the floor and walls and drools excessively when she gets excited. I could also use some advise on breaking this behavior. When she does this and I cannot get her to stop with a simple correction, I put a leash on her and tie her to me so she has to stay near me. It does work, but I wonder if there is something more I can do to discourage the behavior all together.

    • Annie M says:

      Hi Cathy and Charles, I’m sending your behavior question on to Jessica as a topic for a future blog. Once it’s written and posted, we will share it on facebook and twitter so keep an eye out. Thanks!

  11. Glenn says:

    My 3yr old rescue Boston Terrier is aggressive towards other dogs. I believe it might be defensive, as she was kept in a cage for many hrs a day around other dogs who would torment her. The only dogs she gets along with, are my Daughters 2 Labs. I believe she would fight until she was hurt or worse. Any suggestions?

    • Annie M says:

      Hi Glenn,
      I’m sending your behavior question on to Jessica as a topic for a future blog. Once it’s written and posted, we will share it on facebook and twitter so keep an eye out. Thanks!

  12. Dianne says:

    My dog can go for a long walk and not pee, then pee in the house. We have a dog door and I walk him. How do I break the inside peeing?

  13. charles t says:

    My dog ,a male chawahwa ,terrier mix ,constantly licks the kitchen floor .It drives me crazy ,any tips ?