It’s natural for dog to want to pull

The reasons dogs pull include:

  • Emotional: fear, anger, frustration, excitement
  • Scouting behaviour: needing to be ahead to see what’s there and if it's safe; wanting to be first
  • Information gathering: needing to check out the competition, potential mates, potential threats, territory zones etc
  • Social: desperate to get to other dogs and people
  • Mating: wanting to get to the boys/ girls or wanting to get away from them!
  • Not been taught how to walk without pulling

Impulse control

A dog will naturally want to get to the thing they’ve seen/ heard/ smelt/ remembered/ or even just think is there. They will assume you, as a member of the gang, want to get there too! So they pull, and if you follow them, you will inadvertently be rewarding them for pulling. Imagine if you wanted to get somewhere quickly because there was a time limit (a meeting, shop closing, car park ticket going to run out, a doctor's appointment, someone dodgy following you, trying to get to an old friend before they get on a bus etc). And imagine that same scenario if the person you were with didn't share that urgency and was going really slowly. It must be so frustrating for our dogs - we are too slow, and so unaware of all the exciting things on offer! Teaching them towards something without pulling requires a lot of self-control, or rather, we are teaching them to control their impulses.They might want to get to the park as soon as possible, but we can help them still achieve their goal at a slightly slower pace.

The more emotional your dog is, the worse the pulling will be

The aim is to be able to keep your dog calm under pressure, so they can think through problems rather than just reacting. Most pulling will be forwards, or towards something specific… but some will pull away from you (resisting walking in a certain direction), or lean on the collar or harness as you walk (always leaning to the side). 

Use rewards (food and praise are the easiest) to each your dog to sit and watch dogs playing, squirrels running, cars/ joggers/ bikes etc, and to approach people and other dogs quietly and calmly.

Whatever technique you choose, you need to do it ALL the time

Teaching loose lead walking requires a lot of patience, consistency and determination. You don't need to get cross or mean with your dog, you just need to constantly reinforce the behaviour you want i.e. walking without pulling.

When your dog pulls, you could try:

  • Waiting until your dog steps back/ moves to the side/ turns to face you/ walks toward you…then start walking again
  • Turning a circle with your dog, or changing direction
  • Making your dog circle round you before continuing
  • Rewarding them with food treats for walking by your side
  • Reward with food treats for responding to a recall cue
  • Rewarding with a tug toy for walking by your side
  • Rewarding with a toy for responding to a recall cue

If the pulling is too strong

If you feel your dog will hurt you or pull you over, or if their behaviour around other animals, dogs or people is unpredictable, you can use a body harness or head halter. These need to be comfortable and well-fitting, and you will need to use treats when putting them on and walking with them. Most dogs don't like head halters, but sometimes this is the safest option - use lots of treats and happy praise to get them used to wearing it. Using a training lead with two-point contact allows you to have more control.

When you don't have time to train

Although training should happen all the time, there are times when it's not possible. But it's important not to undo the work you've been doing, or it will prolong the training process. For example, dogs can be trained to walk well on a flat collar, but if you want to go off on a long hike in the countryside, then a comfortable harness might be a better option. The odd bit of pulling will not have a detrimental effect on the successes you've had with loose lead walking. This also works well for training puppies.

'Loose lead' doesn't necessarily mean 'long lead'

Although 'loose' lead basically means no pulling, whatever length of lead is chosen (including an extendable one), it's important to not assume that longer is better. This is especially the case when working with reactive dogs, as they are likely to lunge towards the trigger if the lead is too long and you're too close. Although it's best to work far enough away from a trigger that they don't react, sometimes surprises happen. A shorter lead will give you more options to walk away quickly without risk being pulled over, or your dog breaking free. But a 'short' lead shouldn't mean 'tight' lead - loose at all times is the goal!

(c) Sarah Crockford 2024