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How can I stop my dog from pulling on the leash?

Q: How can I stop my dog from pulling on the leash?

To improve your dog’s leash walking behavior, you first need to learn proper positioning, leash mechanics, and communication. You may also need a training collar and a stronger leash.

When teaching leash walking to your dog, insist that your dog remain in “heel position,” whereby he is on your left side with his right shoulder even with your left leg. Allow a grace distance of 6 inches to the front, 6 inches to the rear, and 12 inches to the left side. When your dog remains alongside you in heel position, keep your arms relaxed and your leash loose. Praise your dog for performing the correct behavior. To facilitate success, hold some food (treats, cut hot dogs, lunch meat) in your left hand to lure him to the correct position. Store extra food in your left pocket. When your dog achieves the desired position and provides focused attention by looking upward at your face, deliver extra praise and reward him with a small piece of the food. By keeping the leash loose, luring him with food to the correct position, praising him when he is correct, and rewarding him with food when he is both correct and attentive, we should train him to want to remain alongside you.

Nevertheless, some dogs are naturally compulsive pullers, easily distracted, or not motivated by food. In such cases, we may need to add mild punishment to the training program. First, check that your leash is loose when he is in position. A tight leash ironically promotes pulling; whereas, a loose leash reduces the probability of pulling.

If loosening the leash is insufficient, correct the dog with a sharp leash pop whenever he moves outside of heel position. Correct silently. Do not verbally admonish your dog. Restrict your verbal communication solely to delivering the initial “Walk” command and to praise. If your dog is small or generally cooperative a light correction rearward is all that is required. With stronger or more stubborn dogs, a harder two-handed correction may be necessary. After you correct with the rearward leash pop, the dog should return to heel position. Once he returns to heel position, immediately loosen the leash and praise.

If the preceding is insufficient and your dog still compulsively pulls, then you may need to improve your equipment. Leather leashes are usually best. Leather leashes are stronger and kinder to your hands than nylon, rope, cloth, or chain leashes and provide more dexterity than retractable leashes. We recommend 6-foot leashes for small dogs and 3.5 to 4-foot leashes for large dogs.

Pinch collars or Gentle Leader head halters are generally the most effective collar choices for modifying pulling behavior. A third potential choice is a “no-pull” harness. In comparison to the preferred choices, nylon collars and martingale collars are far less effective, dorsal attachment harnesses actually promote pulling, and chain collars (choke chains) are potentially injurious to stubborn pullers.

Once you change your leash and collar, continue the training program as before. If you are still having problems, to improve the likelihood of success, try first teaching your pet in a calm, low distraction environment, such as your basement, garage or hallway. When he is proficient inside your home, progress to your driveway. Next, start practicing outdoors off your property at times and places that are not likely to contain other dogs or other environmental distractions. Finally, walk him amidst other dogs. If you are still having problems, then consult with an experienced trainer or behaviorist who can effectively diagnose and treat the problem and who can provide productive feedback regarding your handling skills.

In addition, pulling can have many underlying causes that create or aggravate the behavior. The best resolution to the problem may require treating all the causes at once. If you wish a more detailed description regarding stopping pulling behavior, please read the long version of this article on the author’s website www.cpt-training.com.