One of the biggest questions we get asked here at PittaPatta is about how to stop pulling on leash.
Walking on leash without pulling is something every pet parent dreams of, and something we can often subconsciously expect our dogs to want also. But pulling comes so naturally to our dogs - they are excited by the world around them and keen to interact with everyone and everything in it.
Pulling, however, leads to pressure on your pup’s body, the possibility of injury to you and a frustrating walk experience for both parties!
So it’s really up to us to address the problem and take a proactive approach to leash pulling training for dogs, both for highly important safety reasons and for more enjoyable outings as a whole. And it is possible - we promise!
The solution for how to deal with a dog pulling on leash is to combat the issue from two angles - specific training and using the right equipment.
Using both these principles, here is a 4 step plan for how to get a dog to stop pulling while on a leash. Designed to set you up for stress-free, enjoyable walking using proactive & positive methods that prioritise your dog’s wellbeing.
Not only can the right harness setup help significantly reduce your dog’s pulling from day one, but it will also serve to help set your dog up for success by encouraging them to make good choices. This has been the key in my own personal leash pulling training with my own dogs - and I’ve finally discovered the best possible solutions.
Firstly, a harness with a front clip option is an excellent choice for pulling dogs. This functions to naturally encourage the dog that being by your side gets them what they want - forward motion towards exciting things.
When your dog gets too far ahead, they will find themselves naturally unable to move forward, which acts as a perfectly timed reinforcement for returning to your side, even when you yourself might be distracted!
But often I found that using these with my own dog meant the straps would shift and twist. It not only caused discomfort to my pup but interrupted any progress in our training too.
So I set about fixing that by creating a harness specifically designed to be a safe, secure training aid. It’s called the 4Pooch Harness. A convenient and comfortable H style harness, that’s ergonomically designed to be the perfect training aid for loose leash walking, as well as adaptable for general use and adventures too. I’m so proud of how it’s turned out, and how many dogs it can help.
The second option that can help with dogs who might struggle with wearing a harness is a head halter. For dogs that are especially reactive, or nervous around harnesses, these can be a fantastic training aid. Using natural pressure points, similar to bit-less bridles used with horses, your dog soon learns that when he moves forward from the 'heel' or 'close' position the bridle will apply a slight pressure to interrupt the behaviour and allow you to recall their attention and position.
Now that you have an ideal set-up that will aid your training efforts, it’s time to place your focus on your training. No matter how or why your dog pulls, start from the ground up by changing the picture and starting in a quiet, familiar environment, like your own home, your yard or a quiet street. This sets your dog up to succeed and start you both off from a very strong foundation.
Start walking with your dog, along a corridor, around a room or up and down the same patch of street. Mark and reinforce anytime they walk or stand at your ideal heel position. Start building the idea that this is a great place to be.
If they pull ahead at any point, you have two choices:
Use whichever you find your dog responds to.
Either way, you’ll be teaching them that anytime there is tension on the leash, there won’t be any reinforcement involved. Ie: to get to the things they want, they need to be walking on a loose leash - whether that’s another dog, the park or just sniffing a bush!
Therefore, it’s worth being aware that loose leash walking is not just a fancy trick, but a safety precaution for both you and your dog. It doesn’t mean that your dog should never engage in reinforcing activities - such as greeting other people and dogs or sniffing on walks. These activities are essential for a fulfilled happy dog, but by using this method you can ensure these activities happen on your terms.
So use these events as reinforcers of their own. Does Fido want to sniff that patch of grass? He has to get there on a loose leash. Does he want to greet another dog? He must do so on a loose leash.
In other words, be sure your dog GETS reinforcement from loose leash walking, allowing them to engage in naturally enjoyable behaviours as well as practising good manners. This is the secret to a dog that enjoys loose leash walking.
Once the behaviour becomes reliable in easy scenarios - like quiet neighbourhoods, in your home and in the yard, it’s time to start slowly increasing the difficulty level.
This might mean inviting a friend over with their dog, if your pup pulls towards other dogs, and slowly decreasing the distance as you practice loose leash walking in their presence.
This might mean venturing to busier environments like city centres or busier parks, where there are more sights, sounds and smells to pull towards.
Remember to take small steps and increase difficulty slowly to optimise your dog’s chance of success. If you find your loose leash walking has gone out the window in a new environment, take a step back and assess how you can break the difficulty down into smaller steps.
Once you have worked through the above steps, you’ll find that loose leash walking becomes the norm for your dog in most scenarios. To really ingrain this behaviour and make it a skill for life, continue to proof, practice and maintain your training. Perhaps with a once-weekly dedicated ‘training’ walk, amongst other less structured walks.
Another top tip for proofing is to be unpredictable. Teach your dog that stopping, starting and changing direction are normal parts of a walking routine so that they don’t begin pulling towards familiar spaces or places they enjoy, and so that they know that forward isn’t controlled by their desire, but by your sense of direction.
So make these training walks full of changes, new spaces, new exposures and unpredictable movements to really solidify this fabulous skill.
I hope you found this plan for how to get a dog to stop pulling while on a leash is helpful.
In my experience, this approach has transformed my walking experience from one of stress and pressure, to one of endless joy. And that is mostly thanks to starting from a strong foundation with the 4Pooch control harness
Having equipment that acts as a reinforcer, even when you might have both hands busy, or be distracted, is invaluable in speeding up and proofing your training. So I'd highly recommend starting with upgrading your gear. And then it's time to get to work - you've got this!
If you have any further questions on how to stop pulling on leash, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to hear from you :-)