Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling the Leash

Why it’s hard to teach dogs to walk nicely on leash – and how to make it easier.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #15

How to Teach More Effectively

You may now be thinking all is lost. Not so! Here’s how to become a more effective teacher for your dog.

When you begin to teach polite leash walking, commit yourself to it. Pulling no longer gets your dog where he wants to go -- ever. Instead, use what he wants to reward him for doing what you want. Remember how artificial polite leash-walking is -- be patient and be generous. If your puppy takes a step in parallel with you, say “Yes!” to mark his good behavior, and give him a treat. Another step, another yes! and treat. My dog Juniper earned his breakfast during the first few months of his life by keeping the leash loose for gradually longer and longer stretches during walks. Permission to go sniff objects that interest your dog makes a great reward, too -- use it often. And change up the pace -- trot along with your dog now and then as a reward for keeping that leash loose.

How to Impose Penalties

Here’s a terrific exercise. Set up a goal for your dog -- it could be a biscuit on the ground, or a person she adores. With your dog on leash, take a step toward her goal. The instant she draws forward and tightens the leash, say “Oops!” and go right back to the starting point. Repeat, repeat, repeat, imposing penalty yards whenever your dog draws the leash tight. I did mention you’d need patience, didn’t I? Help your dog succeed by delivering treats as she keeps the leash loose on the way to the goal.

Some trainers advise coming to a dead halt whenever the leash gets tight, and just standing there till the dog returns to your side. I haven’t found this effective. Even though the dog isn’t moving forward anymore, her pulling has still brought her closer to whatever she was pulling toward. Many dogs stand at the end of the tight leash, huffing air and looking perfectly content. The penalty yards method works better, because it imposes a cost on pulling -- the dog winds up farther from her goal.

Equipment and Exercise

The right equipment can help decrease pulling, so your dog gives you more behavior to reward.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).