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Leash Training: How to Stop Your Dog from Pulling

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With the arrival of spring, you’re likely looking forward to spending even more time outside with your four-legged friend. 

Regular walks are an essential part of your and your pup’s routine. Walks are a great way for the two of you to exercise, explore, and socialize. Sometimes, though, an energetic pooch may pull on the leash a bit too much, making it seem as though the dog is walking us instead of the other way around. 

Proper leash training can reduce the risk of injury and turn walks into a more pleasant experience overall.

Why Do Dogs Pull? 

If you’ve seen your dog’s ears perk up at the mention of the word “walk,” you know how exciting those daily explorations can be. Dogs love getting outside to explore the world around them and socialize. Of course, they also love any chance to spend some quality bonding time with you! 

Additionally, all dogs have an instinctual prey drive, or desire to hunt and chase prey. In this case, “prey” can refer to anything from cars and bikes to other animals or even people. 

It makes sense that an excited, energetic pooch would pull at his leash once you hit the pavement. If he’s learned that pulling gets him where he wants to go faster, then he’s even more inclined to do so—which is even more of a reason to implement leash training. 

Being able to pull back on the leash isn’t a sufficient replacement for leash training. Dogs tend to pull against pressure due to something called oppositional reflex, so if you pull backward on the leash, Fido might just end up pulling even harder. 

Why is Leash Pulling Problematic? 

If your dog is exceptionally strong and heavy, leash pulling can be a safety hazard to you and your dog. You also don’t want to lose control when your dog chases after a car or animal; you also want to make sure that others feel safe and comfortable. 

If leash pulling doesn’t pose too much of a problem for you because of the size of your dog, you may be under the impression that leash training isn’t completely necessary. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Regardless of how strong your dog is, leash pulling can cause damage to the dog’s neck from the collar, leading to choking or strangulation. Additionally, the pressure placed on the neck could lead to ear and eye issues.

Skipping leash training can also lead to further stubbornness and behavioral problems. Letting your dog control the walk teaches him that he’s in charge, not you.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks

How to Stop a Dog from Pulling 

For starters, it’s best to switch from a traditional leash and collar combo to a no-pull harness. This way, even if your dog does pull, the weight will be distributed evenly across the body instead of centralized on the neck. Attaching the leash to the front of the harness is recommended since it will give you even more control over your furry friend. Every time you tug on the leash, he’ll turn slightly toward you as a result, reminding him of your presence. 

If your dog pulls on the leash, stand firm. Don’t pull back, and don’t follow. Instead, refuse to move until he comes back to you. This way, he’ll learn that pulling isn’t the right way to get what he wants. 

If your dog is prone to lunging or chasing after other objects or animals, be extra aware of your surroundings. Try to redirect his attention toward you, a treat, or something else entirely as early as possible (preferably before he even notices the “prey” in question). 

Try to reframe your thinking so that you’re encouraging your dog to “walk nicely” instead of “stop pulling.” Positive reinforcement is more effective than discipline, so reward your dog with plenty of treats and enthusiasm when he behaves. Eventually, he will learn that walking next to you/with a loose leash is a pleasant and rewarding experience. 

Leash Training a Puppy

With a few exceptions (such as dog parks and open spaces with well-trained dogs), dogs are expected to be leashed in public. Leash training is important regardless of your dog’s age, so it’s best to start as early as possible. The earlier, the better… so if you have a puppy, there’s no time like the present. 

Before going on your first real walk, let your puppy get used to the feeling of the leash or harness by wearing it around the house for short periods of time while playing or offering treats. You want your pup to associate the leash with fun and play; you want him to feel excited about wearing it, rather than constricted. 

You can also practice teaching cues for “come here.” Other basic helpful commands for walking include “sit,” “stay,” and “heel.” Once he feels comfortable with the harness and has a decent grasp on the commands, try the leash outside in the yard or on a short walk, keeping in mind that puppies handle exercise best in multiple short spurts, rather than a few long sessions. If your pooch looks like he’s about to run, signal for him to come to you. If he can follow this command, you’ll reduce the likelihood of leash pulling altogether. 

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