How to Prevent Leash Pulling with Your Dog

Even the biggest dogs can be taught to not pull when on leash.
Even the biggest dogs can be taught to not pull when on leash. | Source

Why Dogs Pull on Lead

For most dogs, no matter what breed, being on a leash means being restricted. If we think about it rationally, dogs who are allowed to run around our backyard and our homes when faced suddenly with the restriction of having to walk calmly beside us might find that a little restricting.

Looking at it from their perspective can give us a better understanding of why they do it. It doesn't make it any less frustrating though as depending upon the size of the dog, it can be downright aggravating to have someone trying to pull you down the street.

Case in point--this author has a "smaller" malamute (only 75 pounds) who literally could probably pull a wagon with people on it if you let her.

This behavior did not start until she hit the 1-1/2 year mark and suddenly she became adept at yanking adults right off their feet who weren't paying attention.

While Gabby's behaviors are probably at the extreme for pulling on leash, even people with small dogs sometimes have a horrible time walking their dogs because of their incessant pulling.

No matter what size your dog is, there are techniques that can be used to prevent leash pulling.

The key is finding which technique works best for you and which technique works best for your dog. Each situation is different and things like breed, age of the dog, temperament of the dog, etc. have to be factored in as well.

Pulling on Leash Can Be Dangerous

While most people seem to accept leash pulling as an annoyance factor, this author can also attest to the fact that it can be a dangerous behavior. My husband, who is not a weak man by any means, was completely thrown off balance by our malamute Griffin (who weighs about 90 pounds) and ended up falling down on the ground and almost hitting his head on a very huge rock. This illustrates the fact that a dog pulling to get "at" something (as in this case) can be a serious risk to the dog owner.

Pulling dogs are also hard on your back, your neck and your arms. As the story above shows, it can also be very dangerous if you happen to be pulled down to the ground where you can be road rash or you can break a hip or a wrist clanking onto the pavement.

It can also turn into a nasty situation should your dog be pulling because he or she wants to go after a cat, a squirrel or another dog or even worse, a person. If you cannot control your dog when he or she is on a leash, you have a gigantic problem that needs fixing.

We know that dogs like to pull and that they feel restricted on leash, so what's the solution to getting your dog to stop pulling while on leash?

Stop and Go Technique for Walking Your Dog

When you have a problem arise such as I did with Gabby or Griffin, I tried several different methods. See below for more suggestions on collars. After trying the collars, however, it did give me pause that I was not really curing the problem--just finding a way around it.

I did a lot of research and this technique really does work. However, it takes a lot of time and even more patience to perfect it. I will honestly say that we are still working with Gabby on this problem behavior and while she is better, she is not "cured" when we do not employ one of the collars.

You will need:

  • Dog
  • Collar and leash (regular)
  • Kibble and/or a few mini dog treats
  • Patience

Technique to Stop Leash Pulling:

  • Go to a somewhat non-busy place where there are no distractions with your dog on a regular (not retractable) sturdy leash
  • Start off normally with the dog on your left side or side you want to walk her on
  • Stop the moment the leash becomes taut and the dog is pulling--do not MOVE--as in AT ALL--merely stand still as a statue
  • If and when the dog comes back to you--go crazy with praise and offer a treat
  • Do it all over again until you can't stand it anymore--repeat several times per day

I have done this technique with Gabby and I kid you not that I had to stand stock still for 10 minutes the first time before she would return to me to figure out what was up. The second time it was 5 minutes and so on. She is very clever (as are most malamutes) and she has figured out this game unfortunately and most of the time decides not to remember what she learned in real-life situations on leash. So we employ both this technique and the collar.

Zigzag Technique for Walking Your Dog

This is another technique I have used with Gabby though I confess it is not my favorite simply because I tend to go around in circles and eventually get a little dizzy. Not to mention it is rather embarrassing as I have had people ask me what in the heck I'm doing to which I respond innocently "I'm walking my dog, of course!"

What You Need:

  • Dog
  • Leash and collar (not retractable)
  • Patience and then some--don't be in any hurry to get somewhere
  • Kibble or small treats

Technique for Walking Your Dog:

  • Start off as if you are going to walk a straight line from point A to point B
  • At the very first tug on the leash and if it goes taut, immediately stop
  • Cut in a different direction while giving a sharp tug on the leash and say "Let's go THIS way"
  • Keep doing this until you feel that the dog is coming with you--treating occasionally as you go and praising for him or her staying by your side
  • Hopefully it will not take you 10 minutes to get from one place to the other

The drawback to this technique is that it can become a game with a clever dog such as a malamute. However, eventually most dogs do realize that if they want to get to "there" they are going to have to behave and walk by your side--or continue going in circles.

Gentle Leaders work for some dogs to keep them from pulling.
Gentle Leaders work for some dogs to keep them from pulling. | Source

Collars and Harnesses for Leash Training

If you have a dog who is not responding to either of the above techniques and the dog continues to pull, you may have to resort to several different types of collars and behavioral techniques. Griffin is a model walker but it was not without a lot of effort on this owner's part. I get a lot of comments as to why I'm walking the biggest dog but it is because we came to an understanding about pulling.

I used the techniques above for Griffin and he did pretty well and was not the handful that Gabby is in many respects. However, Griffin does have a propensity to go after aggressive dogs. If a dog approaches that is growling or barking at him, he tends to get a little freaked out and starts trying to "finish things." Since that is not acceptable, I had to learn to control him. Easier said than done.

I tried a plain choke collar which I quickly discovered on a malamute is a joke. As much as I have never "approved" of pinch collars, I decided it would be in all of our best interests to get my dog's attention. I can say without a doubt that I do not have to so much as exert but a tiny tug and Griffin responds immediately to my directions. The pinch collar is a tool that I have learned to use to good advantage with him and it works to keep control of him when a mere regular collar does nothing to get him to stop pulling when he becomes overexcited. This same exact collar has no effect whatsoever on Gabby and she would probably crush her larynx before she would stop pulling.

The E-collar or electronic collar was also a tool that I used for the same reasons above. However, again, on both the dogs, it has had varying success. Griffin responded to it immediately whereas Gabby has mixed results. She responded very well to it training her to sit when you stop or when asked to do it--but it has not worked (yet) on her pulling. I do not even have to use it for Griffin after only using it a couple of times and training him to it. Remember that it is not a weapon to be used to subdue a dog but rather a training tool and if used properly, especially with big dogs, it gets their attention. That's all training is about really and getting them to do what you ask.

We tried the Gentle Leader or Easy Walk as some are called with Gabby and again, had mixed results. After weeks of training her with it, she still pranced about like My Little Pony and fought it to the point where she had marks on her muzzle when we got home. We felt that it was more of a challenge than walking her on a leash without it because we were afraid she would permanently damage her face.

The Halti no-pull harness has been the best thing we have found to stop this particular malamute from pulling on leash. The Halti hooks at their chest and by virtue of the fact that it goes under them and around their front legs, they cannot exert enough torque to pull you. Peace in the land at last.

No pull harnesses work very well for some breeds of dog.
No pull harnesses work very well for some breeds of dog. | Source

Dogs Pulling is a Natural Behavior

When all is said and done, it should be remembered that pulling is a very natural dog behavior. For instance, my dogs are absolutely born to pull. However, when forced into the situation of obedience and acknowledging that there are times for "appropriate" pulling and times for not appropriate pulling, they either rise to the occasion or they test the limits. Let me illustrate.

We train our dogs to pull a sled or pull on a scooter or a bike, to literally pull in harness. We give them commands like "let's go," "pull," etc. It is quite another thing though when we just put on tennis shoes and say "let's go for a walk" and need to have them behave for 2 or 3 miles walking on a leash--with the expectation that there will be NO pulling. It definitely is a training moment.

It can be done of course but the owner (the alpha) must have patience and a pretty good sense of humor if you're working with breeds such as malamutes. Dogs are clever anyway but some breeds can try to beat you at your own game if you're not careful. The important thing to remember is that you're in charge and they should be expected to do what you tell them to do. No matter how long it takes to get the point across!

Depending on the severity of the problem or the size of your dog, you'll find that different techniques work better for you. There is no one perfect technique. Every breed is different as well and approaches leash walking uniquely. The only underlying component that must be present in all styles of dog training (in whatever arena) is patience. That plus consistency will pay off in the end.

As evidenced by my own experiences, it is possible that a dog will try and test you again and again in a certain behavior and see if they can get away with it. Change is good and lifetime learning is something I believe in heartily. So if one technique seems to no longer be working, switch to another that does work. The most important thing is to not let a dog become used to getting away with bad or unwanted behaviors. They can prove dangerous for both the dog and the human attached to the leash.

No matter how you do it, you can prevent leash pulling.
No matter how you do it, you can prevent leash pulling. | Source

No Pull Harness Demonstration

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Comments 21 comments

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Kelly--that is hilarious~! You and us both as Gabby has definitely given us a run for our money since she got older. We had a lady stand in a parking lot this winter with her mouth gaping open watching my husband literally skate across the parking lot trying to control the little wench. I still cannot believe my husband didn't end up on his butt in the parking lot. My sister recently offered to walk her and I asked her if she had health insurance! OMG--the rest of the time she is really pretty great but walking...oy vey--I'm hoping it kicks in for her one of these days as Griffin really is a very good lad on leash for his 90-95 pounds. Why she doesn't get a clue--beyond me!

KellyG05030 profile image

KellyG05030 3 years ago from New England

I often wonder if I'm the only person out there who gets "leash envy" when I see someone walking down the street with their dog(s) following so orderly right along with them. Ha! I come back from a walk looking like I've been through a war sometimes!!

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Hey Leah--hope it works--just be careful you don't go in circles...I end up being a little dizzy with Gabby. I had a homeless guy watch me trying to get her into the pet store and he just yelled out at me "What in the heck are you DOING?" I was very embarrassed--oh well~ I'm hoping for a straight line one of these days!

ARF--Yes indeed, 30 pounds is a little better than 75 but it's all the same really--my daughter's puggle is only about 24 pounds and she can give you a merry "ride" on leash. It's one of those behaviors that seems to be a lifetime learning experience~~ Good luck to both of you!!

A r F profile image

A r F 3 years ago

I've been working with my puppy on "heel" since I got her 6 months ago using the stop and go technique and the zigzag technique. She's gotten pretty good if there are no distractions, but she is ADHD and very enthusiastic about life so she forgets to behave a lot. I finally broke down and bought her a halti, which help. Luckily she is only 30 pounds, otherwise I would be in trouble. Thank you for the great article, I'm going to try to be more consistent with the techniques you discussed.

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 3 years ago from Western New York

This article is VERY timely for us! We have a two year old Golden Retriever and he pulls at his leash constantly! We do have a harness that prevents him from doing this, but I want to try a different technique so we can simply walk him with a "regular" collar and leash. The zig-zag technique sounds like a great idea, and I am going to try it with Casey (our dog). He is a very compliant dog in nearly all aspects, but the leash pulling is his most difficult behavior.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Kelly--That's what I think Gab's problem is--she wants to be in front with Griffin no matter what and she just pulls and pulls until she gets there...of course even after she gets "even" with him, she starts her leaping lizard routine....the shoulder harnesses really have helped though SHE is the one who is frustrated for a change rather than us~! Good luck!

KellyG05030 profile image

KellyG05030 3 years ago from New England

Great article! I have a rather large Siberian Husky and a little Bichon Frise. The little guy loves to try and keep up with the big one, and he practically chokes himself sometimes. I think we may give shoulder harnesses a try instead of the neck collars.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Yes indeed--congrats--and be careful out there~

ellesvoice profile image

ellesvoice 3 years ago from Queen Creek

They really are! It's not fun having a 50lb beast pulling you around the block right after you've just found out your pregnant! Seriously, want to scream and have a fit over anyone that walks by with a dog and doesn't even think to let my obnoxious pup have his own side of the street! Oh well... maybe that's the infamous hormones talking?

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Ellesvoice--aren't they just the most clever beasts? I'm glad to be of help and good luck with the training--I've learned with my 3 malamutes who are EXTREMELY inventive that training is a lifelong thing though~ Two steps forward some days and 1 step back but it's all good--keeps me in training I guess as well~!

Tebo--I have found that eventually the dogs DO mellow with age and things that were so important seem to be less of a big deal which is good. We're hoping that My Little Pony Gabby eventually gets her brain in the mail and figures out she can get from point A to point B a lot faster if she would just BEHAVE. She is hell on wheels that one and for being so "little" she gives us a run for our money~! The funniest thing is that she is having a bit of a problem with the scooter and sled being BEHIND her--she can run like the wind but she keeps thinking (I guess) something's chasing her. Dogs are a laugh a minute--thankfully~

tebo profile image

tebo 3 years ago from New Zealand

Great hub. I had a lot of trouble with my Labrador cross when he was young with pulling on the lead and one time he pulled me across a road to get to a dog or cat - can't remember, and I thought this is dangerous. He is pretty good now and I do think it is due to age. I did employ the services of a dog trainer at one time and he suggested like you have to do the turn in another direction at the slightest suggestion of a pull. Wished I had kept it up!

ellesvoice profile image

ellesvoice 3 years ago from Queen Creek

I was referred here by DrMark1961 after reading and enjoying his article “How to Train a Dog to Walk Without Pulling on the Leash” and I must say, I'm glad he sent me here for more tips! As sweet and loving as my dogs are, they do enjoy testing my limits and their own boundaries, especially on the leash! The stop and go method is something that I've been trying with my chocolate lab for a while, with the incorporation of a sit-stay. It worked really well at first, but after a few days of being sick and not being able to go out and practice, it's like he forgot everything he learned! Let me tell you, that's the LAST time I'm going to use getting sick as an excuse to be irresponsible with my pups! Absolutely LOVING your tips, and super excited to start implementing them in our daily training sessions!

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Genna--how awesome~! I haven't taught my guys many awesome tricks like that--it's mostly just howling and carrying on in the great northern breed tradition~ Mine do go ape when it's time to go anywhere and people who are visiting are usually advised to get out of the way and meet us OUTSIDE~

Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

My sister has a wonderful dog that is part Australian cattle dog and something else...we don’t know what as of yet. When she brings out the leash for his walk, he picks it up in his teeth, and happily guides us out the door for his walk. He quickly drops, it however, when she instructs him to do so. This is a very informative and well-written hub; the photos and the detail are superb!

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks for stopping by Doodlehead--yes they do have their "things" don't they all?

Doodlehead profile image

Doodlehead 3 years ago from Northern California

Well---I didn't think it was possible to find a way for my dog not to pull; I will have to either get a harness or try the "stop" method. My dog tends to pull when he needs to go poop and he is trying to find the ideal location for this deed.

Nice video.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thank you Prasetio--always nice to see you too~!

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Hi, Audrey. Nice to see you again. Though I don't have dog but I really enjoy reading this hub. Great information from you. Very well written and completed with beautiful pictures. Thanks for share with us. Voted up!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Hi Dahoglund--great on the adoption--bless you~~ Yes indeed those northern breeds seem to go from one speed to the next within seconds but I wouldn't have any other breed of dog to be honest. I'll take Gabby's pulling along with all the good--she'll get it one of these days as her big uncle Griff did. I walk a lot better though without snarling dogs coming at us~~~

BJ--So many dogs do as they just aren't made to "heel" as it were. It isn't easy being the big dog sometimes but I seem to have a propensity for training these guys...gotta love it. I decided I'd better after seeing Bob go prone on the ground and almost get knocked out~! I always say the dog's only as good as his trainer~!

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

My dad, bless his soul, could have used these leash training techniques, Audrey. His large dog always took him for a walk!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I have a Siberian Husky that was rescued by a dog rescue organization. She was about a year and a half. She tends to pull like she is pulling a sled. However, at some times she walks nicely in a heel position. She apparently was trained at on time but it is hard to determine what signals what behavior.

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