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How to Teach Your Dog Not to Pull on a Leash

Valerie moved from the country to the city with her dog and trained him for city life by not letting him pull on his leash.

Learn how to train your dog to stop pulling on the leash

Learn how to train your dog to stop pulling on the leash

What Makes a Dog Lunge and Pull?

Your dog may be pulling because he wants to get to something, like trash on the ground, or maybe he wants to say hi another dog. You may be refusing to go where he wants, or perhaps you're just too slow. Dogs are awfully strong, he may manage to drag you gradually over to where he's going. Once he's learned that's the way to get what he wants, he may keep doing it even if pulling hurts and chokes him. Dogs can be very determined!

Fear and Aggression Could Be a Factor

Or he may be frightened. He could be trying to run away from something scary, or he may be lunging at it to try and scare it away. What we call "aggression" in dogs very often starts with fear. They try to intimidate the scary dog or person by leaping, barking, and raising hackles.

What Can I Do to Stop the Pulling?

Most people walk with a basic flat collar, which is the most basic equipment you need to attach a leash, identification, and rabies tag. While not designed to hurt the dog, if the handler and the dog are untrained, jerks from either end of the leash can choke the dog and hurt his throat. This won't necessarily slow him down, either; dogs often seem to think that what they are chasing is what causes them to choke, so they try harder.

There are two basic philosophies behind the methods used to stop pulling.

  1. One is to avoid hurting the dog.
  2. The other is to hurt the dog more.

How Can I Avoid Hurting My Dog?

The very best way teach your dog not to pull is to learn loose-leash walking This means that he stays close to you so that the leash is slack. Basically the leash is just there as an emergency backup.

In the video below, Victoria Stillwell uses the reverse direction method to teach a puppy how to walk with the leash loose. Note that her focus is on persuading the dog to want to be near her. She doesn't jerk the leash or pull on the puppy.

Are There Other Training Methods?

Sure! There are almost as many methods as there are trainers. Consider searching for force-free training videos. Pick out ideas that appeal to you and give them a try. There are many available on Facebook.

Do you have a determined puller and do-it-yourself training doesn't work? You can locate an ethical and professional dog trainer at this site: Pet Professional Guild.

A Harness Can Reduce Pulling Behavior

One thing that may get you some quick relief is a harness. It distributes the force so that your dog isn't leaning his weight into his throat. This is much safer for him and by making him less fearful, excited, or nervous, it may reduce pulling pretty quickly.

Even if you're still having to train to reduce pulling, a harness is a safer way to attach the leash. Think about it—-what happens if you trip? If your dog steps on the leash? If he's attacked by a loose dog and you have to haul him away? Pulling on his torso is so much safer than on his neck!

Harness Safety Tips

  • Don't put it on until time for a walk. Some dogs will chew their harness if they're left lying around in it.
  • Don't use a harness while playing in the dog park—another dog could get caught in it, and then both will panic.
  • Don't get a harness that's designed to tighten when the dog pulls. The goal is not to hurt or frighten the dog.

Front-Clip Harness

When I moved to the city with my country dog, we didn't know much about leash walking, and he didn't know anything about the city. He was frightened of so many things: trucks, the postman, loud cars, strangers looking at him, etc.

Some things Badger would try to run from and others, like trucks and the postman, he would try to chase away. If we were walking and encountered something something he was afraid of, he might leap at it and bark. I would set my feet and grab the leash in both hands, bracing myself for 90 pounds of dog hitting the collar. He would slam into it, choking and growling, as I pulled him away.

Each time he hit the collar, his fear would only get worse. It seemed as though he thought the trucks and postmen were strangling him and he tried harder to scare them away. And his fears grew and spread to new objects: loud cars, motorcycles, aggressive dogs. I had no way of predicting them or preparing him. Even worse, he was developing a chronic cough that worried me.

I researched solutions to taking the pressure off his throat and learned about front-clip harnesses. The leash attaches at the center of the dog's chest, so when he pulls, he turns himself slightly away from the direction he wants to go. And if you have to pull him away from something, you're leading him straight forward without pulling on his neck.

I measured and fitted Badger, carefully following instructions. Then we went out to look for a truck! A white van came past us and Badger leaped. He hit the harness and looked at me in surprise—the impact was across his chest, not his throat, and he hadn't choked a bit. After two or three more encounters, I could see his tension start to dissolve. Gradually the lunging grew less intense. And in a few months he was ignoring passing vehicles and even postal workers. Best of all, that nasty cough has vanished.

Top-Clip Harness

If you have a Houdini dog who wriggles out of his harness or if you take your dog on hikes and other activities, the Ruffwear brand comes highly recommended.

It clips on the top and has multiple points of adjustment to achieve a perfect fit. With three straps circling the body and one passing between the front legs it's awfully difficult to escape from.

The chest and bands are padded to prevent chafing and there's a handle on top so you can help your dog over rough bits of trail. And users say that their dogs pull less while wearing it.

Badger wearing a front-clip Sense-ation harness and a customized flat nylon collar with my phone number and a quick-release clip.

Badger wearing a front-clip Sense-ation harness and a customized flat nylon collar with my phone number and a quick-release clip.

To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:

- A thorough understanding of canine behavior.

- A thorough understanding of learning theory.

- Impeccable timing.

And if you have those three things, you don't need a shock collar.

— Dr. Ian Dunbar

What if I'd Rather Hurt My Dog?

If you want to hurt your dog, there are lots of delightful "tools," as some folks call them, to do the job. They'll get your dog into an instant state of fearful attentiveness.

If you haven't guessed it, the following is meant to be sarcastic.

Please Do Not Use These Abusive Methods!

Dogs are very enthusiastic and not terribly bright, so many of them won't show resentment towards their owners if they decide to employ one of these abusive tools. The dog may not even understand what exactly is hurting him.

And even if the dog does become aggressive, his owner may figure that's ok. The owner may decide there are plenty of other things to use to hurt him worse, so it's not a big deal.

I mean, who wants to bother with all that practice and patience nonsense? Why give the dog treats when you can give him a good jolt or jab?

  • Choke chain: The good ol' choker is a classic. It works very simply to cut off the dog's air supply until he does what you want. If he can't figure it out, you just keep jerking until he learns how to avoid being suffocated. Fun for the whole family.
  • Prong collar: Sometimes called a "pinch" collar, this network of inward-facing, blunt steel spikes keeps your dog on tippy-toe with apprehension. If he pulls, he gets jabbed. If he does something you don't like, you just jerk it and he gets jabbed. If he trips or steps on the leash, he gets really jabbed.
  • Shock collar: But what if he's still dragging you on the prong, as many do? How can you really hurt him? Why, electric shock! It's okay because the lowest setting is just an itty-bitty tingle. But most shockers (or "e-collars" as we affectionately call them) have 9 more settings. And you have the control in your sweaty palm just at the moment you get most frustrated and really want to punish him. And nobody will know, so that's just hunky-dory.

Note: You'll notice that I didn't insert any links for these painful collars . . . I'm not going to peddle dog-torturing junk to you. So scroll back up the page, learn how to train, and buy some safe equipment!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Valerie Proctor Davis

Does your dog pull?

Don't buy on September 15, 2017:

The no pull harness might stop your dog pulling but my beautiful girl got out of hers when we were attacked by a cat. She ran across the road and was killed, so please please make sure your dog can't get out of it. I was left with locked harness and a dead dog, I'd hate for others to go through what I had to. I still have no idea how she managed to get out of it and still have nightmares.

Coco on November 12, 2016:

Most experts agree that harnesses will cause a dog to pull more and they have MUCH more pulling power that way. I have yet to meet anyone who stated that a harness helped them solve their dogs pulling problem. A long line and heeling training can help. A prong collar is not an evil device as long as you use it properly, i.e., don't drag your dog around with it. It is much less harmful than a flat collar OR martingale collar as the trainer is using in the video because the dog is not choking itself (resulting in the "cough" you mentioned). Front-hook harnesses do NOT help with extremely agitated or excited dogs - in fact, they can hurt themselves. My German Shepherd sprained her own leg by trying to run while wearing a properly fitted EasyWalk front hook harness. So - thank you for sharing your experiences but you are not an expert and readers should keep an open mind.

B on May 19, 2016:

I hate the bottom half of your article and the way it's titled " What if I'd Rather Hurt My Dog". This shouldn't be an option and the way you explained each of those terrible options is appalling. Shame on you and your lame attempt at the end to make it better.

LA on February 17, 2016:

I totally disagree with the way that you classify the prong collar. When used correctly it helps. Dog to stop pulling without hurting them. Many of the harnesses can actually hurt a dog instead of helping them. I think you need to do more research into the tools available before presenting items as bad and making a mockery of those tools.

Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on October 23, 2014:

I'm going to get a harness. I had no idea.

LisaDH on September 19, 2014:

My dogs always want to pull on the leash, and a harness has been helpful.

DogsbyLinda on August 29, 2014:

Brilliantly written! I shared this everywhere!

Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on August 28, 2014:

Thank you for putting in that disclaimer at the bottom about those horrid "tools" that some lazy people (sorry, that's the way I look at it) may use. UGH :(

We've been thinking for quite a while about getting a good harness for our dog on her walks...I think she and both my husband and I would be much more comfortable.

Shasta Matova from USA on August 28, 2014:

When I first got my dog, I read all sorts of things about alpha dogs and such, and they didn't seem right, but I didn't really know. Now that I've had more experience, I fully agree with what you say - the dog will obey you - he just has to know what you want. He is excited about being able to go outside, so of course he will want to pull until you train him that he has to slow down for you. You've offered great advice here.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 28, 2014:

Great hub with very handy tips. On the farm when I had dogs I never needed to use a leash, I would tell the dog to get in behind me when moving stock, and she would always obey me. I may be wrong but it's all in the training of a dog from the beginning.

Donna Cook on August 28, 2014:

Good ideas! I've given up on dog training videos. My puppy is nothing like the ones in the video. The most useful way for my dog to stop pulling is to just stop until there is no tension on the leash. Saw this on "Dogtown" and it works with Buffy.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on August 28, 2014:

I've seen lots of dog now being walked using the harness. They also seem to be very obedient too when they are being walked.

I think patience, repetition and persistence will do the job. Plus treats always work well too. :)

Brian Stephens from Laroque des Alberes, France on August 28, 2014:

Useful tips for walking your dog without pulling. It is a very common problem.

Robin S from USA on August 28, 2014:

Great tips. Our dog is too old for taking long walks now but I'll remember this for future reference.