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Why Does My Dog Always Pull on the Leash?

Garret is the owner and operator of American Standard Dog Training and has been training police and civilian dogs for over 20 years.

Leash pulling is a common issue that has a very simple explanation.

Leash pulling is a common issue that has a very simple explanation.

Why Does My Dog Pull So Hard on the Leash?

If you've found yourself asking this question, you're not alone. As the owner of a dog training company, I get this one all the time. The answer is actually fairly simple.

Opposition Reflex

When your dog is pulling on the leash, they are tapping into their natural instinct of what we call "opposition reflex." Let's look at what an example of opposition reflex would look like in human terms.

Imagine you're standing on the edge of a pool and you don't want to go in the water, but someone comes up behind you and slowly starts to push you into the pool. The harder they push you toward the water, the harder you're going to push back with your body to make sure that you don't fall in.

Well, the same thing happens with pulling. The dog is trying to take steps to go forward, but you are very gently holding the dog back. And I say gently because as a puppy, this probably started out very gently. But as the dog got bigger, it started pulling harder and harder, and it realized that in order to overcome the pressure of you pulling it back, it needed to push even harder to go forward.

That's opposition reflex in a nutshell, and that is why your dog is pulling on the leash.

You should deal with your puppy's leash-pulling habits as soon as they appear.

You should deal with your puppy's leash-pulling habits as soon as they appear.

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Read More From Pethelpful

Do Dogs Grow Out of Leash Pulling?

Absolutely not. It actually gets worse as they get older. Why? Because they get obviously bigger and stronger. And this habit of "I must pull very hard on the leash to get to where I want to go" becomes a normal part of the walking routine. And habits don't just go away over time; the more you repeat them, the more they become ingrained in the dog.

Pulling Harder on Your End of the Leash Isn't the Answer

You may reach a point where you get so sick of your dog pulling on the leash that you pull back very hard on the leash and kind of plant yourself to try to teach your dog a lesson. Unfortunately, the only lesson that you're probably teaching them is "I have to dig and scrape and dive in even harder to get to where I want to go."

Using a harness will only allow your dog to pull harder. (And no dog should pull on the leash, big or small!)

Using a harness will only allow your dog to pull harder. (And no dog should pull on the leash, big or small!)

Harness or Collar?

Leash pulling is exacerbated by the use of the wrong tools. I will tell you right now that the wrong tool for the job is a harness. There are only two reasons we would ever use a harness in dog training:

  • We want to attach them to a sled in the snow or to a sled for pulling weights to build strength.
  • We're using the dog to look for a suspect. In the world of police canine training or special forces training, where we use dogs to hunt for bad guys, we want the dog as free as possible. Using a harness frees up their shoulders, their neck, their head.

But what does that mean for you folks at home? You shouldn't be using a harness on your dog when you're walking them if you are having issues with leash pulling, because the harness just amplifies it and allows the dog to dig in and pull even harder. Opt for a collar instead.

What If I Have a Small Dog?

While harnesses are often recommended for small dogs with fragile tracheas, I'm really never a fan of using a harness outside of the situations described above, even for the smallest of dogs. In my opinion, no dog of any size should pull. If they are pulling, they need training on how not to pull, not a harness that then enables them to pull harder. If they aren't pulling then there is obviously no way to hurt their trachea.

© 2022 Garret Wing

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