When a dog pulls on the leash during a walk and gets to keep walking, they’re being rewarded for pulling on the leash. To teach them to walk with you without pulling, you must teach them that they will not be rewarded for pulling and, instead, will be rewarded for walking without pulling.
Give your dog a cue such as “Walkies” or “Let’s go!” and start walking. If he walks with you without pulling, keep walking. If he pulls during your walk, STOP and wait a few seconds for the dog to back up and the leash to loosen up. When it does, start walking again. If he pulls, STOP again. When the leash loosens (the clasp of the leash is hanging toward the floor), GO. It can be a lot of stop-and-go at first, but with consistency, the dog learns to keep the leash loose.
Challenges you might encounter:
The dog doesn’t allow the leash to go slack when you stop.
Wait for several seconds, and if the dog continues to keep the leash taut, tap your leg or make “smoochie” noises. This should encourage the dog to come toward you. Praise them for being attentive by loosening the leash and start walking again.
If that technique doesn’t work…
turn and walk in the opposite direction. This will force the dog to turn toward you and the leash will loosen. Praise him for loosening the leash as you walk. The leash will remain loose at least until he passes you and gets the end of it again. If the leash is loose, keep walking. If it becomes taut, STOP, wait a few seconds. Try the above technique again. Praise when they look at you and loosen the leash. Start walking again. If they don’t look at you and/or loosen the leash, turn and walk in the opposite direction and repeat.
“I really need to get somewhere and don’t have time to stop and go!”
Consistency is very important. If sometimes pulling gets the dog where he is going and sometimes he doesn’t, it will slow progress considerably. But, sometimes we do need to get places. For short distances and if it is a small dog, carry him. For a larger dog, hold food or a toy next to you and use your voice to encourage him to walk next to you. For longer distances, consider using a head halter to discourage pulling at these times. The dog needs training to accept the halter but it is a good management tool.
PENALTY YARDS: An exercise to discourage pulling.
Find something the dog really likes; food, a toy, a person. Toss the food or toy a few yards away (if it is a person that you are using, he/she can just walk the distance ;-). Start walking toward the object of the dog’s desire. If the leash is loose, keep walking. If the leash becomes taut, STOP and back up a short distance, until the dog turns to look at you (this is the “penalty yards” part of the game). Get the leash loose and try again. The dog learns that by pulling, he gets further from his goal and that by keeping the leash loose, he gets what he wants.
The dog must meet with success, or he won’t learn. He must have an opportunity to get the object on a loose leash to learn the contingency. If you aren’t making progress, consider these modifications:
- Use a less tempting object at first. When he is successful, introduce more tempting objects.
- Provide a bit more slack in the leash than you want to end with. If consistently he gets within a foot of the object and then lunges/pulls, next time give him an extra foot of leash. The extra leash must be given BEFORE he pulls and not after.
- Give him an opportunity to get the food with the extra leash a few times and then “raise the bar” – expect him to do it without the extra leash.