How to Train Your Dog to Walk Without Pulling on the Leash

Jun 15, 2020     |      Sophie's Circle

A man walking a small dog with a slack leash on a track.Dog adoption is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, especially when you know what to do with challenges arise such as pulling on the leash during walks. The good news is there are some easy strategies you can take to make walks more enjoyable for everyone. Try incorporating these tools and training tips quick results!

Pulling Hazards 
Have you caught yourself envying the dog owners who are able to walk their dogs with a relaxed leash? These dogs seem to feel comfortable staying by their owner's side without pulling to take in every smell and greet every human or animal that comes close by. What is the secret for such leash training success?

When your dog pulls on the lead during walks, he is risking injury to his throat when using a traditional collar plus you could develop soft tissue damage in your arm, shoulder, or neck. If he escapes your grasp, he could run into traffic in the street, disrupt a nice family picnic, or cause a disturbance with other animals. Avoid these common concerns by using the right equipment and training techniques for your dog's needs.

Using the Right Tools
The first step to good leash behavior is to find the tools that work for your dog. There are a variety of safe attachments to use for keeping your dog close and out of harm's way. You may need to try a couple of options to see which works best with your training technique and your rescue's behavior.

  • Buckle (Flat) Collars - The most common type is known as a flat or buckle collar. These collars are made out of a variety of durable materials such as nylon webbing or leather that are flexible enough to curve around the dog's neck yet still hold their shape when the dog pulls against the leash. Some come with a quick-release latch and where other designs rely on the standard belt buckle to secure the item. While these collars are ideal for well-behaved dogs, they offer little correction incentive or added control with pulling behavior.

  • Martingale Collars - If you like the simplistic look of the buckle collar yet you need extra control for training purposes, a martingale collar may be ideal with its ability to tighten and loosen. A gentler and more preferred method to choke chains or pinch collars, this item is recommended to add a level of correction or assist with those sudden bolting behaviors. Please note, for injury-preventing purposes, these collars should not be used in an ongoing tightening state or left on the dog when unsupervised.

  • Head Collar - For constant pullers, a head halter may be your best bet. The halter design fits around the nose and mouth as well as the back of the head. Although many people mistake this device for a muzzle, the head halter when fitted properly enables the dog to still eat, drink, and sniff normally while being safely corrected when pulling. It works to reduce the dog's pulling tendencies by allowing the owner to gently guide the dog's head. Since the body must follow where the head is located, the dog is able to stay more under control. There are also reports these items can curb barking, frequent stopping, and lunging behaviors. Pet owners combine this system with a buckle collar to carry the ID and rabies vaccination tags.

    As with martingale collars, owners should always use short corrections. It is important not to tug too hard on the leash as well because the dog's mouth could snap closed or his head could turn too quickly resulting in injury. Furthermore, escape artists have a better opportunity to slip this style of collar with enough determination. 

  • No-Pull Chest Harness - Another popular harness-style training method for pulling involves one that fits around the chest and back of the dog. Look for "no-pull" designs that state they will rub sores and contain a front leash attachment ring. The front ring on the chest of the dog turns the dog's body towards you when the dog pulls on the leash which restricts his ability to move forward. He can then focus on you instead of the world around him while receiving slack in the leash as he walks back towards you where he receives praise and/or a treat as long as he is in a calm state. When he is calm and focused once again on your command, he can begin walking forward with his slack lead and receive praise for his efforts. Many people find this device to be the safest and most comfortable way to teach their rescued canines how to properly walk on a leash. With patience and consistent turning corrections, your dog may advance to a buckle or martingale collar in no time!

    Why is there a back ring on my chest harness? Some no-pull chest harnesses off two rings. One is on the front and a second ring is on the back of the harness. This back ring allows the dog to feel a gentle tightening around his chest when being corrected with a swift tug on the leash. Be advised a ring on the back may encourage a puller to continue pushing forward. Therefore, the back rings are more appropriate for dogs who have mastered the skill of walking on a leash with a slack lead when pulling is not a significant issue. 

Positive Reinforcement Training
Did you know you can also use your hands for command cues? Dogs are intelligent animals that can learn positively reinforced behaviors and actions you want them to take by watching your hands, listening for your verbal commands, or even responding to whistle sounds. For example, try tapping your outer thigh with your hand for the walking signal each time you move forward from a stopped position while your dog is on lead. While there is no instant fix for any negative behaviors, your rescue will pick up on what he does that you like fairly quickly with the right patience, consistency, and selective praise technique.  

Regardless of the above style of collar or harness you select, positive reinforcement or the praise technique will go a long way in building a trusting bond with your rescue while teaching him the behaviors you want him to continue. Like people, dogs are social by nature and they have a strong desire for your attention. In fact, they have been shown to learn faster with positive reinforcement than negative correction. Make the most of your training by giving praise whenever your dog is performing the desired behavior while remaining in a calm state. Be sure to be selective with your praise. For example, before walking forward, wait for your dog to calmly respond to your walk command using a slack lead. When he pulls, try stopping and waiting for him to come back towards you to reduce the tension in the leash. Then, give him praise followed by your firm audible command to move forward like "heel" or "let's go". 

Treat Training
Although all dogs love to receive pets and attention for good behavior, some dogs pay more attention to treat rewards than owner praise and commands during training sessions. If you have a dog who lives for treats, try combining positive reinforcement training techniques coupled with super tasty rewards. This way, your dog will be more likely to look to you for instruction and listen more intently to your commands that he quickly learns may result in another treat if performed well.

Again, consistency is the key when first training a dog to perform any desired new behavior. Training works best when a routine is followed daily with 15-20 minute sessions. If your dog has a lot of energy, try playing a quick game of fetch first to ensure he is better able to focus on your commands.

One note of caution with treat training, be sure to give low-calorie treats such as frozen vegetables, a piece of kibble, or other approved treats for training purposes. Adding too many calories to a dog's diet can lead to concerning health issues that may easily be avoided by closely monitoring your dog's daily food intake, including treats. Start by offering the treat every time he exhibits the desired behavior. Then, try slowly backing off on the number of treats given as your furry friend learns each new behavior. If you continue to give the treat sporadically, he will stay entertained in the game because he knows if he performs the behavior he will eventually receive a treat reward.

In short, with these tools and training tips, your dog could become that walking pro that you always knew he would be! If you are curious about our rescue program or you are looking for a dog to adopt or foster, please fill out our convenient contact form. We are also accepting donations for our rescues and food pantry that supports dogs staying with their owners who are currently facing financial obstacles. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of both dogs and humans alike!