Teaching your dog proper leash behavior

My dog has always pulled on leash no matter what, even with a pinch collar. How can we make him stop dragging us down the street?

Dogs will take advantage of inconsistent training and the wrong equipment to pull on walks.

If your dog has always pulled on leash, always is the key word there. Dogs will always do what works.  This means that after only a few walks, your dog learns that pulling on leash gets him to where he wants to go. Even if he’s only allowed to pull some of the time, he’s going to gamble that if he tries pulling, he’ll get where he wants to go much faster. Retractable leashes make training dogs not to pull really difficult.

Dogs have twice as many legs as we do, and it’s their nature to chase or run away from things. We have to teach them that slowing their pace to match ours means good things for them.

The first step in reducing pulling should be to get your dog the right equipment that is effective and pain-free.  A front attaching harness reduces pulling and redirects them when they pull too hard or lunge. Harnesses that attach in the back will not help you—they cause the dog to pull like a sled dog. Some examples of front attaching harnesses are Easy Walk, Freedom No-Pull, SENSE-Ation, Balance, and Front Range. It is important that these harnesses are fit properly and adjusted to your dog, otherwise they will be uncomfortable and ineffective.

The best option for strong pullers is a head collar that works like a bitless bridle for horses to reduce the strength in which your dog can pull.  A Gentle Leader or Halti can’t just be strapped on the dog and used right away—the dog must be conditioned to love a head halter.

The next step is teaching your dog loose-leash walking, which is not the same heel. Walks are as much about mental stimulation as they are physical exercise, so allowing your dog to sniff and investigate the world results in a healthier, happier dog.  As long as your dog is taught not to pull and learns to check in with you once in a while on the walk, he should be allowed to walk freely.

I teach this using three games. In Red Light-Green Light, walk forward with the dog and if the leash tightens, stop. Wait for the dog to look back, sit, or wander off to the side, then say “Ok” and walk forward again. The reward is going forward or toward a scent. For Follow the Leader, start walking in one direction and when the leash is taut, turn and walk the other way. The dog is rewarded with a treat for catching back up to you. For Magic Hand, teach the dog that coming and touching your hand with his nose when you stop gets a treat from the other hand. No matter what you choose, be consistent and stick with it for at least several weeks.