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Why Does My Dog Pull on the Leash?

What is the number one reason that dogs pull on the leash? PULLING WORKS!!! How Frustrating for us! If we teach dogs that we will follow as they pull, then yes they will use this behaviour to get what they want in life.

Dogs may pull on the leash when they are excited and happy. They genuinely want to go see or greet or go sniff. We also see pulling when dogs are anxious and worried, they may want to quickly see or sniff the thing to end the suspense, assess the danger, or maybe want to pull away from it. Often dogs are overstimulated, they can no longer think about options, and the instinct to go see takes over. This also includes dogs that are reactive to other dogs, people, cars, skateboarding children, or have a very strong prey drive and the need to go after the bunny, cat, squirrel etc takes over completely!

The result is a dog that knows one thing:

It works!!! Pull, and you get to go where you want AND, your people follow!

Pulling and getting what they want is a very functional relationship for your dog.

Now, don't get me wrong some dogs are more sensitive and they don't like leash pressure so they don't pull much or ever, but most are more than happy to pull to get to see a friend or eat the tasty thing on the ground or to go sniff what they want.

Are we failing our dogs? Is it too late to fix this?

Your dog does not magically come preprogrammed to not pull on the leash.

it is NEVER too late to train polite leash walking skills, but this is certainly a skill that is easier to learn before it becomes a problem. Can you imagine their frustration about learning to walk on a leash? They are busy doing happy dog things and exploring and suddenly they are brought up short by the leash.

Remember dogs are great problem solvers! Ok so let's try pulling towards what I want. Hey, that worked! Just like that, they have learned how to pull to get what they want.

How do we fix it?

What not to do:

  • Do not let the dog pull you around. If this is something that gets them what they want they are more likely to repeat this action. Remember, if they can't focus on you, you probably need to do some training in a less stimulating environment first. You are asking too much.

  • Do not scold, punish, poke or yank the dog around. This only achieves causing you and your dog frustration. Using aversives may appear to solve the problem but in the end, it is not doing much for your dog's desire to walk nicely on leash. Rather, it will very quickly destroy your relationship and diminish your dog's joy. Dogs may even become aggressive or fearful, as there is a chance they will associate the discomfort and possible pain with seeing the dog, human, car, cat etc.

  • Being sporadic with the rewards will potentially make the situation worse, after all, if your boss did not pay you well, would you still want to do the job?

  • Do not work train for too long when first learning. Two minutes training intervals are best for success.

  • Don't use a flexi leash where dogs have to put pressure on the leash to pull the leash out, thus teaching them to pull through resistance.

Simple and effective steps to stop unwanted pulling:

  • Set aside time for your dog to go sniff and explore on a long line or off leash if appropriate. This allows your dog more freedom of movement and will greatly reduce leash frustration for both parties.

  • We MUST meet our dog's natural needs to run, play, explore, socialize, eliminate, chase toys or food tosses, sniff to their heart's content and maybe play with their friends, sniff the bushes, and just be a dog!

  • Remember, humans walk to get from A to B. Dogs walk with us because we make them. Make sure we take the time to let them enjoy what they want on the walk too! You can get much more cooperation if you both are getting something you like out of your adventure! The more chance to sniff the more your dog will enjoy the walk! Sniffing is what dogs do! It is soothing and calming for them, so let them enjoy their walk!

  • Don't take your dog out for controlled walking when they are bursting at the seams with energy (play a little bit first).

  • Reward handsomely for great choices!

  • Play leash walking games to make good leash skills fun for your dog!

  • Reward not only with food, but play and a chance to explore!

  • The more you reward with an opportunity to go see and explore, the more your dog will look to you for these opportunities!

  • Reward all check-ins! Reward them with a treat at first so they understand the connection, but frequently the reward can be to "go see".

  • Keep sessions short and sweet!

  • Know your dog's limitations and abilities, a bunny running in front of your dog's nose will not likely be something they can resist at first.

  • Find a reward that your dog cares about and use it as an incentive for walking close to you without pulling. High-value treats, toys, or real-life rewards!

  • Use proper gear (Blue-9 Balance harness works well with one or two leashes) and know how to apply it without causing your dog discomfort. Dogs that pull should not be walked on a collar as this can be dangerous and damaging to their neck. The gear is not there to control the dog, we need to train them. The gear is the emergency backup.

  • If your dog pulls ( leash is tight = pulling!!!) STOP going forward. If they are calmly standing allow them to look. If they are stuck for more than 10 seconds or escalating invite your dog to change direction or come away to do something else.

  • Do talk to your dog and communicate to ensure they know what you like by marking rewarding great choices.

  • Manage or prevent unwanted behaviour when possible. If not help them stop the rehearsal by interrupting the unwanted behaviour and inviting them away from the problem.

  • Grow the skills, one step at a time ( literally!)

  • Practice where you are likely to succeed (lower distractions) at first. Build up gradually to more challenging environments.

  • Practice as you mean to go on!

Remember, your dog was not born to walk on a leash. This is a skill they need to learn, like anything else some dogs are faster to catch on than others. Not every dog loves leash walks, but we can help make it more pleasant for them by training and making sure to meet their needs and give them the freedom to explore when appropriate.

If you need help Best Paw Forward & DAWG offer Leash Walking Skills classes to show you how to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash, not because we make them, but because they will want to!

If you found these tips helpful, let us know!

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