How to train your dog not to pull on the lead
Walks are an exciting time for your dog, which means sometimes they pull on the lead – even if you only wanted a leisurely stroll.
When your dog or puppy pulls on their lead, it can be uncomfortable for both of you and take all enjoyment out of your walk. The good news is you can train your dog to walk nicely on the lead using reward-based training.
Dogs will pull on the lead if they’re excited or if they have lots of energy, so it may be worth making sure your dog has some playtime and a chance to run so they pull less when you’re out walking them. They may pull if they’re desperate to explore something or even if it’s just become a habit (some dogs learn from a young age that if they pull, they get to go forward!). All of these behaviours are completely natural for your dog so instead of punishing them, try to work with them to make the walk enjoyable for you both.
Training your dog not to pull can be a very long process so you’ll need to be consistent and patient. It’ll definitely pay off eventually and you’ll both be able to enjoy your time in the great outdoors!
Step one – prepare for your walk
Make sure you have your dog’s favourite treats with you as this is what you’ll need to reward them for behaving well! They don’t need to be too fattening – try using boiled chicken or turkey breast, or even slices of carrot if they love the crunch. Remember that dog obesity causes health problems, so reduce their main meal portions so they don’t have too many calories on training days. When you first start training, it’s best to have a long play session beforehand. This will tire your dog out a little so they don’t want to pull as much.
It’s normal for your dog to get excited about their walk. However, if your dog gets too over-excited when their lead comes out and this becomes a problem, you may need to begin de-sensitising them to their lead. You could try bringing the lead out often throughout the day, or leaving the lead out all the time, picking it up and putting it down again, maybe even putting it on for a short time and then taking it off. This can help your dog understand that their lead appearing doesn’t always mean play time and can help them stay calmer when it’s really time for a walk.
Step two – stopping and starting
Now for the time consuming part! The best way to stop your dog from pulling is to show them that walking on a loose lead gets a reward and pulling doesn’t. As soon as your dog starts pulling, stop walking. Never pull their lead back, just wait for them to stop pulling.
Once there is slack in the lead again, reward them and continue walking. You might have to stop and start many, many times in the beginning, but your patience will be worth it. Your walk will probably take a lot longer than usual, but if you’re consistent and committed to it they will learn.
Make sure you give your dog plenty of praise and treats when they are walking with slack in the lead. You may need to use quite a few treats at first so make sure you take this into account when measuring out their meals.
Never tell them off for pulling or yank them back. Negative training won’t help your dog understand the right way to do things – always reward their good behaviours and ignore the unwanted.
Step three – phase out treats
You may find that it takes many walks and lots of treats to prevent your dog pulling so much. When your dog stops pulling you can try to gradually phase out the treats and replace them with lots of praise. If this doesn't work, you may need to find a healthy alternative to use long-term. Always phase out treats slowly rather than going cold turkey – they might lose their motivation.
Our top tips to stop your dog pulling
- Practice in quiet areas at first so your dog doesn’t get distracted. This will help them pick it up faster.
- When it’s safe to do so, make sure your dog has plenty of time off the lead playing and running each day – this will help tire them out and make them less likely to pull.
- Let your dog sniff and explore when they’re on their walks – after all, this is what dogs love doing.
- Be patient with your dog as it’ll take time for them to break the habit. Never punish your dog for pulling – they will learn much faster with positive training.
- Be consistent and don’t give up. You need to train on every walk.
- Don’t use anything that is painful for your dog or restricts their movement (such as a choke collar). We recommend walking your dog on a harness if they pull – this will help prevent them from hurting their neck.
Exercise for dogs
How much exercise does your dog really need? Take a look at our handy guide for exercising your breed of dog.
Clicker training is a great form of reward-based training. You can learn the basics from our handy guide.