Walking your dog regularly is an important aspect of providing physical, social, and mental stimulation. It helps your pup to get regular exercise requirements and it also improves your bond.
But, if you have a dog that pulls on the leash during walks, it may be a frustrating experience that can discourage you from walking them further.
Here's the thing: walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for dogs. Therefore, you should not be surprised when your curious canine leans forward when tethered by your side.
So how do you walk a dog that pulls to ensure that you don't pull your hair out in the process? Keep reading.
Why do dogs pull?
Many people believe that dogs pull on a leash as a way of showing dominance over their handler. While this may be true in some isolated instances, it is not always the case.
According to Furs'n'Paws, most dogs pull on their leash because they are excited during the walk. How endearing, right!? Dogs are naturally curious and they can't wait to explore their environment whenever they step out.
They can easily get stimulated by the outside environment - hence tugging you to move closer to what they want. When a fresh patch of pee lies just beyond your reach, you've just gotta smell it.
Pulling can also be a way for your soulful sidekick to let you know that they're interested in walking more and don’t want their stroll to end so soon.
The dangers of walking a dog that pulls
A smooth walk in the park could turn into a game of tug-o-war between you and your soulful sidekick if they start pulling on the leash.
This endless back and forth is dangerous both for you and an excited dog. When your lovely pup pulls during a walk, the force can strain their neck leading to pain and choking. Sadly, dogs do not know when to stop dragging or pulling even if it is painful.
They may continue tugging you for a long period hence causing damage to their neck which may be severe and lead to strangulation.
Handling a dog that pulls on the leash may be a frustrating experience for you. You will find yourself grappling to maintain control and this may take away the enjoyment of your daily stroll, leading to more risks than benefits.
A dog that pulls may lunge into dangerous areas along the road, which may put you, your dog, and other road users in danger.
Strong pullers may be a nightmare to deal with, especially when passing through busy streets. It not only affects the health of your lovely pup, but it also put you under emotional stress and exposes other road users to danger.
How to walk a dog that pulls
1. Basic training
You should take your dog through basic command training to get them ready for proper walking. Start by teaching your pup to come when called and do a few other training exercises such as ‘sit & stay’, and then proceed to the ‘heel’ command.
These basic commands will make your dog more responsive to verbal cues and they will look to you to lead them even when going out for walks. Strengthen this connection by incorporating some of their favorite treats into the mix. When they are attentive to you during walks, good things happen.
Training your dog to master these commands will also put you in a good place to recall them from danger when they get off-leash in an outdoor setting.
2. Stimulate your dog
Before training your furry friend to remain calm during walks, you need to ensure that they get enough physical and mental stimulation throughout the day.
If you take a dog who had spent their entire day indoors for a walk, they will most certainly get excited and pull to release pent up energy.
If you have a yard, allow your dog enough time to explore themselves and provide some interactive dog toys or hide treats around the property to keep them entertained.
Try playing a few games of fetch - indoors or outdoors - before heading out for a walk.
Even freshening up on your basic training in step one before hitting the streets can help mentally enrich and tire your pet out before you attempt a walk can be helpful. These short refreshing sessions will attend to the dog’s natural instincts and they will be less likely to pull, lunge, or sniff everything on the way during a walk.
3. Get the right equipment
Choosing the right dog-walking accessories for your heavy puller can help in training them to walk properly.
Start by scouting for a long leash that is comfortable on your hands and strong enough to guide your dog. For walks around the neighborhood and busy streets, you can go for a leash that extends between 6 to 10 inches in length.
You should also consider a leash that will not cause friction on your hand when the dog pulls. Too much friction might force you to drop the handle hence letting your dog run freely into dangerous zones.
Get an H or Y-styled harness that properly fits your canine friend to give them comfort during walks. Choose one that is easy to put on the dog and remove without being tough on the dog.
We recommend that you consider the front clipping harnesses (with a D ring just below the dog’s neck) for attaching the leash.
Front clipping harnesses will redirect the dog toward you when they try to pull. You can also go for the harness that has two places for clipping the leash; the back and the front, to make it versatile.
If you prefer using a collar, you should ensure that you get the right-sized collars that fit on your pup’s neck.
An easy way to ensure that you have the right spot for strapping a collar is by inserting 3 or 4 fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck area. These are a bit more dangerous when it comes to neck injuries though, which is why we typically recommend an easy-walk harness instead.
Should I use training collars?
You should stay away from training collars such as prongs, chokes, and e-collars that deliver a shock or vibration. These aversive collars are usually marketed as an option to cure pulling in dogs.
Training collars are typically considered punishment-based training gear that works by inflicting pain or discomfort on your dog’s neck every time they pull on the leash.
They are detrimental because some dogs will continue pulling despite being in pain and they will only stop when it gets so severe, they injure themselves.
Training collars can end up hurting your dog’s neck and placing them at risk of strangulation, bruising, compression etc. - all injuries that can lead to a pricey vet visit or at best only mask the symptoms of pulling but not solve the actual problem.
Even worse, if a dog is pulling on the leash when leaning towards another dog or person, they may end up associating the pain from the training collars with what they are looking at. This can easily lead to fear, aggression, and reactivity towards other animals and strangers, putting your dog in a position to start a fight in response.
4. Train your dog
After getting all the necessary equipment and accessories for your dog’s walk, you need to train them on proper walking etiquette.
You can start the training in a quiet environment will offer less distraction to help your dog focus on you. Behavioral training with dogs is always better done in a quiet environment with fewer distractions.
Start by putting your dog on a loose leash and walking them for short distances while encouraging them to heel by your side.
If your pup starts to lunge and pull on the leash, stop and stand for a few seconds while observing them.
The idea is that your dog will realize that pulling may result in negative consequences that may cut short the much-desired walk.
Give your dog a "heel" command and reward them with treats and praise when they keep a consistent pace by your side.
You can also turn around and walk in the opposite direction if your dog persists in pulling the leash. This will again teach your curious copilot that there are negative consequences when tugging during a walk. It also reminds them to look to you to lead them and that they should walk by your side.
Do not punish your dog for pulling on the leash. This will just make the situation worse and you might have to spend more time building your trust back.
5. Reward your dog when they walk by your side
Make sure to reward your dog with high-value treats when they walk by your side. You can use a clicker to mark the moment they retreat from pulling and start to walk by your side.
This will teach your pup that walking at your pace results in a positive experience. No pulling = tasty treats. They will be motivated to repeat this behavior because our canine companions are eager to please their pet parents.
Read also: the ultimate walking hack that needs only a dressing bottle.
6. Be consistent and patient
Leash-training your dog requires lots of commitment, patience, and consistency from your side. Your dog may take a while to learn new tricks and the most important thing is to give them time.
You can be assured that your dog will walk properly on a leash if you put in the work and remain patient while at it.
7. Try a professional trainer
If your dog is persistently pulling and dragging you despite training them for some time, you can consider looking for a professional dog trainer.
A heavy puller may develop the habit further if they feel that you are not bothered by their tugging and pulling.
A qualified dog trainer will examine your dog’s circumstances and devise a personalized plan to train them on proper walking etiquette.
You may have committed some mistakes when walking your dog which provokes them to pull on the leash. That's okay! Your trainer will point out such incidences and offer solutions.
As always, we recommend you work with a force-free, positive reinforcement trainer to minimize any potential damage or abuse.
8. Alternate with exploration walks
At the end of the day, your dog is simply that - an animal! As domesticated as they may be, there is nothing that makes your pup happier than performing their natural behaviors. It is unrealistic for pet parents to expect total perfection from their pets. In fact- it can make some of these behaviors worse.
It's important to allow your dog to sniff and explore their surroundings. It's how they make sense of their world. While you may be visually and physically stimulated by the act of walking, most of our pet's enjoyment comes from smelling and taking in their surroundings via exploration.
Alternate your more structured walks with something often called scent-walks, which invite your dog to control the direction and take as long as they want (within reason) to smell the environment around them. These ensure they're satisfied and in turn, can make them behave better on your next walk.
Lunging and barking
If your dog is lunging and barking at strangers, moving traffic, birds, and other animals on the streets, then it could be a sign of reactivity.
You can help this situation by socializing your dog with more people, other dogs, and the general outdoor environment at a young age. The more comfortable they are and the more they associate these things with positive experiences, the more likely they are to be calm while outdoors.
Some dogs lunge, growl, and bark at others because they are feeling threatened or afraid of the outside environment.
If this behavior is too severe, you should consult with your vet for professional help on how to expose your dog to outdoor spaces. They may recommend a behaviorist or anxiety medication to help.
Learning the ins and outs of how to walk a dog that pulls will help improve the walking experience for you both!
Walking a heavy puller may seem like a subtle display of dominance on your dog's part, but in reality, it is often indicative of a dog that is simply struggling, whether with overstimulation, anxiety, pent up energy, or reactivity. No matter the reason, is dangerous both for you, the dog, and other road users.
You should get the right gear and be ready to train your pup to heel and follow you by your side when going out for adventures.
Laura is a passionate animal lover and a pet expert with more than 20 years of experience working with dogs and cats. She runs a pet blog at FursnPaws.com. Her love for animals motivated her to start her own pet sitting and dog walking business a few years ago and now spends most of her days caring for pets.