How to Leash Train Your Dog
Anyone who has tried to leash train knows it can be a pain.
I know mine both did when they were younger. But it is possible to stop dogs from pulling on leashes. Here’s how to leash train your dog.
Does your dog pull their leash?
This is often the case for dogs who aren’t leash trained.
Dogs truly NEED those walks though.
Walks are important for socializing and brain health in dogs as well as exercise. The exposure to new smells and new people and doggie friends keeps them stimulated.
That’s why it’s so important to properly train your dog on a leash.
Why do dogs pull on the leash?
Some people think it’s about dominance. The dog thinks they are in charge. After consulting tons of websites and a couple books I bought on dog training, I found out that’s NOT it!!
They’re not trying to be in charge.
There are smells, and sights, and people, and other animals! And they want to see it ALL right NOW!
Plus, we dog guardians tend to reinforce this bad behavior.
Huh? Yep – you heard me.
It’s our fault they keep pulling and won’t leash train.
When they pull, we move with them. Some people let them drag them. Others just don’t pay enough attention and the dog knows it.
The great news is that the methods we’ll talk about stop this pull/reward cycle. And in the end, we’ll have our dogs walking alongside us every time.
Dog Training for Leash Pulling – Step #1.
First, we need the proper mindset for both human and dog.
Training takes patience… sometimes LOTS of it! But this is a teaching moment.
You can go for a jog. If your dog is able to keep up, you can even go for a bike ride – as long as you’re careful not to drag your dog.
Be Kind & Positive with your Pup.
Of course, don’t yank on your dog when they aren’t listening.
It’s much easier to hurt your dog than you realize while they’re on the leash.
Your dog will also respond to your tone and words. They may not understand the definitions when you say mean or angry things, but they understand your emotions.
You must be patient with your dog.
It can be helpful to first play with your dog. Exercising the dog first wears them down a bit so that they don’t have a ton of excess energy to funnel into that exciting walk.
So, play fetch. Run around the yard with them. Rough-house. Whatever you do to wear out your dog.
Make dog walks fun.
Just make it fun so you’re both happy to take that leisurely walk.
I mentioned earlier that walking doesn’t exercise our dogs because we walk too slowly for them. The good news is that once they’re leash trained, you can exercise with them more.
Dogs are adept at picking up signs from their people — body language, tone, facial expression… they understand it.
Some dogs understand people better than most people I know!
This understanding makes perfect sense. Dogs and humans have been friends for thousands of years — even evolving side by side since those first days of companionship.
So… if you’re not up for staying positive during a walk, you may want to keep it brief that day.
How to Stop a Dog From Pulling on the Leash – Step #2.
One of the key things I’ve learned about dog training is that dogs will do what they want… unless they know for sure we won’t let them.
That means setting the rules for leash time — and sticking to them!!
So, no starting to train, and then letting them get away with pulling.
Dogs do NOT understand sometimes… it’s nowhere in their language.
When you let things slide occasionally, your dog learns that if he’s persistent, you’ll let him get away with what he wants to do.
Reward your dog for walking nicely!
Another way to be kind to your dog while training is to stop occasionally for them to sniff things. To them, the entire point of walking is to explore the sites and smells. Stopping here and there to let them sniff and check things out is the best reward for walking nicely.
They’ll learn that you’re going where they want to go… they just need to stick with you and you’ll never let them down.
Dog Training for Leash Pulling – Step #3
I’ve got two primary methods for training dogs to behave properly on a leash >> the Stop or Tree Method. And the Reverse Method.
What do you do when your dog pulls on the leash?
For the Stop/Tree method of leash training, start your walk.
As soon as your dog pulls, stop moving. Just stand like a tree.
Your dog will wonder why you’ve stopped.
Don’t move again until your dog puts slack in the leash.
They may sit, lay down, come back to your side. However, they do it, as long as there is slack, you can start moving again.
You won’t even have to say a word.
If you do say anything, simply state, “No Pulling.” Once.
Do not repeat yourself.
When you repeat yourself with your dog, they learn that they don’t have to obey until you’ve repeated yourself. So, if you typically say a command three times, your dog won’t listen until the third time.
So, say it once and done.
Then we have the Reverse Method of leash training.
I love this method, and it’s what I’m working on with Boo. Some chronic pullers need a more immediate feedback than the Tree Method provides.
The Reverse Method is built for them.
Instead of standing like a tree when the dog pulls, you reverse course.
You don’t jerk the leash to do it, you just simply turn and go the other way.
Most of the time, the dog will now excitedly pull in THAT direction. Just turn around again. Most dogs will try to figure out what you’re doing and stop pulling.
I’ve seen it happen in several training videos. And a trainer friend of mine uses this method successfully with her most determined cases.
There’s a way to punch up the effectiveness of both of these methods.
When we talk in an excited voice, our dogs gravitate toward us to find out why. They want to be part of it.
So, if your dog doesn’t respond right away, talk to them in your excited voice.
They’ll think they’re missing something and come to you. That puts slack in the leash, and then you can move forward again.
It doesn’t matter much what you say in this part as long as you’re upbeat and excited. So, you can say, “Come on, let’s go this way!” They’re not responding to a command here, just the excitement in your voice.
Stop Dogs Pulling with Specialized Leads and Collars
You can go a number of ways. A standard collar and leash is all you should need in most cases. For some chronic heavy pullers, guardians may want to upgrade.
Choke collars for dogs. (not recommended)
Let’s talk about this one. I understand why people may feel they need to use this option. Particularly for larger, heavier dogs or dog perceived to be aggressive.
But I really hope you won’t resort to the choke collar. It bothers me. A lot.
This is a collar that literally deters your dog from pulling by choking them. It can be painful and even dangerous.
Every qualified trainer I’ve ever spoken to, read about, or watched says that positive reinforcement is far more effective for every breed.
Plus, some breeds get more aggressive with this sort of negative training method.
And I have an equipment upgrade that can help you avoid the choke collar while still maintaining control of your dog.
Chest-led harness for dogs.
A chest-led harness can come in a couple forms. What all forms I’ve seen have in common is that the harness buckles behind the front legs and has the lead ring on the chest rather than the back of the harness.
Some attach to the collar as well so you can eventually phase out the harness if you want.
What this harness does is take the pressure and control of the dog off its neck. This can be much safer for the dog’s sensitive neck muscles.
When a harnessed dog pulls, the harness shifts to the side.
This naturally turns the dog back toward you.
My personal favorite version of the chest-led harness is Victoria Stilwell’s Original Positively No-Pull Harness.
Victoria is a genius when it comes to dog training and products. Her reputation as an expert is well-deserved!
Her chest-led harness is heavy duty enough to help train the most determined pullers, and yet is versatile enough to help transition from chest-led to back attachment. This helps you have a middle step between the chest-led and attaching the leash directly to their collar
Whichever of the methods you’re using, the dog coming back toward you reinforces that staying with you is what they want to do.
More Tips for Leash Training Your Dog
The goal is that your dog starts staying right by your side or slightly in front of you as you walk them.
To truly test them, once they consistently stay with you…
Change up your dog walking route.
Walk in circles. Do a loop. If they turn to the right where you normally do, go left so they have to come back.
You’ll see that on top of no longer pulling, your dog stops trying to anticipate the routine and focuses more on staying with you.
Reinforcing leash training with rewards.
You’ve removed the reward of getting their own way, so you can reward them for giving you your way. Treat a dog who stays by your side with their favorite mini training treat.
Stop and let them smell the roses, that bush, that other dog… whatever they want.
Use lots of praise and excitement when the dog stays with you.
And always try to end with love. Love them up with hugs and kisses when you put them on the leash and again when you take them off.
Praise your dog at the end of your walk.
You want to always end on a high note so you BOTH look forward to your walks.
I’ll let you know how things work out with Boo. And I hope you’ll keep me posted on your leash training!! I’m also open to other ideas and tips if you have them!!
For more information on training, you can read our post Patch Puppy’s Tips for Successful Training. And to find out how to socialize a new dog into your family, read our post Should you introduce a new dog to your family?
Recommended Dog Training Courses to Stop Dogs Pulling
There are two online video based training courses that I recommend.
These two courses serve two very different purposes. The Doggy Dan course is the best behavioral training course that I’ve ever used. It tackles problem behaviors like pulling in ways that are innovative and kind and most of all WORK.
The Brain Training for Dogs course is a course that will help give curious and bored dogs something to do so that they don’t get destructive. Bored dogs often behave badly. The games in this course are fun to play with your dog and they go from easy to very advanced. If you think your dog is pulling or misbehaving out of boredom this video course is a good choice.
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