Stop Leash Pulling in 5 EASY Steps!
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Why Do Dogs Pull?
The answer may surprise you...Leash pulling is caused by HUMANS, yes thats right your interactions with your dog(s) can cause and/or reinforce their pulling behavior. However there are other things that factor into your dogs pulling, dogs also have what is known as Opposition reflex.
Consider that opposition reflex stems from the dog's natural instincts to survive which include flight, fight or freeze. So when you do things such as pull your dog towards you or try and push them away, you are activating that natural instinct. This is because your dogs brain is hardwired to resist pressure, especially when not taught to do something different.
Leash pulling becomes reinforcing the moment you get the puppy put a collar and leash on and follow them wherever they want, even if they are pulling. Allowing your dog to practice leash pulling even occasionally will reinforce the behavior, and as they say "practice makes perfect". This means that, through experience, your puppy will begin to believe pulling on leash is normal, even if it it means choking themselves to get to that person they want to meet.
In order to complete stop pulling, it can no longer work for them. Dogs perform behaviors that work or are reinforcing for them, which means you cannot allow your dog to practice pulling. If your dog pulls while on leash even if inside of the house you must immediately stop walking/moving completely. When we continue to follow our dogs to that tree they want to sniff or that dog they want to meet you are communicating to your dog that "YES, I like that behavior keep doing it”. The point being if you allow your dog to pull you ARE reinforcing that behavior and it will be impossible to eliminate! Steps below on how to stop your dogs leash pulling
Step 1: Capture your dogs attention
First you need to teach your dog to give attention (direct eye contact) automatically without you cueing it. To start this you are going to set a one minute timer, be quiet and do not talk to your dog, the moment they give you eye contact click your clicker and feed them a treat. Repeat this for the entire minute, and practice daily until your dog if offering eye contact at minute 10x per minute.
Step 2: Teach an automatic sit
Next you want to teach your dog how to sit automatically without being cued, to do this you are again going to set a one minute timer and without prompting or talking to your dog wait for them to sit. When your dog sits, click your clicker and feed them a treat, then use another treat lure them out of the sit and back into a standing position so that they can offer the behavior again. Repeat for the entire minute and practice daily until your dog if offering 10 sits per minute. When your dog is reliably sitting & giving attention begin the walking exercise below.
Step 3: All or Nothing
With the leash and clicker in your left hand, anchor your hand to your left hip (this means you want to try as much as possible to keep your left hand on your hip at all times during walking exercises). Your right hand should remain behind your back until you click, then you grab a treat and feed. Start by take one step forward then stop, wait for your dog to offer a sit & eye contact together, when they do click your clicker and then feed them the treat on the side you want them to walk on. We want to feed the treat on our left side because that is the side we want our dogs to walk on, so the more you feed on that side eventually they will naturally gravitate to that area because that is where all the rewards happen. Once you feed the treat take another step forward and again wait for a sit and eye contact, repeat this for 3 minutes at least 2x per day.
Step 4: Add More Steps
When your dog is reliably sitting and give attention within 5 seconds of you taking a step you can begin to add another step, so instead of taking one step take two steps. As your dog becomes reliable gradually increase steps, you want to be able to take at least 5 steps without stopping. Once you are able to take 5 steps begin varying the amount of steps you take before stopping. For example start with 4 steps then stop, 2 steps then stop, 1 step then stop and so on.
Step 5: Take it Outside
The final step is to practice outside of the house, and in new areas. Now remember your dog is going to be more distracted outside so you want a high value treat. I recommend fresh pet, Sunday's for dogs, real chicken, steak, cheese etc. Start in a backyard or deck if possible, when your dog is reliable there then move to more distracting areas such as your driveway or front yard. This steps is called generalizing, when generalizing we are trying to teach your dog that these rules for leash walking apply no matter where we are and what is going on. If your dog is to distracted you will want to drop criteria so that it is easier for your dog by only taking one step then build back up as they are reliable.
Stop leash pulling now
Your interactions with your dog can directly impact your dogs behavior, however given time and consistency your dog can learn to walk on a loose leash. These 5 EASY steps can work on any breed dog and any age, whether they are 8 weeks or 10 years old.