Your daily walk with your dog should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience, but if you have an overly excited dog, your walk could quickly turn into a frustrating and stressful activity. Learn how to stop your dog from pulling, and start enjoying your walks again.
Your dog is over the moon excited for every outdoor adventure, so it’s hard to blame them for wanting to follow their nose and run free. If they’ve never been taught a better way, most dogs will continue to pull to the end of their rope... and yours.
This poor behaviour is more than just irritating, it can be dangerous too. They cough, they wheeze, they pant like crazy, all because they are so excited to explore, but the reality is that they can be hurting themselves.
Teaching your dog to walk appropriately takes time and perseverance, but trust us, it’s worth it. Your daily walks can be something that you look forward to. In the end, you will have a happier, healthier, and better-behaved dog.
We connected with local a St. Albert-based dog training company, Nurtured K9, to get some helpful tips for getting started. They offered some excellent advice on walking aids, common mistakes, and how to deal with distractions.
In this article, you'll learn:
- Choosing the Right Tools for Walking
- Choosing the Right Environment for Training
- How to Reward Every Success
- Steps to Loose Leash Training
Choosing the Right Tools for Walking
Before you get started, you need to make sure that you have the best tools to help you achieve your goals. Every dog is sized and shaped differently, so the walking accessories that you choose may vary depending on how they fit your dog.
There are a few different types of walking aids that can help. What you choose depends on your dog's shape and behaviour.
Harnesses can reduce the pressure and stress placed on your dog’s neck, while a collar will prevent chaffing and pressure on their shoulders. A collar should still be worn to display their tags, but these walking aids can be an effective if you choose the right style for your dog.
There are a few different styles of walking accessories that you can choose from, each with their own pros and cons:
1. Back-Hook Harnesses
This style is the most common harness on the market. They are simple to use and available in many different styles to accommodate different sizes of dog. Choose the style that fits most comfortably on your dog.
|Ideal for casual walking||Doesn't deter pulling|
|Simple to use||Can provide strong pullers with more leverage to pull|
|Easy to find and affordable||Poor fitting harnesses can still put pressure on neck|
2. Front-Clip Harnesses
If your dog is strong and consistently pulls, then a front clip style harness will be more effective for you. The leash will attach at the center of the front of their chest, and will hang to their side, forcing them to turn whenever they pull.
|Guides direction of your dog by turning them||Not suited to every style of dog|
|Sits low on their chest, away from their neck||Causes chaffing in armpits if not sized properly|
|Most styles tighten slightly to further deter pulling||Can be more expensive|
3. Head Collar
Head Collars like Gentle Leaders are the third style. This option is appealing to some because it guides the direction of their face, allowing you to break their line of sight from whatever they are pulling towards.
|Guides head to redirect concentration||Requires more training to allow your dog to adapt|
|Eliminates pressure on neck and chaffing from harness||Can be harmful if used improperly|
|Limits dogs ability to pull from their center of gravity||Can be uncomfortable on certain face shapes|
|Affordable||Limited styles and availabilities|
4. Two-Touch Harnesses
A two touch harness, like the Ruffwear Front Range Harness or the Walk Right harness, have both a front and a back clip. Using a coupler, or double-ended leash, you can attach your leash to both clips giving you the benefits and security of both styles of harnesses.
|Provides the most control and security||Multiple accessories make is more expensive|
|Most effective style for discouraging pulling||Few options and limited availability|
|Multi-purpose harness for different situations||More work to put on/ take off|
A slip lead is a collar and leash as a single unit. According to the team at Nurtured K9, slip leads are a good way to teach the dog the concept of pressure on, pressure off.
When they pull, they will feel pressure. When they relax or slow down, the pressure will be alleviated. This technique gives you the opportunity to reward or give praise as your dog puts the pieces together.
Harnesses can cause damage to their shoulders, especially with strong pullers. The constant turning and jerking can do damage over time, and can chafe the skin around their front legs and chest.
|Easy to use and put on||Puts pressure on the neck|
|Reduces chaffing from harness rubbing||Few options and limited availability|
|Inescapable||Handle grip can be uncomfortable|
The type of leash you choose will depend on where and how you are training. A common mistake when teaching proper walking etiquette is using a retractable leash. This style is not ideal for teaching boundaries. The goal is to teach your dog to give you a loose leash, which is not an option with retractable leashes, as the cord will always be taught.
It's best to invest in a standard 4-6 ft lead, according to the Nurtured K9 team. This will allow you to set a firm boundary for your dog. You want them to know how far ahead of you they are allowed to walk, and this gives you more control when you do come across a fun distraction.
Another option that is effective for this type of training is a hands free leash. This style may come with a belt, or may convert to allow you to wear the leash as a belt or sash. Having the leash as your center of gravity will give you more leverage if you need to stop or change directions, so it’s great for owners of large breeds or very strong dogs.
Choosing the Right Environment for Training
Dogs are easily distracted, excited and spooked, so choosing a suitable environment to train in can make or break your training experience. Your dog's ability to focus on instructions can be the difference between a productive and positive experience, and a frustrating or stressful one.
All training needs to be done in manageable steps, so pick an environment that suits your dog’s level of attention and experience.
In the beginning, limit training to quiet contained areas that you have control over. The backyard is a great place to start. This will minimize distractions and allow you to repeat commands and routines.
Tips From an Expert:
Nurtured K9 recommends working on obedience in a low distraction setting. You want to be the most important thing to your dog, and everything on the walks should be neutral to them unless a cue is given to interact.
Once the obedience is perfect in low distraction settings, you can start to add small distractions at a distance. Treat while you approach these distractions to associate them with a reward.
Choose times and places that won’t overwhelm your dog. Jumping right into a busy walking path will be very hard for your dog to stay focused and listen to your commands.
How to Reward Every Success
Make sure that you are focusing on positive behaviours. The goal is not to deter poor habits by reprimanding, but instead reward appropriate walking behaviour. Over time your dog will understand that good walking behaviours are rewarded, and will actively wait for your cues.
To do this, you’ll need to reward each success, each correct response, and even uninterrupted focus and eye contact. The reward can vary depending on your chosen training style, but treat training is the most popular method.
If you use treats to reward your dog, then be prepared to carry plenty of small treats on you at every training session. You will need treats that are high value, meaning that are very flavourful, have a stronger aroma, or are your dog’s favourite.
Avoid larger treats like biscuits, natural chews, and dental treats. Repeat treating with these treats will turn into a lot of extra calories. Look for small, soft, or chewy treats that can be cut or broken into even smaller pieces. Aim for treats that are smaller than a piece of kibble.
This allows you to treat heavily without overfeeding or causing digestive upsets. Try to rotate different treats and flavours into your training sessions to prevent your dog from getting bored or losing interest in the reward.
Check out some of The Best Training Treats for Dogs to get some great treat ideas, or find something high enough value that your dog will be intrigued.
Tip From an Expert:
The reward has to be good enough to make them want the treat over the distraction. Nurtured K9 suggests using cut up hot dogs if your dog needs something mouth-wateringly tasty to keep his attention.
Another way to reward is with an audible cue. For dogs that are not food driven, are overweight, or have a health issue that may limit treating practices, then verbal praise can be a good alternative.
This can be effective with vocal responses or through the use of training aids like a clicker. You can train your dog to understand that the sound of the clicker is praise for good behaviour.
Try using the vocal command "YES!!." This will let your dog know that they followed direction properly. Whether you are using treats or audible praise, the reward should be proceeded by this verbal cue.
Take a Break
Lastly, it’s important to let your dog enjoy his walking experience, so another form of reward is to teach a command like “go ahead,” or “OK” that tells your dog that it’s OK to take a break and explore.
Be sure not to encourage them to pull during this process. Make sure that you are walking towards the area that you are allowing them to explore and giving them enough room to sniff around or mark a tree or two. This should be done frequently throughout your walk.
When you are ready to keep going, give a verbal command to let your dog know that it’s time to go, like "walk."
Steps to Loose Leash Training
Loose leash training takes time and repetition, so don’t try to rush the process. The more time you spend on each step, the easier it will be for those lessons to sink in. In time, you can bring back the joy of walking with your dog.
To get the best results, try to exercise your dog before your training session. A quick game of fetch, tug, or even some mental exercising with puzzle toys can work out some of their excess energy to help your dog stay focused on the training.
Step 1: Gear Up
Putting on your dog’s walking gear can send them into a fit of excitement. Before you leave the house, gear up your dog and start asking for simple commands, like sit, shake, or lay down. Set the precedent that this is a training session, by asking a few simple commands and rewarding. This way your dog will be actively engaged as you begin to train new command
Step 2: Go to Training Space
Move to your backyard, driveway, or another familiar but secluded area. While holding the leash, continue to ask simple commands that your dog already knows, and reward for each correct response. Remember, you are trying to get them in the mindset that you are here to train.
Step 3: The Training Process
Now that you have your dogs attention, use the verbal command “walk” or a similar short command that you can use consistently. Start doing small laps. If at anytime your dog veers away or pulls too far ahead of you, immediately stop walking.
Don’t jerk on the leash or pull your dog back, just stop and prevent your dog from walking forward any further. Call your dog back to your side and ask for a sit. Once your dog has calmed, start your lap again using the same verbal command that you started with.
When your dog starts to walk closer to you, and gives you a loose leash, say "YES" and reward them. This step will take lots of practice. Doing it once or twice and getting positive results is great, but it doesn’t mean that your dog has learned to connect the vocal command with the desired behaviour.
The “follow me” game is another method of getting your dogs attention when they stop listening. This is a great way to reconnect with your dog when they are refusing to respond to your vocal commands. When they pull, say “follow me,” turn and start walking in the other direction. You don’t have to go too far, just far enough to get your dog to follow you.
Now that your dog will be behind you, you are in control of the direction of your walk. When your dog catches up to you, stop, ask for a sit, and reward. Don't forget to say "Yes" at each correct response!
Now you can turn back to your original direction and give the command to continue walking.
Do this each time your dog pulls. This will teach him that pulling will not get him what he wants. It will also teach him that you are in control of the walk, where you go, and how fast.
Step 4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Don’t dismiss the value of repetition. The more you do it, the better your dog will listen to your commands. This may be all you do for the first several training sessions, but in the long run, it will pay off.
You can switch up your pattern too. Do circles, change directions, do figure eights, or any other pattern you wish, as long as you are asking your dog to walk or follow and rewarding when they keep an appropriate pace.
Step 5: Advance Slowly
As your dog’s training progresses, you can start bringing your dog to larger, more open, and busier areas. Try to find a quiet walking path or a small park that will provide a few minor distractions to test out your dog’s focus. Things may quickly deteriorate as you add distractions, so stick to your guns, and stay consistent and positive.
Step 6: Maintain Consistency
Once your dog can demonstrate that they can keep focused and wait for your direction, then you are ready to try a more heavily populated walking area, like a pet store 😉. There may be missteps after each transition or new situations, so make sure that you continue to use the same language and praises to direct and reward your pup.
Step 7: Big Distractions
Some things will trigger a nervous or skiddish dog more than others. Cars, machinery, bicycles, and skateboard could easily break your dog's attention. Nurtured K9 recommends feeding constantly while passing these things. If you see a car or bicyclist, continue to feed small treats until it passes. This will start rewiring their brain to have a positive association with that trigger.
Step 8: Ask for Help
Sometimes even the best laid plans fall apart. If you find that you are getting too frustrated with slow results, or that your dog is just not interested in the process, then it's time to bring in a pro to help you.
Certified dog trainers, like the ones at Nurtured K9, will train both you and your dog to master the art of loose leash walking. They can assess your dog and determine which methods are going to be the most beneficial, and will give you all the tools and confidence that you need to teach your dog.
Connect with Nurtured K9 on Instagram to learn more!
One Paw in Front of the Other
Eventually, your dog will be able to give you a loose leash while passing trees, people, other dogs, and even wildlife without lunging forward in excitement. For some, this process may be quick, and others it could take much longer than you’d like. It will depend on how consistent you are and how excitable your dog is.
The important thing to remember is that your dog reacts based on instinct, and for most dogs, that instinct is “OMG! This is my favourite thing ever!!” Even if it's the same tree or neighbour that you walk by everyday.
You may not always have control of your surroundings, so be prepared for interactions. Check out What to Do if an Off-Leash Dog Approaches you While you are Walking your Dog for tips on how to handle an unexpected interaction during your training sessions.
You don’t want to take away the joys of exploring the outdoors, but you want to make sure that they know the rules, making walks safe and enjoyable for both of you. It will encourage more frequent walking and will train positive listening habits in your pet.
Puppies can be especially excitable, and the earlier you start training, the easier it will be to train good habits.
If you are not making progress and find yourself getting too frustrated, your dog will pick up on this. Consult with a professional trainer if your dog is not responding to this training method, or if you find yourself getting overwhelmed with the process.
Do you have a dog that pulls? Share your dog walking successes and frustrations in the comments below.