Teaching Dogs to Pull on Leash

Trainers tell me that there is a high percentage of dog owners who will never accomplish the task of teaching their dogs to walk nicely on leash. Although the protocol is incredibly simple, the time and patience required is more than the average dog owner is willing to commit...or so I'm told.

I find this fascinating since so many dog owners are so successful at teaching dogs to pull on leash in the first place. The training of either behavior is just as simple.

Think you didn't teach your dog to pull you like a sled in the Iditarod? I would beg to differ, but let's explore.

1. When you first acquired your dog or puppy, did you get the dog's leash out and say in an excited voice, "Wanna go for a walk? Let's go for a walk! C'mon, we're going for a walk! Yes, you love walkies...woo hoo!...we're going for a walk!" Okay, maybe your version is different, but most of us fall into the trap of getting excited about our dogs being excited. Stop for a second and think about just how irrational it is to get someone amped up for something that you are later going to expect them to do in a calm, relaxed fashion. Does that make any sense at all?

2. Has your dog every succeeded in getting where he wanted to go while pulling on leash? That's it, that's all I needed to know.

Dogs pull on leash because they are so excited about going for a walk and pulling on the leash gets them to their next destination. Plain and simple...it works.

Training a dog to walk nicely on leash is just as simple, but takes some time and patience. It requires that you work on the issue when you are not in a hurry and that you put the burden of concern on the dog, not you.

There are lots of ways to accomplish this, but here's how I do it and how I teach my students to do it:

1. Get out your leash, don't say a word, ignore the dog, put the leash down on the kitchen table and go do the dishes. Pick up the leash, put it back where it was, go read the paper. Put the leash on your dog, walk away. Take the leash off your dog, put it away and feed your dog dinner. Repeat this several times a day, unexpectedly. Of course, sometimes you will actually be going for walk, in which case you must do the following.

2. Never put a leash on a dog that isn't sitting. I said never. When you get the leash for a walk, ask your dog to sit. If your dog stands up at any point while you are putting on her leash, simple stop and stand up. Ask the dog to sit, try again. Keep trying until you can get the leash on with the dog remaining in a sit position. Again, you must have the mindset that puts the burden of concern on the dog. Think, "I don't care if we do this for an hour, I'm not the one who needs a leash on to go for a walk. It's up to you, dog." Of course, that won't work unless you mean it. And remember, you can decide to end the training game anytime, take a break, and try again later.

3. Practice walking to the door. If your dog can't walk on a loose leash in the house, she cannot do it outside. Once you've put a leash on a sitting dog, take a step toward the door. If the leash gets tight, stop. Wait for the leash to loosen, take a step. If the leash gets tight, stop. This is how you walk to the door, and this is how you walk outside.

4. Reward your dog for being "in the zone". You have to choose where you want your dog to walk. My criteria is simply a loose leash, I don't care where the dog is. When the leash is loose, I talk to the dog, praise the dog, give the dog food treats. If the leash gets tight, I stop and give no eye contact or praise.

I like to use the analogy of a car. If you were driving a car that would die any time you hit 60 mph, you would get very good at driving 59 mph or less. No matter how big a hurry you were in, driving faster would only slow you down. When walking your dog, you are the car and your dog is the driver. If she walks too fast, your engine stalls and she can't get where she's going.

Be forewarned, however, that if the engine sometimes keeps running when you hit the gas, you will try to push it now and then. The engine has to stop EVERY time, no matter what. THIS is the part that keeps owners from following through. It means that a dog cannot be allowed to move forward while pulling even when you are late for work, extra tired, in hurry to watch a TV show or really have to go to the bathroom.

I have not seen a single dog fail to learn how to walk on a loose leash within two weeks or less (usually less) when owners are consistent with this method.