Stop Pulling on the leash!!!

Stop Pulling on the leash!!!

Without a leash you would probably be without a dog.” Dr Ian Dunbar.

The law requires that when you take your dog outside your property the dog must be on leash and for good reason. Unfortunately, taking a dog into a public area is quite often not a pleasurable activity for many dog owners. They need to overcome the most common problem that dog owners complain about …”My dog is pulling like mad when I take him for a walk – he is too strong and I cannot control him.”

Pulling on the lead is a very bad habit that both owner and dog are engaging in and therefore they are both responsible for creating the bad habit!!! The dog pulls to go and sniff or meet a friend and the owner pulls the opposite way to slow him down. Who is walking who?  He pulls, you pull and neither of you are winning. To put a stop to this you first need to understand a dog’s opposition reflexive behaviour.

Opposition Reflex

If you pull a dog towards you, he will instinctively pull away. If you push him he will push back. Beginner trainers often try to get their dog to sit by pushing down on the dog’s hindquarters only to find the dog immediately pushes back into a standing position. This opposite directions behaviour is called an opposition reflex. It stems from a dog’s predatory instinct. Tension instinctively causes a flight, freeze or fight reaction. When you pull a dog he tenses and may freeze (stop), pull more (flight) or fight back (fight).


Puppy owners unknowingly encourage this reflex behaviourto flourish. Once they have fitted a collar and a leash they allow the puppy to practice the opposition reflex over and over again. The puppy is rewarded for pulling if it gets to meet and play with another dog or if it can reach an interesting smell. Soon you have a perfect recipe for pulling because the dog learns that the more he pulls, the more he gets what he wants. The dog, through experience, accepts that a tight leash is normal even if he struggles to breathe. It is only when the puppy grows heavier and gets stronger that the owner starts looking for help.


Dog owners are terribly inconsistent about leash control. Sometimes they care about the dog pulling and other times they simply allow the dog to pull like mad at the end of the leash. When they are on their way somewhere specific and decide to take the dog along they mostly fail to pay attention to proper leash control. Often their minds are occupied; they are in a hurry or paying attention to someone else, so the dog just pulls and the owner pulls back.

The problem with inconsistency is that the dog does not know when he is going to be allowed to pull or not. Mostly dogs will try to pull rather than to walk nicely next to its owner. If your dog has been pulling before then you need to start training all over again.

How to stop pulling on the leash

The main aim in successful leash training is to get your dog to want to walk nicely next to you on a loose leash. He must enjoy what he does while you are in control of the training.

When the leash cannot be felt then we are moving together as a team. The leash is there because the law requires that you must have control of your dog when in public. It prevents the dog from, amongst other things, being injured by cars, endangering passers-by or soiling in the wrong places.

Ideally puppy owners should join a structured socialisation class. It is the very best thing you can do for your puppy; meeting other puppies and people and teaching your puppy not to pull. Older dogs and people with newly adopted dogs from shelters should enrol for training at a club. Walking nicely in the presence of other dogs and distractions is far better than walking nicely during the evening stroll near your home.

However, starting at home in a safe place is essential and should follow a set pattern.

Follow off-leash

Remember, you must get the pup/dog to want to do what you want him to do. A dog looks at things thinking, “What’s in it for me?” So we take plenty of tasty treats and waggle one piece, in your left hand, near the face of the pup/young dog and say, “Come with me” as you walk away for him to follow you off-leash. Talk to him in a happy voice and reward him as soon as he catches up to you. The dog must learn, “If I work – I get something” and that “my owner brings nice things and I trust him.”

Do not accommodate your dog in any way. You are the leader and decide where to go, when to treat etc. If the dog wants to go ahead of you, turn around, turn left or right but stay ahead and provide a treat when your dog happily follows you. This can be done indoors around furniture, down a passage and into the yard with you leading all the way.

SSCD (Stop, Start, Change Direction)

Before introducing the lead/leash, which in some cases can cause a difficulty with young dogs that still do not trust their owners, we begin SSCD training with the dog off lead.

Call your dog and using a treat in your left hand guide the dog into his “walking position” close to your left side; treat and praise. This will become his starting position – nose to your left side – also known as the “Heel” position. Say “Come with me” and walk away a few steps (+/- 5) stop and treat and praise your dog when he sits close to you. Turn in any other direction and repeat as before. Constantly change your direction and stop very frequently.  Make sure that you are the one that is actually leading the exercise and not the dog.

Do lots of short SSCD moves. By passing a treat over the head of the dog as you stop you should have your dog sitting instantly. ‘Sits’ and ‘downs’ could form part of this training. Feed your dog his dinner piece by piece while training him to follow you happily. When your dog walks next to you, paying attention to your movements, it is time to start on-leash training.

Walking on-leash

Walking on-leash is much the same as was done previously. The dog now walks on your left side on a loose leash and you can move to training areas where there are more distractions.  Do sessions at home before moving to the driveway or areas where there are slightly more distractions and passing traffic.

But here is the catch; it is absolutely vital that you, the owner, go through the door first every time the dog is on leash! This signifies that as leader your job is to make sure the coast is clear and that you are in control of the walk. If the dog forces its way out first, then you are back to the beginning and pulling again!

When you start training in a new area make sure that the walk starts with a calm dog. Wait for the dog to calm himself or be calmed by you and is paying attention to you! This is an important part of leadership to keep the dog’s enthusiasm steady. Use the food and the leash to get the dog in the right position before the walk starts. Do plenty of SSCD exercises now on lead/leash.

As the walk begins the dog must never be allowed to walk ahead! This position is reserved for the leader only. It is imperative that owners do not get into a pulling battle with their dog. The owner makes the rules and the dog must obey them. If a dog pulls continuously, the walk must be aborted. When dogs learn that by too much pulling on the lead the walk does not happen, they soon learn to stop pulling. Walking nicely leads to more walks, pulling – to staying at home. Try again later.

Your dog’s desire to follow and remain close to you is the necessary foundation for walking nicely on-leash. Thus, you must work hard to stimulate that desire with great treats, talking happily, slapping your side, dangling a toy or whatever works for your dog. Talking non-stop at the beginning of a walk can get good attention from most dogs. Changing speed by walking faster or using heavy steps may work for some.

There are some dogs that simply don’t want to walk next to their owners. Then there are others who get over excited and will pull against anything that is restrictive; they simply want to go faster. We know how difficult and how much time it takes to have trained a dog that listens and respects the leash. We also know the value of consistency.

I prefer “Watch” as my contact word in obedience exercises.  Pass the treat/toy past the dog’s nose and then bring it to your eye level before rewarding him for making eye-contact with you. Repeat until the dog associates “Watch” with eye-contact and a reward. Classical conditioning! (Pavlov)

The point here is to get the dog to look at you and not to start smelling on the ground. Once the nose is down sniffing you might as well stop because you will be pulling! That is why, in the beginning, I walk my dog down the middle of the road because there are no smells. Walking next to or on the sidewalk is the worse place to start training.

Make your sessions short and allow your dog to sniff occasionally. By using your longer line he can even wander off for a while as a reward for walking nicely. When Polo walks nicely for about 100 yards I let her free and play her favourite launcher game.

Dogs walk faster than people so try and gauge the normal walking speed of your dog and let walking at that pace become a habit. Walking too slowly is the cause of much pulling.


If a dog pulls on the leash it is because he thinks he is the leader.  We need to get the dog to accept that we are the leaders. By turning during training or on the walk you take over leadership. The dog sees the leader moving away and has to hasten to catch up.

Some dogs are in control of the walk before you have even left the home.  Once you have lost control at the start you are not going to get it back on the road.

Gadgets such as a Halti’s or no-pull harnesses, etc. do not really stop dogs from pulling. They just restrict them a bit and if the owner likes it, the poor dog has to wear it for life.

If you do not feel too well or happy about walking your dog in the rain, or that you are not in control of the dogs then DO NOT WALK just yet. It is better not to walk than to walk badly.

It is NOT essential to follow the fad that dogs must have a daily walk. A wolf sleeps 16-20 hours a day and is in great physical condition and is not hyperactive. Dogs need more sleep to become relaxed.

A walk for a few blocks near your house is hardly what can be called, “exercised” for a dog. Playing with your dog will provide him with much more exercise.

Aggression on the walk, on leash, has much to do with the fact that the first of the three options, flight, freeze or fight has been taken away and he has only freeze or fight left.

Some dogs walk so that their heads are slightly ahead of the handler and walk without actively pulling. (Polo is one of those.) Each handler must decide on minor changes in position as long as the dog does not pull and walks on a loose leash.

Nothing can replace actual training which requires time, patience and persistence!!!!!!


I have written a number of articles about this subject in my book “A Trained Dog is a Good Dog” and on this website and strongly suggest another closer look at some of them: 

Walk, Walkies, Heeling

Getting started: Heeling

Pulling on the Leash


Heel exercises

Leash Control

Becoming the Pack Leader

Walking Many Dogs

Heel 1

Heel 2 Competition Heeling

Competition Heeling Tips