A good walk is a great way to bond with your dog and get some exercise. Unfortunately, walks aren’t nearly as fun when your dog tries to walk you.
Dogs pull on their leash because they have places they want to go, and you’re not going quite fast enough for them. This habit can make walks not only aggravating, but tiring as well. Fortunately, there are ways you can help reeducate a pull-happy dog. Check out these steps from Professional Animal Trainer and TV Show Host Joel Silverman how you can stop a dog from pulling on the leash.
6 Steps for Pull-Free Leash Training
Step 1: Start small
To start, you’ll need to find a good training space inside your home. All you need is a small, four-foot-by-four-foot area, so part of your living room, bed room, or any other clear space is perfect. The key is that you want to start training in an area with no distractions, so stay away from open windows and put away any toys to make sure your dog is ready for leash training.
Once you’re in your space, you only need a few things to start training. First, make sure your dog is on a leash and at your left side. Second, you’ll want to have a few tasty training treats ready. If you’re not used to using treats for training, check out our post the right way to train your four-legged friend with treats.
Step 2: Turn before you walk
Before you and your buddy get to walking, you need to work on turning first. To start, say the word “heel” one time. After that, starting walking to your left to make a tight circle around your dog, a quarter of a circle at a time. During this, gently pull your dog back with the leash to make sure he stays at your side instead of walking ahead. Once a full circle is completed, stop and give your dog a treat while his head is next to your leg. Then repeat the whole process again.
“It sounds really funny, but you’ll want to keep going,” Silverman says. “Do another revolution and give the dog a treat. If the dog understands from day one that his master can turn in any direction, he’s not going to assume it will always be a circle. That’s what keeps that dog next to the leg. He is learning that he doesn’t know where to go, so he has to stay next to your leg.”
After your dog shows some level of comfort with the left-hand turns, it’s time to move to the right. For this, you’ll want to pivot on your right foot and use a treat to guide the dog in a small circle around you, stopping at 90-degree intervals. Once you complete the circle, makes sure your dog is at your side and give him a treat. If you’re having trouble visualizing how to complete either turn, you can watch Silverman show off both left and right turns below.
In general, you want to go through short training sessions with your dog. Sticking with three-minute sessions can save your dog from getting burned out over time. That means short sessions and a few treats will help your best friend stay interested and excited for the next time you train. Also, don’t be worried if it takes a few days for your dog to get the hang of things. Every dog is different, but eventually your pooch will start turning with you on left turns and responding to right turns without treats.
Step 3: Figure eights
Once your dog starts showing a level of comfort and understanding with both left and right turns, it’s time to add some figure eights into the mix. For this, you’ll do half a circle of a left turn followed by half a circle of a right turn. This will help you test your dog’s ability to change direction after half a circle and will get him used to staying by your side no matter the direction.
When you and your dog complete both half-circles, you can give your dog a treat. Like with the left and right turns, give your dog some time to get used to this new pattern and move on to the next step once he gets the hang of things.
Step 4: Short walk and turn
Now that your dog is a turning master, it’s time to move forward – literally. In the same area as before, have your dog at your left side and take a couple of steps forward. After a few steps, say “heel” and go into a 90-degree left turn. Once you complete the turn and your dog has stayed at your side, take a couple more steps forward and use some treats to guide him to the right. Once you’re done, reward that “good boy” with a treat.
Keep following this pattern over multiple short sessions, making sure that your dog stays next to your left side. Over time, you can take more and more steps in between each turn to help prepare your dog for an actual walk. After some time, your dog can graduate to an exciting new training location – your front yard.
Step 5: Practice outside
While you and your dog are ready to practice outside, it’s important to know that it’s not quite time for a regular walk. There are many potential distractions outside of your home, so you want to practice the figure eights and walking a few steps and turning in your front yard before it’s time to hit the sidewalk.
“What people need to understand is that dogs often get excited once they hit that sidewalk,” Silverman explains. “They’ve always walked and pulled before, but now we’ve retrained the dog. What you don’t want to do is go through all this training in the house and the front yard and have your dog think that you’re just going to take a walk.”
How long should this process take? Each dog is different, but Silverman suggests taking a couple of days to train in your front yard or driveway before you move to the sidewalk. When you do, limit your steps on the sidewalk to five to 10 feet leading away from your house before turning back and repeating the pattern. It may feel like a long process, but stretching out training like this will give your dog some sort of structure so that he realizes he should walk beside you instead of pulling.
Step 6: The big walk
When you’re ready to venture beyond 10 feet of sidewalk, it’s time to take your dog for his first post-training walk. When you do, make sure you have your dog at your left side, just like you did during training. Hold the end of the leash with your right hand and have your left hand about 12 to 18 inches away from your dog’s collar. It’s also very important to make sure that you keep some slack in the leash.
“You never want there to be tension,” Silverman says. “When there’s tension, dogs want to pull. If you train the dog using tension, the dog will want to pull and you’re just holding the dog back. If you keep some slack, you’ll let the dog think and learn on his own.”
As you walk your dog, it’s also crucial that you stay aware of your surroundings and look out for any other dogs. Even if your dog is great with other animals, your dog should be focused on the lesson at hand. If you see another dog coming toward you, go on the other side of the street or find a place where you can step back and give your dog some space. A little anticipation will make sure your dog focuses on your walk and not on distractions.
Finally, there are times where you’ll walk with your dog and he’ll need to go to the bathroom and he may feel the need to pull in front for a bit. That’s completely fine. Once your dog has gone to the bathroom, clean up after him and give the heel command so that he can go back to your side.
Take Leash Training a Walk at a Time
Whether you just adopted a new puppy or need to retrain a dog who has pulled his whole life, it can take time for your furry friend to walk right by your side. However, that doesn’t mean that leash training must feel like a chore. Leash training can be both a fun bonding experience and a serious training experience. If you stay diligent and make sure your dog is still excited to learn, the two of you will be able to walk side-by-side in time.