Canine Revolution


How to Properly Teach Your Dog to NOT Pull On a Leash

Written by

Chad Singer

Written by

Chad Singer

Chad’s mission is to help as many dog owners truly enhance their relationship with their dogs despite the issues that they may be experiencing.

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Consequences of A Dog That Pulls on the Leash

Something that the majority of dog owners deal with is a dog that pulls on the leash. Not only can this be annoying and frustrating for both dog and owner, but it can also have certain physical impacts on both that we should try to avoid.

A dog that pulls on the leash can cause joint and back pain to the owner from the constant tugging and tension put on the leash by the dog. This can result in an owner having to visit healthcare professionals to try and alleviate the pain caused to the joints or back. A leash pulling dog can also cause neck and joint pain to the dog as well. Flat collars are notorious for collapsing tracheas due to leash pulling and pulling on the leash can cause a variety of joint and back problems for the dog that may require veterinary attention or reduce the longevity of the dog’s joints. All these are reasons why we need to teach our dog about proper manners on a leash.

Root Causes of Leash Pulling

Before we dive into how we like to teach proper leash manners, first we have to understand why a dog may be pulling on the leash. The root cause for leash pulling is opposition reflex, which is a natural reflex in all mammals. Basically opposition reflex is when a mammal feels some force applied to them, such as tension on a leash, they naturally apply an opposite force. So if someone tries to push me over my body will naturally begin to try and keep myself upright by applying a force opposite of the person pushing me.

The first time a puppy gets a leash put on them and any type of tension is applied to that leash, the puppy’s natural instinct is to begin an opposing force with their body thus we are beginning to create a leash puller. As we know, once a behavior (such as putting tension against leash tension) is practiced multiple times it becomes a muscle memory then a habit. So by innocently and simply putting a puppy on-leash several times a day to go walk or potty, I am creating a leash pulling dog if I don’t address it. This applies to harnesses, collars, slip leads, etc.

So for us here at Canine Revolution Dog Training, what we like to do is desensitize a dog’s opposition reflex in regards to leash tension placed on a collar around the dog’s neck however we like to maintain and encourage opposition reflex in regards to tension placed on a harness. This is because we train in a balanced, rewards-based dog training system and sometimes we want to build up higher levels of energy or drive for a certain reward and we can do that by using a harness.

We want a dog to pull hard into a harness to access a reward for certain behaviors.

Obviously, if the dog needs to wear a harness for particular types of work, such as mobility work, we will adjust that but for most of the pet dogs and working dogs we work with we will preserve opposition reflex in regards to the harness and desensitize opposition reflex in regards to the collar.

Steps to Properly Teach Your Dog to Not Pull on a Leash

So the way that we like to desensitize opposition reflex is really simple however it may take quite a few repetitions over a number of training sessions depending on your dog.

Step 1

The first thing we do is condition a marker to the dog which communicates they have done the right thing, are released from behavior, and can access a reward. We like to use food rewards for this such as happy Howie beef rolls or hot dogs for example. We also use the word “Yes” as a verbal marker however you could use a clicker or some other sound, it really doesn’t matter as long as you condition the marker to equal a release from behavior and ability to access the reward.

The way we do that is we have the dog in our training area, which is generally like a back yard, and we have the dog on-leash with a fur saver training collar (similar to a choke chain style collar) and we wait for the dog to look at us, once they look at us we say “Yes”, backup and offer a food reward out of our hand. We do this for multiple, multiple repetitions and multiple sessions until the dog comes out into the training area, looks at us, and when we say “Yes” the dog is already moving forward as we back up to access the reward from our hand. Patience is critical here as with every piece of dog training, don’t be in a rush. The process for conditioning markers to your dog is extremely important because it enables clear communication between the two of you.

Step 2

So once we have our marker conditioned then we can actually start working on leash tension and leash manners.

Again, we take our dog out to our training area on leash. Once we are in the training area our dog may be trying to make eye contact with us or they may be looking around. Either way, what we want to do is hold the leash parallel to the ground at about the dog’s shoulder level and gently apply some tension to the leash.

At first, the dog may rear back, stand up on his or her back legs, or struggle with the tension being applied. Be patient and keep the tension applied to the collar as best you can. What you are looking for is any motion or movement of your dog giving way to the tension and once you see that, even the slightest movement, you immediately mark the behavior, we say “Yes”, back up and offer a food reward from your hand.

Again, the movement of your dog giving way to the tension may be so slight and so hard to see so you have to be watching carefully and mark the exact moment they give way and then offer the reward. If this happens you have completed a single repetition and have many more to go!

As you are completing your repetitions, you are looking for your dog to give way to the tension very quickly and easily as soon as you apply it with your leash. Continue to reward every single good repetition, if you get a bad repetition simply don’t give a reward and reset your scenario. If you or your dog is getting a little stressed in a session cut your training session short and come back to it later.

Step 3

Once your dog is responding very well to the tension and giving way easily, then you need to practice applying tension from all angles of your dog’s neck, that way he or she will be desensitized to leash pressure or tension from any aspect of their neck.

The Results

Completing the proper training for your dog in regards to leash tension enables you to use your leash as a “guide” for future behaviors because you can simply lead them with your leash and also enables you to enjoys walks with your dog because they won’t be pulling on the leash! When you are walking once they feel the tension they should adjust themselves and put some slack into the leash, if they don’t you may need to revisit the training steps above and really solidify the behavior and response to leash tension.

It is also important to note that this training process may not take one training session or one day, it may take multiple training sessions over a number of days which means that what you do in-between sessions is critical to achieving your goal as quickly and efficiently as possible. We call this “management” because we have to manage what our dog is doing between our training sessions to achieve our end goal.

The keep aspect of management as it solely relates to leash pressure and tension work is to not allow your dog to practice or rehearse leash pulling behaviors during your training process. So you could move your dog around on a harness, since we aren’t really concerned about opposition reflex in regards to the harness and use the collar when we are training. Or every time we need to take our dog out on a leash we ensure that we are ready to practice and train leash pressure and leash tension work.

Remember the importance of proper leash manners is not only to prevent you or your dog from being annoying or frustrated with each other but also to promote the longevity of the health of our body, specifically on our back and joints and also our dog’s necks.

The earlier you are are able to achieve proper leash work with your dog the easier it will be, but an old dog can still learn new tricks.

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