Walks & How To Stop a Dog from Pulling On Leash

Keep in Mind before You Start

Training a dog to stop pulling on a leash requires a lot of skill and time. Following these instructions through out this page, your dog will find you exciting, and fun to follow, and your dog will learn to walk calmly on-leash. Pulling on the leash and walking on a “heel” command are polar opposite types of dog walks. It can be confusing for a dog if you allow it to pull on leash some times but then expect a “heel” on others. A fun and stress-free dog walk require that the dog learns that pulling will keep us from moving in the desired direction. 

The process of learning to train your dog to walk can be a lifelong rewarding journey and a powerful relationship bonding experience. Both you and your dog will get to learn about each other and yourselves on a much deeper level. 

Dog training is a science; what you do with it is the art. Enjoy the process, and take it one win at a time. 

Leadership

  • Being a leader for your dog means having; awareness, compassion, kindness, self-confidence, and the proper presence and firmness for each situation. 
  • Reduce stress for your and your dog by being a considerate leader, giving the dog a task/job.
  • Issues on walks stem from a lack of leadership and engagement.
  • Letting your dog take leadership in a stressful, confusing, and distracting world can lead to unwanted behaviors and states of mind.
  • Dogs thrive with leadership(guidance/direction). Leadership is the clearest way to show your dog love; in some cases, it can help remove anxiety/fear/reactivity/aggression. 
  • Remember the 3C’s, D’s, and E’s when leading your dog and honoring your dog’s level of understanding and obedience.
  • During walks, the aim is to keep our energy calm before moving forward, especially towards something the dog wants

Leash Communication and Cues

  • We can always practice things to set your dog up for success before you start training walks in high distraction areas. Use leash cues to tune your dog up prior to walks (reward heavily)
  • Leash cues are tactile cues for communications; when it is conditioned correctly, walks become very enjoyable.
  • Teach that a leash is a calming tool, not an exciting one.  
  • CUES:
    • Leash taps- gets the dogs attention, I require eye-contact (engagement) after a “Tap-Tap”.
    • Pulling/Tension sideways- Teach your dog that when it hits the end of the leash/pulls we stop moving and to come back closer to handler.
    • Tension up- when having collar activated (tightening, while gently and slowly pulling up) we will teach the dog to “Sit” next to us.

 

Mindset and Patience

  • When teaching new things, take your time, and do it when you are both in the right mindset. 
  • As simple as this is, it takes a lot of reps.
  • Most importantly, Quality over Quantity. Remember that it is not about the distance you walk, but rather the quality of the walk. Focus on the intentions with your leash communication instead of the distance of the walk. 
  • Walks can be the most enjoyable and essential part of a dog’s day. Concentrate on making the best of it, even if it means not going far or doing new things.  
  • Stay focused; becoming distracted, using sloppy techniques and extreme/quick methods can create many unwanted outcomes, make things very complicated for the future, and put you and your dog at risk. 
  • Have an awareness of your surroundings at all times, be aware of what May trigger your dog.  
 

Engagement

  • Most walking issues are a lack of engagement: communication, connection, focus, relationship, 
  • Put engagement on cue.
  • It’s okay to build engagement without food first and then move towards food or toys for dialing in the Heel-work. This is something that can be taught through lifestyle changes and different methods.
 

Types of walks

  • Make your criteria clear, what type of walk, where to walk etc. Have at least two different walks, a structured one and a casual one (I also incorporate a full freedom walk)
  • Use the 3C’s, 3D’s, 3E’s
  • Heeling must be practiced in a low distraction area first; start where the dog is relaxed and engaged with you. Make it worthwhile to the dog.
  • Start free shaping the position in the walk once it is on the side we want. We aren’t using commands but lures/requests.
  • We don’t expect automatic heel or name it when we first start; this is an advanced behavior that is worthwhile having your dog learn in steps.
 
 

Tips to remember

Relax and enjoy

  • Mistakes are not a big deal if your dog has a hard time; come back to practice the issue another time
  • Your dog needs a leader, not a drill sergeant 
  • Check the Vibe of the walk by Using the 3 E’s – engagement, environment, energy.
 

Pulling Issues

  • Leash pulling = stop moving or dog follows person, walk when the clip-on collar is not tight. 
  • Do not let your dog pull you when being walked on a collar, even when you’re not training. I allow pulling on a harness (for exercise purposes, or when there isn’t time for training, but never on a collar).
  • There is no problem with a dog getting distracted; what is essential is that when you cue them to go, the dog goes.
  • Feel the leash; don’t get caught up in looking at the dog. The dog needs to be preoccupied with focusing on you when leash cues are given.
  • If the dog keeps forgetting that you are at the other end of the leash, go back to practicing structured walks with fewer distractions. If it’s pulling towards something you approve for them to check out, ask for a “Sit” and eye contact when they start pulling. In the long run, this teaches dogs to control their impulses and ask us for approval of the things they are curious about.
 

Troubleshooting Constant pulling 

  • Make leash cues exciting and worth checking in on(Use leash taps/verbal before directional turns and praise often and on time when it looks good.
  • “Red light, Green Light” or Directional Turns 
  • If the dog pulls you 1000 times, stop 1001 times. When the dog stays on agreed criteria, then we get to explore more.
 

 Length of Training 

  • Practice loose-leash walking 2-4 times a day for 3-20 minutes at a time until your dog is an expert at the exercise. Then extend the time and distance.
  • Use alternative tools to let the dog pull (harness) when you need to walk the dog and don’t feel like training.
  • Don’t wait for your dog to get bored or tired before the session ends. Always end it on a high note with a jackpot reward!
 

Environment

  • To have a relationship built on joy and clarity. The foundation must be done in a non-distracting place. Teach your dog to follow and “Heel” off-leash and on-leash (short and very long leashes) in various locations, start inside your home and then move outside your home.
  • Start with minimal distractions. If the dog doesn’t listen in the home, why take it to practice outside. 
  • Be aware of your environment, especially the outdoors. 
  • Sidewalks can feel like walking on a boring train track for most dogs. Thus, using the environment as an obstacle course, every few blocks will keep dogs engaged and entertained. Asking dogs to weave through objects, jump on and off things, look through plants to find hidden food/toy, do random combinations of commands, use their favorite toy as a reward all build a stronger bond and help build coordination social enrichment. 
 

Speed and Directional Turns

  • Walking faster and abruptly changing directions helps dogs stay focused a lot more than going slow and straight.
  • The more you change directions and reward in the agreed position, the more engagement you get
  • Keep in mind that naturally, dogs don’t walk in a straight line, and your dog’s average walking speed is faster than yours. This is easy to manage if you teach engagement and reward accordingly.
 

Frequency of Rewards

  • Slowly add steps in between marking/rewarding.
  • When first teaching new things, reward both randomly for parts of the behavior being offered and for a combination of behaviors that you’ll later chain together into a command(ex: “heel,” “fetch”)
  • Have the dog check-in and reward the dog before getting closer to other dogs, distractions, and triggers
  • Become a human slot machine that randomly rewards known commands/behaviors 

 

Outings 

  • Keep a reasonable distance from other dogs and people, fewer greetings, and more engagement with the handler.
  • If the dog shows constant anxiety or confusion, remove them from that environment, you can make time to work on it later.
 

Speed in Obedience

To get your dog to do what you ask quickly, you have different options.

  •  When teaching the behavior, reward with verbal praise or a low-value reward any time the dog offers the behavior. Do not offer a jackpot, high-value treats, or excess rewards until the dog complies with the first time that you say the command. 
  • Another way is only to teach the command when the dog is very interested, excited, and engaged for the reward that will come through the command (play, high-value rewards)

 

I am aware that I can make some of these exercises look easy, but it might not be so easy on your own and with your dog (I’ve been doing it for 20 years, don’t compare yourself to anyone). I created a breakdown of each thing we covered on my K9 Playbook.

Types of walks:

I teach 3 types of walks, they relate to the 4 states of mind of living with dogs. 3 of them can be used for walking. “Calm State” is stationary; it’s not included below. 

“Walk” Loose-Leash  (Casual): 

This is a casual walk, the dog walks parallel in any location to the handler with no tension on leash, ready to check-in when leash cues are given. The reward is that we continue walking. 

On a harness: they can pull; this is great for puppies, new dogs, or dogs exercising. 

  • This types of walk consist of being intentional with your leash communication.
  • Keep a gentle, constant pace, practicing “sit/heel” command combinations randomly during the walk or at street corners.
  • Can be on a variety of leashes or off-leash. (with puppies I use a 20-40 foot leash to practice)
 

“Break” (Freedom): 

Dog does what it wants. This is done with a verbal cue. I interrupt the dog if they are about to do something dangerous and heavily reward any quick recall. 

  • This walk allows the dog to smell the surroundings, take potty breaks, and greet other known dogs or friendly people.
  • Can be on a variety of leashes or off-leash. (with puppies I use a 20-40 foot leash to practice)
  • Please remember that the freedom walk is meant to be used as a way to enjoy all the work you’ve done with your dog. Don’t rush to this unless you have great recall and engagement.  This walk is given as a reward.
 

“Heel” (Structured Walk) 

Heel (walking next to the handler). I teach this through a system I call “Heel Dance” and “Pull to Heel,” which includes lots of leash cues, agreements, and the dog’s favorite rewards. This is great for dogs leaving in busy urban settings or dogs that are fearful, reactive, or aggressive. When working dogs with behavioral issues, I require a lot from them on a walk and switch back and forth between slowly bringing up the criteria and celebrating with their favorite reward. This helps create fantastic engagement and obedience around triggers. 

  • We move as one without stopping-no smelling, no greeting other dogs, etc. The dog is only allowed to stop at the handler’s request.
  • This is the walk we use to get exercise, moving through distractions, to walk to a specific location, or juggling multiple things
  • Provide clear direction and soft corrections. Use as much praise as you can, particularly at the beginning of the walk, without getting the dog too excited.
 

 When going on a walk, start with “Heel” type of walk until you get to the potty area and give verbal release cue. When you want to start walking, say the word (“Walk”/”This Way”/”Heel”) you wish to use to initiate the structured or casual walk. Pick one and make it clear to your dog; don’t confuse the two. Use your judgment for the duration of each; keep in mind that dogs that are allowed to have more time on a “Free Walk” vs. a “Structured Walk” will lead to having marking (excessive peeing), reactivity, pulling, and barking issues.

 

Remember:

  •  “quality over quantity” focuses on the walk quality/feeling rather than the distance.
  • For dogs new at these walks, ask for a “sit” position when crossing a street or getting too close to the curb. Because it’s a safety issue, I’m always very serious during street crossings.
  • Stop only if it is apparent that your dog needs to   relieve itself, say “Break”/”Go Potty”/etc.
  •  

Leash Communication

The video below shows the process that we will follow to teach leash communication. We will use different words to explain how leash communication works with between a human and a dog.

Important Note- You must first teach these new ways of understanding a leash, it takes many repetitions of each type of leash cue for it to be reliable. Practice in very low distractions first, slowly bring up the level of distractions before assuming it will work. 

  • Commands through leash cues

    • Leash taps- gets the dog’s attention. I require eye contact (engagement) after a “Tap-Tap.” Gently tap on the leash, slowly bringing up the pressure.) Asks for the dog’s attention previous to receiving more leash cues, commands, direction, etc. For most dogs, I require eye contact (engagement) after a “Tap-Tap”.

    • Pulling/Tension sideways- Teach your dog that when it hits the end of the leash/pulls, we stop moving and come back closer to the handler.

    • Tension-up- when having the collar activated (tightening, while gently and slowly pulling up) we will teach the dog to “Sit” next to us.

  • Changing Behaviors with a leash: 
    • “Pressure”-(Negative reinforcement) It can be used when a trained dog won’t fulfill the command. Once a dog has been fully taught a command, you can apply “Pressure”; vocal (Uh-Uh), leash/collar tension (slip lead, prong collar, e-collar), or spacial pressure (your body). Negative reinforcement, not a punishment) as a guide to wanted behavior.
    •  Leash Pop– used to stop behaviors (positive punishment.) When the dog does an unwanted behavior, the leash is “popped” a second after using the word “No” during the unwanted behavior. This teaches that the word “No” means I do not like what is being done, and it may possibly lead to a physical leash punishment, a leash “pop.”

Teaching Loose-Leash, Heel Walks & "Pull to Heel/Sit"

Loose Leash Walking”-The end of leash pulling . I use 3 methods, the “Pull to Heel” (this is my recommended approach but takes longer to learn) where we don’t move forward until the dog is in a “Heel/Sit” position. If you are able to walk your dog using any of the steps to “Pull to Heel/Sit” you will quickly see more engagement and connection between you and your dog.  The easier methods to start training walking a leash are “Heel Dance” (U-Turn & Sit) and “Red Light, Green Light” walks. These two ways are great for puppies younger than 5 months, for reactive dogs, dogs with no previous training of any type, or owners that don’t require much from a walk.

Important Note- Remember you are teaching a dog to understand leash cues (another language) and to LOVE them. For it to be reliable you must practice:

  • at least a minimum of 100-300 repetitions of each command (LOTS of REWARDS)
  • first in very low distracting areas, slowly bring up the level of distractions before assuming it will work.
 

“Red Light, Green Light”: (Casual Walk, Free Walk, Movement state)

  • As soon as the leash gets tight/tension, “Red Light,” stop walking, freeze as if you had just come to a red light. Wait patiently until your dog turns to you to see why you’re not moving. (must start in a distraction-free location.) 
  • As your dog turns, the leash will loosen. The moment the leash goes loose, praise your dog and move in any direction (“green light”). If the leash tightens again, stop (red light). Wait for it to go loose again (green light) and continue walking.
  • You will advance this by increasing how close to you the dog must get to activate the “green light”, ideally you’d get the dog to come next to your knee and give lots of rewards.
 

“Heel Dance”-Directional Turns (Casual Walk, Movement state)

Though this may be the easiest method to starting to walk a dog or to tune them in, I recommend doing this once you have mastered the leash cues first. In combination they both make for an excellent walk. This teaches the dog to focus on your  “Tap-Tap” (leash taps) to avoid leash pressure. By making lots of abrupt “U- turns” and random sits the dog learns to constantly check in with you. 
 
Before you turn, or ask the dog to sit you will “Tap-Tap” (gently tap on the leash 2-3 times) 
  • As soon as your dog crosses your knee abruptly turn a different direction. If you turn into them, it will slow them down. If you turn away from them, it will speed them up. 
  • Say, “This way” before you turn or there is tension on the leash, and change direction.
  • Randomly ask the dog to sit:  “Tap-Tap” -> “Sit”/”Up-Tension” -> Reward (food/toy/moving forward.)
  • Reward your dog with food, praise and affection for staying on your side.
 

“Pull to Heel”: (Structured Walk)

Though this method takes a much longer time to teach, it is the most communicative, efficient and compassionate way that I’ve found for enjoyable long-lasting results. This is how I teach a dog that any tension or pressure on a leash means to come back to my side, and to fulfill a touch/sit/eye contact combination to receive a reward or release of leash tension. Goal: As soon as the dog pulls the leash taut, it returns to “Heel” position. You must first practice at least 100 repetitions of each step (reward through each part in low distraction areas. (Video Below)

    • 1st Step –  Teach “Touch” next to you, on side in which you prefer to have the dog walk on (If you’d like you can add a finger snaps, before requesting “Touch”.) Get plenty of repetitions in to teach the dog that “touch” on your side (next to your knee) will give some kind of reward (food, affection, toys) Go to Command list to see how to teach “Touch”, there is plenty of videos of me teaching this on my Youtube Channel.
    • 2nd Step – With “Touch” lure to a “Sit”. The sit must be next to you in the position you want the dog to walk in. (I recommend that for the first few weeks when requesting any “sit” command  that you do them next to you.)
    • 3rd Step – Add Leash,  move backwards/away from your dog, as soon as there is tension, “Tap-tap” and “Hold Tension” on leash, asking for a “Sit” and “Eye-Contact” in heel position.
    • 4th Step – As the dog comes next to you, say “Sit” and gently add “Up Tension” upwards. You will only praise/reward when dog sits next to you.
    • 5th Step – (advanced step) When there is leash tension, say “Heel” or “Walk” and guide dog next to you. Start walking after dog sits or gives eye-contact next to you. If you want to make everything happen quickly reward with food/toys only when dog quickly gets next you. 
  • Once the dog starts to understand the steps above: The dog will feel the tension on the leash, and it will either go to the “heel” or “sit” position or be guided by you to it. Once the dog does, we can reward (moving forward, food, toy or praise) while moving. Keep the leash loose as you both find your pace.

The video below shows an example of how to combine food, play, and training during walks to become more interesting to your dog and get more engagement.

Commands for Walking:

 

“This Way”/”Lets Go”: This is used for redirecting a dog that is distracted while we are moving. Practicing “this way” teaches your dog to keep it’s focused on you and not to assume where we are going. This is fun to practice, especially if you have a long leash or a backyard with few distractions. When the dog passes you during a walk or if it’s about to get to the end of the leash,  make an abrupt u-turn and say, “This way.” Keep the dog on your agreed side, and reward for walking next to you.

“Sit”: Use this command for the dog to freeze in place, useful while they are off-leash, on a walk, or if something startles them. Practice this when your dog is on a leash first. Say Stop hold still for a few moments, keep eye contact, or ask for it and reward. Slowly increase the time that you give a reward after eye contact, proceed by giving them another request, and randomly asking for a “stop” again.

“Heel”: We only use the vocal  command once the dog has been taught via leash or hand luring. 

“Heel” is used during “Structured Walks”; when the handler and dog walk forward, the dog’s shoulder area is parallel to the handler’s knee with a boundary “agreement” (some use the dog’s collar as a guideline.) When starting your walk, have the dog “sit” at the heel position a few inches behind the handler’s right foot. If needed it, lure it to sit using a food or toy lure. Keep the leash slack, once the dog is sitting in the “heel” position (a few inches behind foot), say, “Heel,”  and quickly walk forward a few steps. Reward your dog as much as possible when it’s in the “heel” position (verbal, touch, or treats). The dog should walk calmly on your right side, keeping in step with you and stopping if you stop. If the dog crosses your established  boundary, stop and ask or lure the dog to move back into the position. Do not move forward until the dog is in position. At first, you will offer a variety of rewards 3 out of 4 times. After a few weeks, we only give one reward for quickly and stylishly compound commands.

Repeat this sequence over and over; the more you practice this, the less you’ll have to correct when distractions arise.

Tips for Heel Walking:

  • First, practice the foundation steps on-leash in low distraction areas.
  • Continue by practicing in various locations, front door, top of stairs, gates, at the curb, etc.
  • Teach that if you stop walking, the dog needs to sit and make eye contact before walking starts again. 
  • If the dog continues to step in front of you or becomes easily distracted, randomly and abruptly change directions (U-turns, Figure eights, etc.) while gently tapping on the leash previous to changing direction, every few steps, stop walking and start again once the dog sits and gives you eye.
  • If the environment is dangerous or too distracting, walk away until the dog is in a green zone state of mind.  

Distractions Zones

I use the terms Green Zone for when your dog is fully following commands and corrections while accepting rewards. Yellow Zone is when you have to use corrections or punishment to refocus your dog. Red Zone is when your dog is hyper focused, anxious, fearful and in a state of fight/flight/freeze.  Below are tips to working in urgent situations. 

If your dog is not responding to you, you are likely making a request that you and the dog have not yet practiced enough around distractions. Practice in low-level distractions zones (Green Zone) and work up to higher-level distractions (Yellow- Red Zones). Learn what triggers your dog so that you know what to work on and gradually build towards it.  Some situation are very hard to navigate; for example another dog coming to you off-leash while your dog is on leash (Red Zone) can always get ugly. Make sure you get away from the area, if you cannot, keep leash loose (adding tension to the leash can create confusion) and be prepared to get between both dogs. 

If there is a Yellow-Red Zone distractions during a walk that could affect your dog to react negatively (excited, aroused, loading)  use these options below, the first options are for an untrained dog, the options on the bottom of the list are for a trained dog.

  • If you and the dog have not yet practiced enough repetitions: Say, “This way,” and make a U-turn away from the distraction. Once you are away form the distraction, ask the dog for eye contact if it does so quickly and  enthusiastically, reward it. This will help you determine the distance at which your dog can follow directions and have self-control.
  • If you have some of the fundamentals down, but haven’t had enough repetitions:  Use your attention commands (“name”, “ready/focus”, “touch”): if the dog responds quickly, reward it for choosing to stay focused on you. If not, move away from the distraction following the steps above.
  • If you have had plenty of repetitions around distractions, do this at the first sign of (preferably before) the dog getting lost in distractions: Say “uh-uh” (corrections marker) ask for a “Heel/Sit” and reward if the dog makes eye contact with you.
  • If you have had plenty of repetitions around distractions, the dog is about to get triggered or is triggered by the distraction and it does not respond to the above instructions: proceed with a leash correction after saying “No”. If the dog does not automatically do a practiced behaviors with out asking them,  the distraction is too close/too intense. DO NOT REWARD AFTER SAYING “NO”, even if dog does an automatic behavior.  

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