Train your dog to walk perfectly on a lead

You don't have to be very observant to realise that the most common problem owners experience outside the home, is their dog’s tendency to pull on the lead. Even many dogs that learn not to pull at a training class, tend to drag their owners from pillar to post once they escape the confines of the village hall.

If this is familiar to you, firstly consider why you think your dog pulls on the lead. Their motivations for pulling are various and as follows:

  • Getting to a favourite destination such as the park
  • Wanting to sniff each and every scent left behind by other dogs
  • Your dog may be a greedy sort who is always trying to eat any rubbish or litter.

How to stop your dog pulling on the lead

There are lots of different opinions and methods when it comes to training your dog to walk to heel. Here is a simple method you can try to break this frustrating behaviour, and hopefully restore enjoyment to walking your dog. It will work more quickly if your dog is still a puppy/ young dog, as the unwanted behaviour will not be so established. Don't be put off though, whatever the age or background of your dog - don't give up! Perseverance and repetition, will reap rewards in the end:

  • Start your walk as normal. Preferably somewhere free of traffic hazards. Have a fairly long lead (at least 3 m) attached to a collar that will not slip over your dog’s head.
  • When your dog starts to pull, allow them to go ahead. As they do, start to walk backwards – don't turn around – and don't be tempted to speak.
  • The tightening of the lead should surprise your dog. When they look around to see what has happened, they will see you walking away.
  • Hopefully this will encourage your dog to come trotting back to you. As they do give them lots of praise and encouragement. Keep walking backwards (at least 6 big steps) until they have caught up with you. Give them a treat if you like.
  • Once together again, set off in your forward direction. Very soon your dog will start pulling again.
  • When this happens… Repeat the process.
  • After a few repetitions, you might find your dog comes back willingly enough but sets off too soon afterwards – in which case walk another six steps back straight away.
  • During your initial sessions, you may find yourself walking more backwards than forwards!
  • Persevere! After a while your dog should be walking by your side, glancing up every so often to see whether you are about to walk backwards again.
  • When your dog is walking well, and particularly when they looks back at you, praise them (give a treat) and say the word “heel” or “close” or whatever you want as long as you are consistent with it. This associates the word with the action. Treating and praising will make the action a rewarding experience for the, that they are therefore more likely to want to repeat.
  • If you normally take your dog to the park or field for a run off the lead; punctuate this with a lot of “sits” on the way. This will help develop general control, at every road crossing for example. Also conduct a short training session before you let them off the lead. This will reduce his enthusiasm for pulling to get there, and help to associate the free running environment with a level of control.

An alternative method

Not all dogs naturally walk well on a lead so they do need to learn what is asked of them. Pulling on the lead can be helped by appropriate training but there are other reasons why some dogs find it difficult. It is also important to ensure they are adequately coping with the environment around them.

From a training and learning point of view

Dogs quickly learn that they can pull to get to something they want so will repeat a behaviour that is seen to work. It is important however to build a relationship with a dog so that the lead itself is not the only connection between dog and handler. We would encourage the dog to be more aware of the handler and where they are going and what they are doing. Exercises and activities relating to responsiveness to the handler can help with this. This is where guidance from a qualified trainer can be beneficial.

It is also important to consider that pulling on the lead is relevant from a behavioural and emotional point of view

If the methods above do not appear to be able to help improve lead walking, this is because some dogs really struggle with the environment they are in and what is around them. This can be due to emotions such as fear, anxiety, over-arousal or over-excitement – they simply find the situation too restrictive and “cannot” walk more calmly on the lead. It is not that they are “not listening” and don’t know how to walk on a lead, but that they cannot manage it in the situation they are in. Further individual assessment of a dog’s behaviour can provide guidance in this area and should be sought from a qualified behaviourist.

Contact your vets for local qualified trainers and behaviourists or use the websites below:

Good luck and don’t be disheartened. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all!

If you are struggling with any behaviour issue, please do ask our team of vets and nurses who have a wealth of knowledge and experience and will be only too happy to help.