My Dog is Pulling on Their Lead! Help and Tips · The Wildest

Skip to main content

How To Stop a Dog From Pulling on the Lead

Dog trainer Karen B London promises you’re not doomed to be pulled down the street forever

Owner walking two Dalmatians downtown
Justyna / Adobe Stock

Lead pulling can be addressed by using a good harness, as well as using your own movement with changes in speed and direction to be more interesting and better influence the dog’s behaviour. You can also exercise your dog before a walk and use high-quality treats to reinforce good lead manners. Other strategies include choosing the time of day when your dog is calmest and taking out-and-back routes so dogs are not so excited on the way back when the novelty of the area has worn off a little. 

Finally, training is always one of the best ways to influence your dog’s behaviour. Some dogs who pull on the lead do so because they have not been taught to walk nicely with good lead manners, but they can learn to do it even if they are not one of the dogs who naturally walks without pulling on the lead.

How to stop a dog from pulling on the lead

Teaching your dog to walk calmly on a lead without pulling will require patience and practice, but it can be done. There are many options for anyone interested in how to stop a dog from pulling on lead, and often the best success comes from combining multiple ideas. It will take a concerted effort and a commitment to consistency to shift your dog’s gears, but it will be worth it when you’re able to enjoy walking together with a slack lead between you. You’re not doomed to be pulled down the street like you’re waterskiing forever, I promise.

1. Invest in power steering

Changing the equipment you use to walk your dog can make a huge difference in your experience right away. The right kind of harness puts physics on your side so your dog can’t lean in with their full body weight to drag you along. The Freedom No-Pull Harness by 2 Hounds Design is a great option. Some people find bungee leads helpful because the lead has a bit of give, but for strong, relentless pullers, I prefer a plain nylon, rope or leather lead.

2. Use your movement to your advantage

If dogs are allowed to keep going forwards, they learn that pulling is the way to get what they want, and they will keep doing it. Don’t ever allow your pulling dog to continue on their merry way. If your dog pulls, there are two options:

  • Stop immediately and don’t move until your pup lets up and there is slack in the lead. You may have to stop again three seconds later and do the same thing and that’s OK. Just be consistent about refusing to let them pull.

  • When they pull, turn and head in the other direction. That puts them behind you, at least momentarily and your pup will not be pulling.

Both of these training methods require a bit of patience, but hang in there – it’s worth the wait. Whether the dog is pulling or not, be unpredictable and reinforce the preferred behaviour. Making quick turns, reversing direction, speeding up and slowing down all make you more interesting, which means it’s more likely that your dog will follow you where you’re going rather than pulling you where they want to go. True, some of your neighbours will find it amusing, but consider it just another good thing you’re doing for the community (right?!)

3. Exercise your dog before you walk

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t the point of the walk to give my pup exercise?” Yes and no. Exercise is only one of the benefits of a dog walk. Dogs on walks also get to be in a new environment that can be more stimulating than being at home. They are able to sniff and see other people and dogs.

For now, the goal of the walk is to teach them to walk nicely rather than to meet all their exercise needs. If your pup is tired when you start out, they’re less likely to pull. That helps them develop good habits and also allows you to reinforce their good behaviour so it becomes more likely in the future. Playing fetch in the garden, or even going up and down the stairs multiple times can take the edge off their energy.

4. Train your dog to have good lead manners

While some dogs naturally walk calmly and politely all their lives with no specific instruction, that’s certainly not the norm. Most dogs need to learn how to do it with loose lead training. So, how to teach a dog to walk on a lead? Bring top-quality treats on every walk and give them to your pup whenever they are doing the right thing: walking without pulling you.

If you want them to walk next to you rather than in front, offer them treats when they are in that position. The treats need to be out-of-this-world delicious – that usually means soft and smelly – to make an impact. Dry biscuits are not going to be up to snuff for most dogs.

5. Set your dog up for success

Make it as easy as possible for your dog to do the right thing so you can reinforce them with those delicious treats. In addition to exercising your dog ahead of time (you can tell it’s important because I’m mentioning it twice), there are other steps you can take to set your dog up for success.

Choose the time of day carefully and go when they tend to be the least excitable. Many dogs are extra jumpy and energetic mid-morning and late afternoon but may be more manageable closer to the crack of dawn or later in the evening. Walk them on an out-and-back route rather than a circular one. Many dogs pull on the way out but are more contained on the return because they’ve already investigated the route’s sights and smells.

6. Use a longer lead

There are dogs who pull when walked on a 6ft lead who don’t pull when they are on an 8ft or 10ft (or even longer) lead. They may still be 6ft away from you or even closer, but they don’t pull.

Other dogs pull no matter how long the lead is – they just race out to the end of it and use the full force of their speed and body weight in an “I’m not into teamwork; thanks for asking” kind of way. You can’t know which category your dog is in until you try walking your dog on a longer lead, but longer leads for dogs who pull can sometimes be a quick fix. If you don’t have a longer dog training lead, try securely attaching two leads for an experimental walk, and only buy one if your dog’s behaviour is better that way.

Why do dogs pull on the lead? 

Lead pulling happens for many reasons, and most dogs are engaging in this undesirable behaviour for more than one of them. Generally speaking, dogs are pulling on the lead because that behaviour results in them getting what they want, or they are trying to get what they want by pulling. Among the common reasons dogs pull are:

  • To reach something that interests them such as a toy, an interesting smell in the grass, a person, a dog or a squirrel.

  • They want to go faster than the current snail-like human pace.

  • They are too excited or too energetic to control themselves.

  • They lean into the pressure on the collar.

  • Pulling has been reinforced in the past because they have previously gotten what they wanted by pulling.

  • They are frustrated by being attached to you.

  • They want to be a bit further from you or ahead of you.

What is loose-lead walking, and does it help? 

There is a tendency to think that either a dog is pulling on the lead and forcefully dragging their parent along or the dog is walking in a perfect heel position as if they are competing in formal obedience. There’s a beautiful middle ground that every dog parent should aim for, and that’s loose-lead walking.

That means your dog is walking with – wait for it – a loose lead. That’s it, end of explanation. If you have a dog who walks on lead without pulling, ie there is slack in the lead, they wait for you and they pay attention to the speed you are going to avoid creating tension on the lead, you have a dog who is successfully loose-lead walking. That also means you have a dog who is pleasant to walk and who very likely gets to go on more walks precisely because it is a pleasant experience for their parent.

I only teach dogs to heel if their people want me to for any reason, and I teach the dogs in my own home this skill only because people expect me from time to time, as a professional trainer, to have a dog heel. (Also, it’s appealing and pretty to me, like many other tricks are, but that’s highly secondary.) I don’t need a heeling dog, though. All I need is a dog who walks with a loose lead so that nobody feels tension on the lead or gets pulled around.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know which method will work for my dog? 

Most dogs do best with a combo of treats for not pulling and for being in the right position, plus frequent turns in response to pulling. The way to know what’s most effective for your dog is to try both methods.

What equipment do you need to lead-train a dog? 

The best equipment for lead training dogs is either a harness that helps prevent pulling or a flat collar, a lead and a lot of high-quality treats. That’s it!

What if my dog lunges or barks during walks? 

Lunging and barking on walks may involve pulling, but there is no quick answer for improving this behaviour. For now, turn away from what’s triggering this reaction. For long term improvement, consult with a professional behaviourist or trainer.


Karen London holding up a small dog

Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent,  Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.

Related articles