Expert tips to stop your dog from pulling on the lead

Low angle view of a small dog being walked by his family in a  park
Arm yourself with plenty of treats (Picture: Getty Images)

Having a dog that pulls on the lead can make their all-important walks the bane of your life.

This is especially true if you’ve got a bigger breed since their strength could see you go flying if you don’t have their lead behaviour under control.

Claire Haynes, animal behaviourist at national pet charity Blue Cross says training puppies and grown dogs not to pull is pretty similar.

‘But with puppies, you’re starting afresh,’ she adds. ‘A puppy has never learnt that pulling on a lead gets them places quicker, so it’s a fantastic time to start training what the lead means at a young age.’

Make a dog-walking station for the entryway if you have more than one dog. See how this is done here.

Even though you can’t walk your pup until they’re fully vaccinated, you can still practice good lead behaviour at home.

‘Practice walking on a loose lead in your house or garden,’ Claire recommends, ‘where your puppy is going to be less distracted. This will allow them to get used to the weight, noise and feel of a lead.

‘Learning that the lead is a great time to get praised and check in with you is such an important foundation for going on walks once they’re able to.

‘This is also a prime time to start teaching recall – one of the most important things to teach your dogs. Puppies are really engaged and will really enjoy training.’

Remove pet hair from carpet with a squeegee.

Claire says positive reinforcement is important, explaining: ‘Dogs learn by association, so if your puppy does something and is rewarded, the action is much more likely to be repeated.

‘You can use food or a toy as a reward. Hold the reward between your and your dog’s eye line, say your dog’s name and as soon as your dog looks at you, give the reward.

‘As with all training, repeat this exercise a few times a day, every day, until your puppy is trained. Keep sessions short and positive.

‘Once trained, you can maintain your dog’s response by occasionally going back to basics and rewarding the behaviour you want.’

Teach Your Dog to Catch Using Popcorn. If your dog doesn’t know how to catch don’t start by throwing a toy at their face. Popcorn works great for training dogs to catch because it’s light & yummy which makes it enticing enough for your dog to try and catch it.

Profile portrait of a chocolate labrador dog in the forest
Positive reinforcement is key (Picture: Getty Images)

When it comes to older dogs, the process of changing their lead behaviour could take a little longer, or prove a bit more frustrating for them.

Claire adds: ‘We always recommend positive, reward-based training, and an accredited behaviourist (ABTC) can help if you are not making progress. ‘As always, if the general guidance isn’t helping, there might be another reason your dog is pulling a lot on the lead – then we recommend getting in touch with an accredited animal behaviourist such as a member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.’

Keep Your Gum & Candy Stored Away. Many gums & candies include xylitol, a sugar substitute that’s highly toxic and can be fatal to dogs. Keep all candies and gum far out of reach of your pets at all times. Here’s a list of common household items that are known to contain xylitol.

As the Blue Cross website explains, you can start by tiring your dog out in the garden before the walk, so they’re less amped up for the walk. You should also go armed with lots of tasty treats for positive reinforcement, such as rewarding calm behaviour.

If your dog goes crazy with excitement at the sight of the lead, hide it again and walk away before trying to get them on the lead again a few seconds later.

If your dog starts pulling, just stop walking and entice them back to your side with some food and plenty of praise. Reward them similarly for walking on a loose lead.

‘This technique is very simple and uncomplicated’ the website reads, ‘if your dog walks on a loose lead they get well rewarded and get to continue on his journey. If they pull, the rewards stop and the walk is delayed.’

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Seeing eye dogs are trained to do their “business” on command. This way their owner can clean it up a bit easier. Some of the popular commands are “get busy” and “go time”.

If your dog is very strong, it could be worth investing in a head collar, which is worn on their face instead of their neck, to help stop them from pulling you over.

If you want to try levelling up to running or cycling with your dog, Claire says you should check with your vet first, so they can recommend the right level of exercise for the dog’s breed and age.

If your dog has the all-clear from the vet, Claire says: ‘Take it easy to start with and make time for lots of breaks and have water on hand to provide regularly to your dog. You can then gradually start to build up the distance and speed slowly.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Having a dog in the house means more bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found “dog-related biodiversity” is especially high on pillowcases.) In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people with no pets.

Grass and dirt trails are easier on the paws for dogs than tarmac.

‘You should also take into consideration whether your dog genuinely enjoys it once you begin. If they show signs of struggling you should stop straight away.’

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