How to Easily Train a Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash

By: David Codr

Published Date: November 21, 2023

train a dog to stop pulling

For this West LA dog training session we worked with Newfoundland puppy Hana; showing her humans how to train a dog to stop pulling on the leash.

Being a puppy, we started off by going over a number of dog training fundamentals. We introduced a marker word and used a hand targeting exercise for the humans to practice their timing. We also went over how and when to introduce a command cue word (cue > action > marker > reward).

Next I went over two lessons that I try to cover with every one of my dog behavior clients because they are so important and beneficial. I like to call them Celebrating and the Manner’s lesson. Unfortunately a small number of my clients disregard these tips because they are so easy to do – but out of everything I cover, these are probably the most impactful dog behavior tips that I share.

Dogs respond to your attention and they don’t make much of a distinction between good attention and bad attention. Celebrating desired behaviors like sitting, laying down, dropping something, eye contact, coming to you, going to the dog bed, etc UNPROMPTED are small things that many people overlook. Instead many people decide to give their dog attention for jumping up, barking, chewing, stealing things, etc.

But since all the attention is rewarding to dogs, giving your dog attention when it does things you don’t want, and ignoring it when it voluntarily offers the behaviors you do like, inadvertently trains many dogs to offer nuisance behaviors. But fortunately the inverse is also true.

I recommended that the guardians say their marker word “yes” and pet Hana every time she does a desirable behavior (voluntarily sits, comes, lays down, etc. And if they see another family member misses an opporunity to reward a dog for those behaviors, they should say “celebrate!” to remind that person to celebtrate that desired behavior.

I also recommended that they ask Hana to sit or lay down if she is asking for attention in a way that is not as polite as she could (barking, nudging or pawing). They can also say “manners” to each other if they suspect someone is petting the dog mindlessly for doing something that is undesirable (jumping up, etc).

Next we went over how to read dog body language and what cut off signals are. Being a Newfoundland, Hana was very easy-go-lucky, but I have found that recognizing and responding to nonverbal communication cues from dogs can have a profound impact on them and their humans. Knowing the places dogs dont like to be petted and the places your dog likes – and how to recognize cut off signals is a lesson every dog owner should learn.

How to Train a Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash

Being a giant breed dog, Hana’s guardians wanted to make sure that she learned to stop pulling on the leash on walks. Dogs pull on the leash for many reasons, but primarily because it gets them to where they want to go. Often this is to sniff something. I recommended that the guardians start being mindful of the things that Hana is going to be interested in on walks, and then lead her to them so that she doesn’t need to pull.

However, that’s not going to teach the dog to walk with a loose leash, that’s where I came in. We have a loose leash walking program that breaks down the individual elements of why dogs pull on a leash, and addresses each one of them with separate exercises. Our program is designed with conditioning in mind – which is a fancy way of saying that it needs consistent (daily) practice over several weeks in a row before the dog starts to form a loose leash walking habit.

The first exercise we covered was something called Silky Leash Training. This is a great exercise to start with as it teaches the dog to give in when it feels pressure on the leash. Most people pull, but since dogs have an opposition response, this just causes the dog to pull back. So every time you pull your dog on the leash, you are literally training them to pull on the leash.

It took a little bit of practice to get Hana to do this exercise properly as you need to wait for the dog to be standing still before you add pressure (pull) to the leash. You want to do this with the dog standing up stationary which was problematic since Hana consistently sat down right when we wanted to start. Normally teaching a dog to sit that way is desirable, but this is one of the few times a sit works against you.

I recommended the guardians get up and walk a few paces away each time Hana sits when practicing this exercise to stop leash pulling. However, they need to be mindful of not making this a habit. After you start practicing daily, most dogs will start standing in place in between repetitions. If Hana stays put and does not sit down after a successful practice repetition, the guardians do not need to move away to practice the repetition again. Some people get into this habit when dogs sit so its important to watch for this transition and stop walking away if you dont need to (when the dog doesnt sit).

Most clients practice this exercise three or more times a day in short, five minute practice sessions. This exercise usually doesnt require practice for more than one to three days. It will be important for Hana‘s guardians to practice this exercise successfully and move through all five of the levels that we described in the session (living room, back yard, side yard, front yard, sidewalk). Another common reason dogs fail to learn how to walk with a loose leash is practicing in an environment that is too distracting (like an actual walk). That’s why we start leash training in the living room and gradually level up until our last stage is in front of the house.

The next exercise we covered was what we call the Bowl Pressure Game. This is a more advanced loose leash walking tip that trains the dog to pay attention to and follow your pace. I ran Hana through the exercise several times until she seemed to be getting it and then coached her guardians up until they were able to achieve the same level of success. This exercise can take a minute to teach the dog, but once the dog gets it, most people are giddy at their dog’s progress.

Due to the holidays making everyone’s schedules crazy, it will be a few weeks before I can sit down wiht Hana and her family again. As a result, I gave the guardians a preview of the next two exercises in the program, but advised them they should not start working on these until they have completed the Bowl Pressure Game successfully for all five levels.

This certainly takes a little more time, but gets great results – provided the humans are consistent. That means practicing at least three times a day in five minute practice sessions (that always end on a successful rep) and not moving on to the next exercise until they have completed the previous one successfully in all five levels

Since we were trying to cover so much material in thir first session, I didn’t get the chance to record a video teaching the dog to stop pulling on the leash. But I wanted to give the guardians a visual reminder. Below you will find a medley of some of the exercises we go over for program to stop dog from pulling on the leash, but video below was taken with a different client.

If you’re trying to train your dog to stop pulling on the leash, you should definitely check out the free positive dog training video below.

It was great to see Hana starting to pick up this trick to stop dogs from pulling on the leash. I was caught off guard that she performed better with the families female guardian than with myself or the other male. But I was quite pleased with that as she was the person that Hana had pulled down on the leash before. I want to make sure that she is confident and successful in training her dog to stop pulling when on the leash.

I left the guardians homework for the first two weeks of our program to stop leash pulling and told the guardians to make sure that they message me anytime they have questions. It’s much better for my clients to messaged me earlier if they’re not getting great success than waiting it out because some people accidentally practice things with bad form.

I ran into a little bit of a storage issue filming the roadmap to success summary video so I had to splice a couple videos together. If you would like a summary of what we covered in this in home West LA dog training session, you can definitely check out the video below.

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This post was written by: David Codr