Top Six Problems Solved – Part 2 Pulling on Lead



Many puppy books will advise you to attach a lead to your puppy and allow him to drag it all around the garden.  The puppy learns that the lead will follow wherever he goes.  When you start to hold the end of the lead, your puppy learns to pull just a little harder and the lead will still follow wherever he goes.  Alternately, when you first attach a lead to your puppy you are so keen to go for a walk that you are the first to pull to make your puppy move.  Dogs have a natural ‘opposition reflex’ so if you pull one way your pup will pull the other.  It is easy to see how quickly pulling becomes established.


Learning to accept restraint.

To turn this around, your dog must learn that once the lead is attached he is restricted to an area close to you.  While six weeks of age is the best time to start, this lesson can be learned at any age. However as the older dog has had a lot of rewards for pulling, the process can be expected to take a lot longer.


Allow your dog a lead length of approximately two meters.  This will enable you to remain on the footpath while your dog investigates a nearby tree or lamppost  –  after all scent is for your dog what vision is to us.  You wouldn’t enjoy a walk blindfolded and your dog won’t enjoy a walk if he is completely prevented from sniffing.   Do not be tempted to shorten, pull or wrap the lead around your hand.  Hold the end of the lead only and try not to be the first to pull. The deal is the dog can have two meters to explore around you but he must not pull. You are now a six-legged team learning to move together.


Start by attaching your dog on lead to a post and stand close by.  If your dog struggles take no notice, if he relaxes instantly reward with praise or treats.  Next, hold the lead yourself and start to move around the back garden.  This should be an easy place to start as your dog has probably thoroughly investigated your back garden already and won’t be too excited.  If the lead tightens stop immediately and act like the post – don’t move at all and don’t shorten the lead – just wait.  When the lead slackens, immediately reward with praise and move forward.  Your dog should be learning that pressure on the collar means ‘stop’ while no pressure on the collar means ‘go’ – sadly this is the opposite of what most dogs learn.

If all goes well, repeat in the front garden and then on the footpath just outside your home.  Take your time and be consistent even if you do not get to walk very far that day.  Do NOT be tempted to move forward when there is any tightness in the lead as this will only teach your dog that if he is persistent pulling will pay.


Several other strategies can help your dog to understand that a lead  should be a light connection and not a tool for tug of war.

He Who Was First Shall Now Be Last

Whenever your dog charges ahead of you say ‘steady’ and change direction. Repeat until your dog realizes that you’re the one dictating the direction of the walk.   Adding the word ‘steady’ before each turn will teach your dog there is no point in charging ahead as you are about to change direction.  Eventually ‘steady’ can be used as a general cue to ‘slow down’ .


Teach a Sweet Spot

Create a ‘sweet spot’ at your left leg where good things happen. The name for this sweet spot is ‘close’ or ‘heel’.   Whenever your dog is near this ‘sweet spot’ say ‘Yes!’ and dispense a treat as though from your left knee.  If your dog moves too far ahead, stop, call him back and again reward from your left knee.  You want the dog to know there are good things at your end of the lead not just out in front where the good smells are.

Let’s Stay Calm

How you prepare for your walk can contribute to, or reduce, the level of arousal even before you step out the door. Move slowly and speak quietly.  Sit somewhere away from the exit door and wait for your dog to come to you and sit before putting his lead on.  If he gets up before his lead is attached, stop, look away and wait again.  Wait for a sit at the exit door. Sit once more as soon as you reach the footpath.  Wait until the leash is loose and your dog is looking at you to see what is going to happen next – praise and start walking remembering to use one of the strategies outlined above if the lead should start to tighten.


Be proactive – whenever tension creeps into the lead do something about it immediately.   Apply short vibrations to the lead to ‘keep it alive’, change direction, or call the dog back to you but never allow the lead to become a ‘tug-of-war’ rope between you.

Article courtesy of Karin Larsen Bridge, owner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney
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