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Walking Your Dog: Three Steps to Stop Pulling on Leash

“Let’s go for a walk.”

Walking your dog should be relaxing and fun. 

However, it can also be stressful and frustrating if your dog is pulling on the leash!

Here’s how to fix the problem in 3 easy steps.

Step One

Engage your dog’s attention in a low distraction environment.  Remember that the kind of attention your dog gives to you is a mirror of the quality of the attention you give to him.

If you want a great response from your dog, you must first give him the kind of emotional enthusiasm that will keep him interested and curious.  If you only speak to him in an unfriendly way after he has lost interest, why would he want to pay attention to you?

How can you keep your dog interested?  Make it worth his effort to choose you and what you have to offer instead of something else.

To condition your dog to stay emotionally engaged with you, offer him things that build his trust and attachment to you.  

  • Use your voice to give positive markers for correct behavior.  Say “Yes!” or “Good!” when he is paying attention.
  • Use facial expression and eye contact. Smile a lot and show you are very pleased when he offers eye contact or a desirable behavior.
  • Use gentle, friendly touch instead of yanking on his collar.  Pet him on his neck, behind ears, shoulders, and back. Using praise and petting together is a powerful combination.
  • Use rewards that the dog values.  Give food treats that will reinforce correct responses.  Never use food as a bribe.  Surprise your dog with a favorite toy.  Some dogs love carrying a toy and some enjoy a quick game of tug with a rope toy.

Step Two

Take your dog out for a short walk without a lot of distractions.  Practice engaging his attention with the techniques from Step One.

When he becomes distracted by an environmental stimulation (squirrel, bird, smells, etc), simply stop walking. Give him a few seconds to make a choice about whether he will pay attention to you or to something else.  If he chooses you, praise, pet, smile and celebrate!  If he does not choose you after two or three seconds, get his attention with voice and touch and then ask him for a behavior that he knows well such as sit.

Asking for a reliable behavior such as sit is very important.  It sets the dog up for success and gives you an opportunity to reinforce a correct behavior.  

  • Reward the first repetition of sit with praise and petting.
  • Release the dog from sit and then ask for sit a second time.  
  • Now you can reward with a treat along with praise.
  • Do the same thing a third time and reward with praise and a treat.

Keep the walk short.  Remember it’s a training exercise so it’s best to end on a positive.

Step Three

Take frequent short walks using the techniques in Step Two.

Gradually increase the duration and distraction level of the walks.  Work on duration first, while you keep the distractions as low as possible.  

As the walks become longer, don’t hesitate to shorten a walk if it means you can end on a positive with lots of rewards.

When it’s time to add more difficult distractions (other dogs, bicycles, etc), keep the walks shorter.   Make sure that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed.  

If your dog becomes very aroused by a distraction, end the walk and give him a chance to relax.

If your dog is too aroused to pay attention, he is letting you know he isn’t yet ready to advance to that level.

The benefit of having a step-by-step plan is that you always have the option to review a previous step. 

  • If you realize that you have moved ahead before your dog is ready, just go back to the place where your dog is comfortable and successful. 
  • Reinforce successes before moving on.
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