Why Do Dogs Pull on Leash?

Dogs pull on leash to get where they want to go, when it works it reinforces the pulling behavior.

Dogs pull on leash to get to where they are going. If pulling didn't work, they wouldn't perform the behavior. We must assume then that getting to where they would like to go is a potent reinforcer. For this exercise, you won't need any treats, movement forward will be the reward. 

When the dog pulls, stop moving, and don't let the leash extend any further than it has so far. Wait until your pup pays attention to you once again, then praise your dog while you begin walking again. If at any time the leash becomes tight, simply stop moving and wait. The dog will quickly learn that his actions control the walk. 

Avoid walking your dog on a retractable leash, aside from retractable leashes being incredibly dangerous for both you and your dog, they tend to hold a constant pressure. This will make it harder for your dog to tell the difference between when they are pulling and when they are not. For the best chances of success, you will need a plain leash that can go slack.

One of the big concerns I hear with this approach is "I need to walk X amount of miles for my dog to get tired!" Walking in circles in your driveway and making your pup think and problem solve will tire him just as much as an impolite marathon. When exercising your pup's body alone, your dog may build a tolerance, and with time you have to add more and more physical exercise to tire your dog. However combining training and mental stimulation into your exercise routine can relieve both mental and physical energy leading to a calmer dog and a better relationship for the both of you. 

Consistency is key to training, to communicate effectively with your dog the rules must always be the same. Never allow a dog that is pulling to move forward, and the behavior will disappear. 

The golden rule: When your dog pulls on the leash, stand still and wait for your dog's attention before moving forward. 


Sara Richter, CPDT-KA

Sara Richter, CPDT-KA Founder of Simply Animal Training LLC, began her professional training career in 2008 after 11 years as a student in the equestrian world. Sara began as an assistant horse trainer and horseback riding instructor for JGarvey Horsemanship. During the following 4 years she learned the ins and outs of positive reinforcement training, behaviorism, and operant conditioning. In 2013 Sara formed an equine training business known as Equestrianism. In 2014 Sara became a leader with the Local 4H where she taught children to use clicker training with numerous other animals including pigs, sheep, chickens, and even small animals. In 2014 Sara Joined forces with Root Dog Training LLC as a dog trainer, where she learned to translate her knowledge of learning theory and behaviorism, to the unique behaviors of canines. Sara is proud to continue offering Animal-friendly Force-Free services to pets and owners of all kinds. Sara is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed from the Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers, and a Canine Life and Social Skills Evaluator with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Sara is constantly advancing her education in animal training and behavior through continuing education, certification, and college courses.