Polite Leash Walking

Tips for Making a Stroll with Your Pet More Enjoyable

Are you walking your dog, or is your dog walking you?

A dog pulling on a leash is a common, but curable problem. You can teach your dog how to walk politely on a leash, using firm, positive approaches. Even 8-week-old puppies can learn; no special collar or tool is needed.


If your dog pulls and you take one step forward, you have rewarded the pulling. The one consistent message your dog learns in all of the following approaches is that pulling does not get him where he wants to go. (Our trainers do not recommend employing leash pops and collar-jerking, because of the emotional fallout that sometimes accompanies these methods when performed improperly.)

Be a Tree: When your dog pulls on the leash, stop, as though you are rooted in place. Do not take another step forward until the dog has released pressure on the leash. Your dog needs to learn that pulling equals stopping. Consistency and timing help a dog learn quickly.

One variation on this technique is to use a word or phrase to signal your dog that he is pulling and you are going to stop. Speak in a happy voice, because you are not scolding; you are simply giving your dog information. Some use “whoops!” Others use “uh-oh!”

If, when you stop walking, your dog dances around you in circles or runs to the end of his leash in every direction, gradually shorten the leash until there is nowhere interesting left to go. This makes the wrong choice (ignoring you) boring for the dog, and it is much easier for him to make the right choice, which is relaxing on the end of the leash, looking up at you.

Penalty Yards: When your dog starts to pull toward something, stop movement in that direction and go backwards. Depending on the dog’s level of excitability, take two or three steps, or up to 20 feet, in the opposite direction.

This is useful when your dog is pulling toward a specific target (another dog, a favorite bush, the swimming hole). You are letting the dog know that pulling gets him the opposite of what he wants. You also are increasing the distance between him and the exciting thing, which helps him gather his self-control. Once he stops pulling, he gets to go see the dog or sniff the bush as a reward.

Zigzag and Circling: When your dog begins to pull, start walking in a broad, zig-zag motion. Alternatively, curve off to the right or left, in a wide circle. This deflects some of the pulling into a sideways motion and reminds the dog that, smart as he is, he doesn’t know which way you’re going to go, so he’d better pay attention.

Clicker and Treats: Using food can be a highly motivating way for a dog to learn polite leash walking. Carry a pouch of pea-sized treats and use a clicker (sold at local pet stores), or pick a consistent word to say, like “Yes!”

Capture a moment that your dog is behaving the way you want and click or say “Yes!” After that, offer a treat. Your dog will associate the click or the word “Yes” with getting a treat and begin to understand that the moment you clickis the moment he earned the treat. Do not get the food out until after the click. The dog should be thinking about how to earn the reward, not trotting after the food. Initially, you will reward frequently, at least several times a minute. As the behavior becomes a habit, continueto praise the dog for good behavior, but
 phase out the treats.

How Long It Takes

Young or energetic dogs require more training than mature or calm dogs. Dogs that don’t get out of the house much require more training than dogs that see the world on a regular basis.

To maintain the momentum of the learning process, make sure the animal gets plenty of exercise. Be consistent. Never allow the dog to get somewhere by pulling; all family members need to be on board with this.

Above all, have patience. Some days it may feel like your dog will never learn, then suddenly, one day you will look back and have to think hard to remember how he or she used to pull.

Erica Pytlovany is a certified pet dog trainer with WOOFS! Dog Training Center, in Arlington, VA. Learn more at WoofsDogTraining.com.


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