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Polite Leash Walking

By March 9, 2011March 26th, 2015No Comments

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 click is 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, continue to praise the dog for good behavior, but phase out the treats.


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
More Expert Advice

Teach your dog not to pull while you are both standing still by holding the leash firmly with both hands and refusing to budge until your dog slackens the leash. Not a single step! Hold on tight and ignore every leash-lunge.

As soon as he or she sits, say “Good dog,” offer a food treat, and then take one large step forward and stand still again. Repeat this sequence, advancing to two steps, then three steps, until your dog walks calmly forward on a loose leash and sits quickly when you stop and stand still.

~ Dr. Ian Dunbar,
Dog Training Equipment

Using the proper leash and collar can help make your dog training successful. Most pet supply stores carry a wide selection. Following are the more common types of leashes and collars:

The common flat leash and buckle collar are available in leather, nylon and metal chain of various lengths.

A retractable leash, much like a fishing pole, lets a pet wander up to 20 feet ahead, while still under your control. Pushing the button takes up the slack. (It’s not a good choice when teaching an animal to “heel.”)

A head collar, also known as a head halter, looks like a kind of muzzle. Attached to a leash, its function is to stop pulling and keep a dog under gentle control via a loop around the mouth, as well as a collar around the neck. It doesn’t restrict the mouth; rather, it thwarts lunging by transferring the forward motion into a sideways head turn. This type of lead is especially effective on energetic or difficult-to-control dogs, but because of the noseband, it can’t be used on dogs with short snouts, such as pugs.

A harness, designed to stop pulling, wraps around the dog’s chest and shoulders. The leash attaches to a ring on the front of the dog’s chest. As with the halter, the idea is that when the dog pulls, it will be turned to the side. Be careful when shopping for harnesses, as some attach to the leash on the dog’s back rather than the chest, which can exacerbate a pulling problem.

Choke and prong collars, when attached to leads, control dogs by tightening around the neck or jabbing the throat with spikes. You pinch and release for the corrective action and quick attention, not to choke the dog. These are not for novice handlers and can be dangerous in inexperienced hands. Many trainers don’t recommend them because they cause pain and can injure a dog’s windpipe, neck or spine. Should they get caught on something, or if the chain isn’t threaded through the rings correctly, the dog can choke to death, because the collar continues constricting even after you’ve released the tension on the leash. Check with an expert for instructions before using.

Warning: Never use a choke collar on puppies; dogs without thick neck fur; dogs with a respiratory problem; or breeds with fragile windpipes, such as Chihuahuas or Yorkshire terriers, because you could easily injure your dog.

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