How to Stop a Dog From Pulling on the Leash

Small dog pulling on leash

Walks should be fun for both you and your dog, but a dog who pulls on the leash can be frustrating and even dangerous. Some dogs pull because they’re reactive to something in their environment while others simply haven’t learned how to walk with a loose leash. The good news is there are some easy solutions to stop dogs from pulling on leash.

Before you begin

Start by checking your dog’s collar. It should be snug enough so they cannot pull out of it but not so tight that you can’t put a finger or two between the collar and the dog’s neck.

If your dog is especially rambunctious, one strategy you can try is playing with them in your yard first to release some of that excess energy. You will find that a tired dog can focus and will learn more easily than a wired dog.

How to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash

There are several different methods to teach a dog how to walk on leash without pulling. One way is the “red light, green light” game. Here’s how it works:  

  • Do the training initially in your home or yard — someplace without a lot of distractions. Put a 4- to 6-foot leash on your dog’s collar, and start to walk with them.  
  • If your dog walks without pulling, praise them and continue walking. If your dog pulls on the leash, stop and wait until they stop pulling.  
  • As soon as the tension on the leash is released, praise your dog, offer a quick treat, and then continue walking.

Consistency is important when teaching loose-leash walking. If you stop when your dog pulls four out of five times (rather than every time), they'll learn that pulling can still result in the intended reward — moving forward. The dog is thinking, “If it worked once, it will probably work again.” Be patient. If your dog has developed a leash-pulling habit, it might take them a while to stop pulling forward, even if you are stopped. 

Here’s another strategy to try: If your dog continues to pull after you stop walking, turn and walk the other way. A change in direction will cause the dog to be behind you. Then, as the dog turns along with you, you can get them to focus on you with praise and a treat. Never yank the leash when you change directions.  

You can also try a lot of random changes of direction, so the dog gets used to focusing attention on you and moves with you. This technique is called “crazy walking” because instead of walking in a straight line to get from point A to point B, you are moving in unpredictable directions.

In addition, whenever your dog walks next to you, reward them for “being in position” or for simply walking with a loose leash near you. The more you reward your dog, the more they'll want to hang out near you. The reward doesn’t have to be a treat — praise, petting, and attention are also rewarding to dogs.

What not to do to stop leash pulling in dogs

If your dog is pulling or not listening to you while you’re walking together, please do not use leash corrections (e.g., jerking or popping the leash or forcefully pulling the dog in the other direction). And avoid using pinch or prong collars or chain collars (aka “choke chains”).  

These methods can physically harm dogs, make leash pulling worse, and even exacerbate behavioral issues, such as lunging at another dog while on leash. Walking should be a fun experience for your dog. Leash corrections and punitive collars can make it scary and unpleasant instead.

Tools that can help with leash pulling

To teach dogs how to walk nicely on leash, sometimes we need a bit more help. Perhaps your dog is strong or large, and no matter how hard you try to implement leash-pulling training methods, the dog continues to pull. What to do?  

Here are some training tools that can help:

  • Head halter: A dog head halter is similar to a horse halter. There are straps around the nose and behind the ears. The dog’s leash is attached to a ring at the bottom of the nose strap. Head halters operate on the simple principle that dogs will follow where their head leads them. Dogs can eat, drink, pant, and bark while wearing a halter, and these devices will not choke or pinch your dog. Popular brands of head halters are Halti and Gentle Leader.
  • Training harness: A typical dog harness has a clip in the back to which the leash attaches. On a training harness, or no-pull dog harness, the leash attaches in the front at the dog’s chest, which allows you to have more control when your dog pulls. When pressure is applied on the leash, the dog’s shoulders are turned and forward momentum stops. Brand names of training harnesses include PetSafe’s Easy Walk, Halti, SENSE-ation, and Freedom.

There are many different versions and brands of head halters and training harnesses. The size of your dog, the strength with which your dog pulls, and the fit of the device itself all need to be considered when choosing one.  

Generally speaking, head halters are nice for larger, stronger dogs because the leash attaches to the nose loop instead of the neck, allowing you to gently guide the dog’s direction and giving you more control. However, for smaller dogs, dogs who’ve had neck injuries, or those with a short muzzle, a harness might be the better option.

No matter which device you buy, make sure you fit it properly to your dog. On head halters, the neck strap sits just behind the ears, high on the neck. The configuration of the nose strap can differ slightly, depending on the brand, but it should be adjusted so that it cannot slide off the end of the dog’s nose. Make sure the attachment ring (to which you attach the leash) is under the dog’s chin. The instructions that come with the halter will give you more tips on fitting it. The same is true for training harnesses; each harness is constructed and fits a little differently, so make sure you read the instructions.

Most dogs tolerate wearing a harness. Wearing a head halter, however, can be a strange experience for dogs who have not worn one before. When you put the halter on your dog for the first time, they will probably try to get it off by pawing at it. To divert their attention, get the dog moving. Start walking and keep walking, praising your dog and offering small treats to distract them from the halter. Soon, you’ll be enjoying a nice walk without pulling.

When using a head halter, make sure you don’t jerk on the leash because this can cause neck injuries. Finally, do not leave a head halter or harness on your dog when they’re unsupervised. The dog might catch the halter on something or attempt to chew through the harness.

To sum up: Be patient and persistent while training your dog to walk on a loose leash, and keep in mind that they will improve with practice.