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How can I make my dog stop pulling on the leash?

It's been a long, boring day at work. You get home and kick back the recliner and turn on the TV. You're laughing at the screen and texting your friend and drinking a margarita. 

Your furry friend feels bored sometimes, too. His idea of "Netflix and chill" is exploring the world through his nose. Often going on a walk is the most exciting part of his day! So walking quietly next to you is not really part of his plan of entertainment!

Don't worry, you and your furry friend can come to a compromise! 

dog laying down
black poodle
parti poodle

Step One: Get the positioning right for a proper heel.

Keep your dog on a SHORT leash. We prefer to use a slip-lead. The key to using  a slip-lead is positioning. You want the lead positioned just below the dog's head at the top of his neck. You want the tension on the leash to come from up/above the dog as opposed to him being allowed to pull forward. As long as the slip lead is positioned high on the dog's neck, he should avoid choking if he pulls. If your dog is making significant coughing/choking sounds, stop and reposition the lead.

When the dog is in a heel position, the leash should be approximately 12 inches long (varies depending on the height of your dog). You should be holding the leash at hip level in a straight, vertical line above your dog's head. When the dog is walking at your side, the leash should be straight, but not tense. If your dog pulls, the tension on the leash should come from above his head. When you feel tension give a quick tug up with a verbal correction. Some dogs are very sensitive to leash pressure. If this quick tug in an upward direction is enough to get him back into a heel, then great. If not- don't worry we have more tips. But whatever you do, don't give your dog slack in the leash to pull forward ahead of you. Otherwise, he will quickly get used to steady tension on the leash and be more apt to consistently pull like a husky with a sled!

Check out the videos below for a visual! 

Step Two: Introduce the "free" cue. 

Do I expect my dog to walk nicely on an 8-12 inch leash for our entire 30 minute walk? No, of course not! As mentioned previously, the walk is likely the most entertaining part of your dog's day. They explore the world through their nose and allowing them time to spend slowly sniffing the fire hydrant is a great way to relieve tension and pent-up energy for them. But they need to wait on your cue! 

So I teach my dog 2 cue words: Heel and Free. "Heel" means the leash is in the short ~12 inch position and any pulling, lunging, or even sniffing the ground is corrected. How do I correct a dog? If a quick tug upward and a verbal correction don't work, I stop abruptly and simply wait for the dog to realize we aren't going anywhere and when the dog looks at me and/or I feel the reduction of tension on the leash, we are able to move forward again. 

For dogs who simply cannot contain their excitement and continually put tension on the leash, I begin some wild figure 8's! An attempt to pull forward is met by a quick 180 degree turn in the opposite direction and then back again. We zig-zag about for a while. The unexpected turns can keep a dog paying attention to you instead of the environment as they try to figure out exactly which way you will go next. The big take-away is that you never move forward in the direction your dog is pulling. He must realize that he can only move forward in the direction of more interesting scents when the leash is loose. 


When the dog has given me 5-10 seconds of a good "heel" without straining on the leash, I reward with a "free" cue and immediately give the dog the length of the leash and allow exploring (Within the confines of the leash) and all the sniffing he wants to do. 

Then, I cue a "heel" and take up the slack on the leash to 8-12 inches again. Most dogs begin to understand the cue words within 1-2 walks. As they begin to grasp the concept, you can gradually ask for longer and longer heels. A good goal for a happy neighborhood walk may be for your dog to be in a heel for 50% of the time, or perhaps 60 or 70%, with intermittent "free" breaks. But it's on your cue... if you see a "distraction" like another dog approaching you should be able to put your dog back into a heel and have him walk nicely past the distraction. 

Most dogs respond MUCH more willingly to "heel" when they know they will have a chance to sniff and explore. They are also more in tune with you as they are keyed in, waiting to hear the magic word "Free!" (or whatever you choose to be your release word). If you want more focus from your dog, continue to do abrupt direction changes and/or ask for a "sit" at various points during the walk to keep him on his toes and looking to you for cues! Check out the videos below for.more visuals!

Finally, some people find the slip lead a bit tough to get the hang of. Any of our cues work with a flat-buckle collar as well. But if you are looking for more control without resorting to painful methods for your dog, then you might consider a head-halter like THIS or a front-hooking harness like THIS. You can even use two leads (one slip lead and one attached to a front-hooking harness) for even more control of your dog. You might look silly holding two leashes. But when your dog walks politely past distractions and follows your cues... who's laughing now? ;)

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