Why Do Dogs Pull?
Dogs pull for a variety of reasons.
- Dogs naturally walk at a faster pace than we do.
- Dogs, especially young dogs are happy and excited to be outdoors. This makes them want to get to as many places as possible, in as little time as possible.
- Dogs pull to get to people or other dogs that they see walking on the road. Usually they just want to examine the new people or dogs, and smell them.
- Dogs pull when they see prey because instinctually, they want to chase and catch it.
- Dogs pull when they are afraid of something and want to run away.
Contrary to what some people say, dogs do not pull because of dominance or to show their owner “who is boss”.
Then why did the dog pull while crossing the road?
Because he wanted to get to the other side … quickly.
Dominance, power, and control are very human motives that we often incorrectly overlay onto normal and instinctual canine actions.
How to Stop Your Dog from Pulling
First, we consider how to get our dogs to reduce their natural walking speed so that their much slower two-legged companions can keep up.
One of the most effective ways to get a dog to slow down is to teach him the following –
The fastest way to get to where he wants to go is by slowing down and walking with you.
As soon as your dog starts to pull, i.e., the leash gets taut, non-mark (Ack, Ack) and just stop walking. Initially, your dog may continue to pull and may even pull harder. Just ignore him and stand still.
As soon as your dog stops pulling, you can start moving forward. In this way, your dog learns that pulling = we stop moving, and not-pulling = we get to where we want to go.
For this method to work, it is important to be consistent with your starts and stops. Do not let your dog pull sometimes, but not at other times. Make sure to stop every time the leash gets taut and start again once your dog has stopped pulling.
In the beginning you may find yourself stopping a lot and may not get very far from your front door. But that is fine and part of the learning process. Keep going at it consistently, and your dog will quickly learn that it is in his best interest to slow down and walk together with you.
1. Prey Drive
Most dogs have a difficult time resisting squirrels and other prey. Once a dog spots a squirrel, the only thing in his mind will be to chase after that bushy tail. He will no longer be interested in food, in toys, or in what you have to say.
This has nothing to do with dominance or being the boss. It is simply in a dog’s DNA to hunt, since they come from a line of predators. Some dog breeds have higher prey drive than others, and some dog breeds are more independent than others. The independent dog with high prey drive are the most susceptible to the Squirrel Effect.
Such dogs will be difficult to control when exposed to a squirrel, especially a moving squirrel. And it is not just squirrels but also cats, deer, and other prey.
Some people suggest that the only way to deal with pulling in such situations is to use aversive training, including finger pokes, leash jerks, or shock collars. Pain is often a strong motivator, therefore it can sometimes be used to snap a dog out of his squirrel trance.
However, if our dog is independent and has strong prey drive, the pain that we must deliver must be even stronger. As a result such techniques are risky, may cause your dog to lose trust in you, may cause aggression, will increase the amount of stress experienced by your dog, and will reduce his quality of life.
An effective and safer way to deal with prey drive is through desensitization exercises.
Desensitization exercises work by first exposing your dog to only a small amount of the problematic stimulus. For example, we start by standing far away from the Squirrel Zone. We must stand far enough away that our dog is still calm, able to focus on us, and able to perform obedience commands.
Then we do the following –
- Get our dog’s attention and reward him for giving us his attention.
- Get our dog to do some simple obedience commands and reward as appropriate.
- Move one or two steps towards the Squirrel Zone.
- Repeat the steps above.
If our dog fixates on the squirrel and starts to pull, then we have moved forward too quickly. We want to move back a few steps and repeat the exercise. Make sure to keep desensitization sessions short, fun, and rewarding. Do not overload the dog with too much at any one time.
The desensitization process helps to retrain our dog to ignore the squirrel and focus on us instead.
The desensitization process is best performed in a controlled environment, for example in our backyard or a quiet neighborhood field. Pick an area where there are few distractions so that we can focus all of our training on a single problematic stimulus.
3. Pain and Fear
Even though we used squirrels in the example above, the desensitization process can be used to help with a variety of pulling issues including pulling to meet people and other dogs. Desensitization can also help with fear pulling.
My Siberian Husky used to be very fearful of the garbage truck. During our walks, she would start pulling like crazy whenever she saw or heard the garbage truck. To help her with this issue, I started doing focus and obedience exercises inside the house, but close to the front door during trash days. Then we did exercises on-leash but with the front door open, then we did exercises on the front step and so on. Now, we only need to move into a driveway and she remains calm enough to focus and do commands.
Remember, however, that fear and prey drive are powerful things.
While it is possible to desensitize your dog to a certain level, it may not be possible to ensure perfect success. Instead, the prey drive will still be present – but be muted – because your dog has learned that focusing on you in the presence of a squirrel or cat is a very rewarding enterprise.
Incidentally, applying pain through a leash jerk, finger poke, or shock collar does not magically remove a dog’s prey drive either. In that case, the prey drive is just suppressed by another stronger instinct – pain avoidance or fear of pain.
I have a Newfoundland mix–he’s 5 months old and 50 lbs. I’m having some problems with leash biting and jumping, and found your articles on leash biting and aggression very helpful. My dog will walk along happily for over half the walk, and then have a two-minute temper tantrum where he bites the leash, launches himself at me, and bites my arms and clothes (he has good bite inhibition at least). I can get him in a sit-stay but when I let him out of it he starts jumping at me again and I think he’d be humping me if I let him.
He is also a strong puller. I walk him on a Sense-ation harness and this helps somewhat. My problem is that when I try to focus on leash pulling, this seems to make the leash biting and jumping worse. There seem to be so many things I need to correct and I am feeling overwhelmed because when I try to deal with one area, other issues get worse. Should I be trying to focus on everything at once, or just deal with the biting and aggression first? I feel like if I could get one issue under control, the other might also improve. But I also think that if I ignore the pulling to deal with the biting, I will be reinforcing this bad habit. We’re starting a basic obedience class in three weeks but I would really appreciate some of your insight.
Yeah, I went through a similar experience with my Shiba Inu (Sephy). He started leash biting out of frustration, when I “corrected” him for lunging after other dogs or for pulling. Initially, I was taken aback by his leash biting behavior, and was not sure how to respond. Therefore, Sephy quickly learned that if he starts to leash bite, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.
In this way, I was inadvertently rewarding his leash biting behavior, which made Sephy leash bite more, and with greater ferocity. I got somewhat fearful of his crazy behavior, so I would often not “correct” him for his other behaviors, in the hopes that he would not leash bite. This of course further rewarded him for leash biting, so he would whip it out more and more often, and for smaller and smaller things.
With Sephy, the key issue was leash biting because it was preventing me from properly teaching him how to behave during walks. Therefore, that was the problem that I focused on. I still corrected him for other bad behaviors, but I know that it would ultimately degrade into leash biting, because he has learned that leash biting “works”.
Some things that helped with Sephy-
1. Controlling my own energy. Being fearful made Sephy act-out even more. If I am calm and confident, his behavior also improved.
2. Shorter but more frequent walks. This allowed me to walk him closer to home. If he starts acting out, I can bring him home quickly and put him in timeout, *if* he continues with his bad behavior. In this way he learns that-
This also resulted in more successful walks which helped me build confidence.
3. More structure before the start of our walks. I would walk him in the house or backyard first. If he walks properly, follows commands, and does not pull, then we would do door manners. I make sure that he is calm, and following my commands, before we leave on walks. This sets me up as leader, puts him into a follower state of mind, and starts me off at an advantage.
4. Have a plan ready. I made sure to have a detailed plan A and plan B for dealing with Sephy’s leash biting behavior. Then, when he starts, I just focus on implementing my plan. This helped me be more decisive, more calm, and less fearful. If the plan didn’t work, then we would just come home, and I would come up with a different plan.
I list many of the strategies I tried out with Sephy in my leash biting article. I describe a few more things, relating to pack leadership, here. I also follow the Nothing in Life is Free program with all of my dogs. This also gets them into the routine of following my commands, and learning that they get what they want most, by working together with me.
Leash biting was by far the most difficult issue I had with Sephy. However, once I found a good strategy to stop the behavior (and to not inadvertently reward it), things improved quickly and significantly. Let me know if you have more questions or just want to share some stories. Big hugs to you and your Newfie puppy!
I have a 4 year old husky/pit mix that is impossible to walk. He pulls so bad that he is walking on his back feet. His front feet never touch the ground. He is about 100 pounds give or take 10. Not sure how to get him to calm down.
hi i have to siberian huskies, one male 14mths and one female 17mths and am also having great difficulty walking them, particularley together. do i need to train them to walk separately one on one? they are also very strong pullers. i use harnesses because they too, end up choking themselves. if i try to take one for a walk on their own the other cries its head off.
Yeah, when I start leash training, I only do it with one dog. Once I have that well in hand, then I get a friend to walk one, while I walk the other one. In this way, they get to practice walking together, but I can still properly apply the no-pulling techniques.
I’m having a lot of problems walking my 7 month old male Shiba. He REFUSES to look at me once we go outside. If I have treats he will only look at my treat bag or my hand, but never me in the eyes. He pulls so hard on the leash that he will nearly choke himself out, so I went back to a harness and he pulls so hard I can hear him wheezing when he breathes. If I stop he’ll sit there and occupy himself with whatever is around him, but he won’t listen to me, look me in the eye, or sit down and if I take a half a step he goes right back to pulling. Today I even bent down to try to get his attention and he went absolutely berserk biting me and shiba screaming. He breathes about 10,000 breaths a minute outside and his heart is absolutely racing, and this after only 2 or 3 minutes of walking. He won’t focus on any one thing for more than a millisecond, he’s completely in another world. Any ideas?
Some things that help with my Shiba-
1. When I stop, I shorten the leash and bring him in right next to me. He does not get to go smell whatever is in the area.
2. When I start walking again, I use a shorter leash so that he has less freedom. If he walks well, then I reward him by giving him more freedom.
3. If he pulls too much, then I turn around and walk in the opposite direction. This teaches him that pulling gets him farther away from his destination.
4. Shiba Sephy can be pretty high strung, so I always have to stay very calm, and I have a plan for each of his Shiba maneuvers.
5. In the beginning, I would practice leash walking in the house first. This gets Sephy in the mode of walking properly with me. If he walks well, we practice door manners. If that goes well, then he gets rewarded by going on a walk outside.
6. I start by leash training my dogs in the backyard or in a very quiet, low-distraction area. In this way, there is a greater probability of success and I can just focus on teaching Sephy that pulling will get him nowhere. Once he learns this, then I slowly increase the environmental challenge – but only very slowly.
7. In the beginning, I had shorter but more frequent walks. This allowed me to stay calm throughout the whole outing. Sephy also had a short attention span when he was young, so shorter sessions worked better with him.
Sue Lewis says
I have had problems with walking my dog. She appears nervous in new places and pulls like mad on the lead at those times. We have had results from reminding her who is in charge, and following some basic “I am the alpha dog” stuff. It has not solved the problems entirely but has definatly helped. She eats after us at meal times, has to give us a respectful distance when food is around, has to sit and wait for her lead, and sit and wait for us to take our coat and shoes off when we get home. I suppose what I am saying is that I was surprised at how much difference indoor work made to how she behaved on her walks. We are far from there but plan to keep working on reasuring her by being a clear and calm leader. If anyone out there has any suggestions about how to put her more at ease in new places they would be gratefully received.
Hello! we just became new owners of a 10 week old yellow labrador retreiver. She is a very good puppy, but does not like walking. She would rather stay on our lawn and run around. She will walk to the exact same point and refuse to go any further. Pulling or just slight jerks do not work, and she will pull the opposite way, towards home. It is not that she is a lazy dog, she loves to run. I am hoping this is just a puppy issue? Do you have any suggestions???
My Sibe Lara was like that as well when she was young. She did not like walking too far away from home which was her comfort zone. Some things that helped with her-
1. I started leash training her in the backyard. After she got all her shots, I started walking her close to home where it was more quiet and there are fewer people and cars. As she slowly gained confidence, I slowly increased the distance of our walks. In general it is best to wait until puppy has all her shots before doing neighborhood walks where she may be exposed to animal poop and get sick from that.
2. Play the Find-It game. The Find-It game is a great way to make walks more fun and distract puppy from possible scary things.
3. Lara was uncertain about loud noises, the garbage truck, and people on skate-boards and bicycles. I slowly desensitized her to each of these trigger objects at home.
4. Positive socialization. I also started socializing Lara to various objects and people in safe environments (e.g. at home, at a friend’s house, in supervised puppy play groups)
Hi all…we just adopted a 3 year old Pomeranian/Sheltie mix. Spencer weighs 7lbs 8 oz but PULLS like he is 45lbs???
we adopted him November 27th 2011 ..he is a GREAT Dog in all other aspects –he is funny, smart & so very LOVING! he adjusted to his forever home right away and to our 15 year old son. I am his MAIN caregiver…I’m home all day with him so I am basically having to train him on how to walk on a leash …
He began the first week just fine…but over the past couple his “pulling” while walking has gotten worse.
We live in a community called Deer Run…but I think it should be renamed to Squirrel Run. He goes BONKERS if he sees then in our yard. I had to stop lifting the blinds in my sons room as he loved to watch him get off the bus…he spotted a squirrel Monday and even with the blinds DOWN he was going to town on them to with his paws…scratching away at them.
I walk him even a slow run at times at least 5 times a day, to keep his breed stimulated enough to where he is rested at night and it also prevents his breed to bark uncontrollably.
I have tried “Sitting” and I use the command words “Leave IT” when he sees one..But he is very determined..cuz we’ve waited up to 5 minutes.. doesn’t matter, he will STILL pull even if he can’t see it any longer.
I have tried the turn him away or walk him in the opposite direction…he will get so excited he’ll wrap his leash around my legs JUST to try & see where he went???
AM I posting too soon? should I just continue with being very patient with him as he never had the kind of attention we are giving him due to the fact of being a rescue dog and living in a crate all day with minimal walks
I absolutely LOVE HIM but the squirrel thing makes for a walk very unpleasant….
If any suggestions I am open..
Kim & Spencer
Sounds like he has high prey drive and really wants to chase. My Sibes are like that as well. Several things that helped with my Sibes –
1. I give them other outlets for their prey instinct. For example, I have a large section of the yard where they are allowed to dig for earth critters. They can also dig when we go hiking on the surrounding hillside. I also play the flirt-pole game with them sometimes so they get to chase a controlled bushy tail around.
2. Desensitization and distance. As soon as I spot a squirrel, I create as much distance as I can. Distance will help to dampen the strength of the squirrel stimulus. I only allow my dog to sit and watch if she is calm and able to pay attention to me. If she is obsessed with the squirrel and will not give me her attention when I ask for it, then I move away and create more distance. Desensitization exercises can also be helpful.
Here is another article on my experiences with squirrels.
Seriously, keep the dog interested in you by changing your speed and direction. Your dog will wonder what you are up to and you might be more interesting than the environment. I use 5% treats and 95% verbal and physical praise. Treats, sits, stand (stays) and down (stays) are always incorporated in our walks and any other strange things that I can find like road grates with running water below, play ground equipment etc.
My dogs never know what is comming next so they have learned to trust and pay attention. Last week they watched the parade in 2 different cities ( I learned about their fears)
Always looking for new things.adventures to entertain our K9’s.
Good hub – keep debunking those dominance myths and giving solutions on how to really address what’s going on.
Nice work, as usual!
Cats don’t pull. Getta catt! 🙂
Hahaha, but they have nasty wicked teeth! 😉
I’ll have to send this to my daughter. Her dog still likes to pull a bit. 😀
Good to see you k@ri! How are you? What have you been up to? I am back on HP more regularly now after taking a 1 year break. Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving! 😀