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 6 month old collie x saluki and she is mad on a lead. I have tried the stop method but she just continues to pull when I start again-everything. She also pulls sideways and she is almost on the floor, I have tried pulling her collar to the top of her neck but she’s figured out to shake and it will go back down. I’m having trouble with alot of her training-I got her house trained quite well and now she just goes in the house without any warning. She also pest respond to any punishments I’ve tried so many I just don’t know what to do with her
Few spelling errors sorry- she continues to pull everytime. And she doesn’t respond to punishments
Clare Thompson says
I have a 9 month Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, he is great in EVERY way apart from when he sees another dog he will pull to say hi, There is no agression and he stops pulling just before he reaches the dog and approaches calmly but that initial pull is really strong. If the other dog is across the road or a far enough away he will look at them but there is no pulling whatsoever and he loses interest. It is only if they are within maybe a couple of meters and I would say the distance at which he reacts is less than it was 6 months ago but progress is slow!
I have tried all approaches from ignoring the fact a dog is there and trying to walk past at a fast pace, to making him sit and distract him with treats to everything inbetween! the only solution that really works to stop his excitement escalating is to take a diversion and increase the distance but I dont want to have to do that forever as he is a lovely sociable dog and you cannot always avoid situations where you meet another dog in close proximity! I am interested whether anyone else has had this problem and what they recommend! He does not pull at any other time and I have been very consistant with his training from day 1 as I wanted a well behaved, well socialised dog. His recall is great and he is well behaved and well mannered in every other way and Im hoping as he grows up he will lose interest!
Im sure a lot of this is still him being a puppy and wanting to say hi to other dogs but I dont want it to escalate into a major problem as he is now 35kg and I know people may find it intimidating. I am unsure if Im worrying unnecessarily but any advice greatly appreciated.
Claire Cochrane says
Hi, does your puppy still do this? I noticed your post was back in December. My labrador 6 month puppy is EXACTLY the same. He is amazing at every other aspect of training but as we approach another a dog his pace increases. I’ve tried sit and wait, stopping, going in a different direction, treat distractions. He’s so friendly he just wants to meet them but again he’s 30kg and growing!!
I have a 7 month old, male Standard Poodle male puppy who weighs around 55 pounds and does the same exact thing. It is becoming a real problem because he wants to jump into the street to say hi to the dogs on the other side of the street. Most people are afraid of him when he acts this way because he is so big and don’t understand it. He is super quiet when he does this. does not bark. Just zones out and does not listen to my commands, ignores my treats and even ignore his favorite tennis ball. He obsesses with the dogs. And he spends four hours a day in daycare every day, so it’s not like he does not get to play with other dogs. I do not want to use the choke collar.
I have two Doberman that both tug and pull on the leash. I stop and they’ll sit next to me, but the moment I start to walk again they are pulling hard to be in front and pulling to keep going. Any advice? They’ve both chewed off their harnesses, and one chews off her collars. (No allergy, not stress- they just don’t like the harness/collar.) I haven’t tried the choke/slip collars nor pinch collars. I’m not sure I want to go that route, especially being Dobbies are extremely sensitive and emotional dogs.
I have had little success with the head harness/gentle lead. They still pull like crazy.
How old are your dogs? How long have you had them? Did they always pull during walks? What is their daily routine like? What type of training are they used to?
When I get a new dog, I first desensitize her to the collar and leash so that she views them in a positive way.
After she is comfortable with collar and leash, I first walk her by herself. I start in a very low-stimulus and familiar environment, e.g. inside the house or in the backyard. In this way, there are few distractions and I set everyone up for success.
Once my dog is doing well with walking in the house and backyard, then I start leash training her in a very quiet, low stimulus, outside area. We drive her to a quiet area if necessary. Once she is comfortable walking in a low stimulus outside area, I very slowly increase the environment challenge, and at a pace that she can handle.
With my dogs, I use the red-light/green-light technique and the 180 turn around technique.
More on leash training methods.
Which head-halti did you use? I briefly used the Premier head-halti with one of my Huskies. She did not like having it on, and may sometimes plop down and refuse to move. However, it did totally stop her from pulling because every time she tries to pull, her head would get redirected, so it was physically impossible for her to pull. However, just like any piece of equipment, the head-halti has its pros and cons. In addition, it needs to be fitted and used exactly according to instruction or it can cause harm to the dog.
More on the head-halti and other leash training equipment.
Hi, I have a old tyme bulldog x British bulldog, he weighs just over 5 stone, he has a harness especially for a dog that pulls, but it seems to have no impact at all, If he pulls, I stop walking, he turns and looks at me, turns back around and continues to try and pull me, I take my daughter to the bus stop in the morning for school, he’ll sit for a few minutes as we wait then just gets up and starts to walk off, but he goes at such a force he nearly pulls me off my feet.
Harnesses help to distribute force from the leash across a dog’s body, so that it does not place undue pressure on a dog’s neck. However, it also gives a dog more pulling power.
How old is your dog? What is his daily routine like? What type of training is he used to? How much socialization has he had? When he continues to pull, do you get pulled along?
Some people use a head-halti to control large/powerful dogs that pull. As with any piece of equipment though, it has it’s pros and cons and it also has to be used exactly according to instructions.
More on leash training techniques.
Hi, I have a 9 month old Jack x Chihuahua. She is so well trained in every aspect…apart from when we go for a walk. When we are walking alone, she is well behaved, only pulls occasionally and she is corrected by me every time she does so. However, as soon as she sees another person, she gets so excited and tries to run over to them. Its not in an aggressive way, she just loves the attention…and people always give her attention because she’s so small and cute. She does the same thing with other dogs, but just submits when she gets closer to them. When she sees another person, its like she goes deaf to all of my commands and wont respond to anything i say, which is so embarrassing because in other situations shed so obedient. I’m at a loss, its dangerous because shell just run towards them like she gas blinkers on not looking for cars or anything. Please help.
What type of leash are you using? I use a 6-foot leather leash to walk my dog. This allows me to have good control and to keep her safe.
More on how I desensitize my dog to people.
I am that I do not have much time to train my dog but Im desperate to try.
I am looking after two Akitas for three weeks. One is three years old the other one two. I got warned by the owner they are hard to walk. The older one is not bad but the younger….once a day I break down in tears. She pulls so hard I am loosing strengh to carry even light shopping bag. My shoulders are aching badly, hands are bruised with wounds…i have tried a few techniques from your website. Nothing works. I do stop whe she pulls but not even once she calmed down. She would stand even for 15 minutes keep pulling why the other dog is crying standing near me wanting to move. I want to be consistent but each day I have been they wouldnt poop or wee outdoorsvand would do it at home :(( if inlet her pull at least she has a toilet. I feel depressed and am in a strong almost unberable pain in my arms. I have more than two weeks lef with them. I will add they are both great at home..
Thank You and I will appreciate any tips.
I need to add I do change direction when she pulls. Again she just doesnt stop pulling at all. I do not get a chance to praise her. She once spotted a cat (i keep my arms tense at all times to avoid being hurt too much) she almost broke my arm…i was on codeine for to days. Do not know how to survive two more weeks…
If walking the dogs is having a negative impact on your physical health, it is probably best to contact the owner and try to make other arrangements. Is there a trusted dog walker or family friend who can walk the dogs for the remaining weeks?
It is likely going to take more than a few weeks to retrain a dog not to pull, especially if she has been doing it for a long time. When I am leash training my new dog, I walk her separately first. In this way, I have more control and can pay more attention to her. I set my dog up for success by starting small, in a very low stimulus area (e.g. in the house or backyard). Then, I very slowly build up from there.
I also spend time to slowly desensitize my dog to cats, other dogs, etc. All of this takes time. Given you have limited time with the dogs, I would contact the owner and make alternative arrangements.
Thank You so much for response. Yes I will contact them. As I have tried my best but its getting worse as I am too weak to walk them now. I really hoped I was going to train them but unfortunately I had no knowledge about this breed when offered my help. Thank you again.
I have recently gotten a 6 year old male (neutered) lab. He was bought as a very young puppy and has had little contact with other animals. He displays no aggression to other animals. He walks fairly well on a lead, only pulling sometimes. But when he knows where he is going, the park or the dog park, he gets more and more excited and anxious as we get closer, pulling and barking and whining and pulling back and forth in a sideways motion on the leash. Once we get inside the dog park all of that disappears and he’s a normal dog again. He only displays that behavior when going to his ‘fun’ destinations and he does it *every* time. I’ve tried stopping until he calms slightly, turning and going the opposite direction, even walking past the dog park and not stopping in an effort to get him used to the idea that he isn’t *always* going to a fun place when we walk in that direction. Nothing seems to help. Any suggestions?
In terms of pulling, the most important thing with my dog is consistency. If I really want to stop the behavior, I have to absolutely stop or turn around *every time* that she pulls.
If I do not, and give in sometimes because we are already so close to our destination, then she will learn that if she pulls enough times, she gets to go where she wants. In this way, she learns that if at first she does not succeed, pull and pull again. This type of intermittent rewards actually encourages her to pull more because the next pull may be the one that gets her what she wants.
When my dog pulls, I first give a verbal warning. If she ignores it, then I stop. I get her to do a Sit, and after she is more calm, we move on. If she starts pulling right away, then I turn around and walk in the opposite direction. After a bit of good walking, I stop, get her to do a Sit, and we try again. If she starts pulling again, I no-mark, turn-around, and move even farther away and so on. If she pulls too many times, I simply take her home and end the walk.
In this way, she learns that pulling *always* means she does not get to go where she wants. In addition, pulling too much means we go home and the fun walk ends.
Consistency and repetition are the two most important ingredients in getting my dog to stop pulling.
Loreli Kosmatine says
My dog Beau is a Golden Retriever/Shepard/Husky mix. She weighs more than me. She pulls me everywhere. I can’t control her. I have a prong collar but that does not help at all. I am at my wits end. I am afraid of getting seriously injured. I have tried the easy walker harness and I have gone through 4 of them ripping because she is so strong. The easy walker also did not help with the pulling. Any suggestions?
Some people use a head-halti to control large dogs that pull. The head-halti controls the direction of the dog’s head, similar to how horses are controlled, so even a large dog cannot pull. However, just like any other equipment, it is not a miracle cure. It has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Another thing that helps with my dog is to start small and slowly build up my dog’s tolerance for external stimuli. I first start leash training my dog in the backyard, where it is quiet and there are few distractions. After we are very good with that, I *very slowly* increase the environmental challenge. I also start with shorter but more frequent walks, so that I can maximize calm, successful outings.
Pulling can be self-reinforcing. If my dog pulls and gets to go where he wants, then he gets rewarded for his pulling behavior (by getting to go where he wants). As a result, he will pull more. To stop pulling, it is very important to reinforce and reward calm and non-pulling behavior, while at the same time preventing our dog from getting rewarded for undesirable behavior.
hi my name is deanna i have a husky that pull me when we go for walk i was just wordeing if there any way to get him to stop pull me
With my Huskies I used a combination of the red-light, green-light technique and 180 turn around technique. Consistency and repetition are the two key ingredients to leash training them. 😀
With my Huskies I used the red-light, green-light technique and 180 turn around technique.
It also depends on why my dog is pulling. I talk about some reasons why dogs pull and what I do in the article above.
We have 3 akitas, 2 Japanese akita inu’s and 1 American akita, the 2 Japanes akitas are 11 months(male) and 21 weeks(female) and the American is 2.5 years old(female).
We are really struggling with the male when we are out walking when we meet other dogs he pulls so.hard to get over to them and if they bark at him.he gets really wound up and is up on his back legs trying to get at them and I really.don’t know why cause he is such a chicken and always depends on the American akita to look after him, even when the dog behind us barks while out in the garden he comes running into the house petrified, it makes me dread meeting other dogs while we are out walking?
My Shiba Inu was also very reactive towards other dogs when he was young. What helped him most were dog-to-dog desensitization exercises. We did desensitization exercises at our local SPCA under the direction of a trainer there. They had lots of friendly dogs that we could practice with.
I also made sure to control my own energy. In the beginning, I would always get anxious whenever we see another dog because I was afraid that Sephy would lose control. This only made his behavior worse because he would sense my anxiety, get anxious himself, and go even more crazy.
Therefore, I started to introduce more structure into our walks. First, I would walk Sephy in the house or our backyard. If he does well, we do door manners exercises. If he does well, then we go outside. This pre-walk ritual helps to get Sephy into the mindset of following my commands and helps us both to be calm.
When we go out, I start in very quiet areas where there are very few dogs. I walk early in the morning if necessary. Initially, we did shorter but more frequent walks that are close to home. Sephy is more confident and less likely to become reactive when we are close to home. Also, if Sephy becomes reactive, I can quickly end the walk and bring him home. He learns that –
Jumping, pulling, and whining = Walk ends,
Be calm = Walk continues, and other rewards
I try to create neutral experiences where we ignore other dogs, and I use distance and barriers to weaken the other dog stimulus. The more successful walks we had, the more confident we both became, and the more calm Sephy was. The opposite is also true.