Going crazy trying to get your dog to stop pulling on leash? Here are 5 things you can stop doing

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Is your dog's leash pulling driving you crazy? Here are 5 things you can stop doing

If you’re dealing with any of the following problems, I wrote this article for you:

  • You feel like either you’re a failure, or your dog is seriously stubborn, because you’ve tried everything to stop the pulling and nothing’s worked
  • Every training walk you take to work on your dog’s pulling just leaves you irritable and annoyed
  • You can tell that your dog is also unhappy with training, but you don’t know how to fix that
  • You’ve been doing the “stop moving when the dog pulls” thing for a while and nothing has really changed
  • You sometimes give up halfway through the walk and let your dog pull, because training is getting on your last nerve
  • You’ve COMPLETELY given up trying to stop the pulling, because it’s only been making you more mad, and you don’t want to be mad at your dog

If you’ve experienced any of those problems, then you’ve probably tried at least one of the tactics on the list below

There’s a lot of advice for stopping pulling out there. Some of it’s great! But a lot of it just drives people crazy.

If you’ve been doing research on this for a while, you’ve probably got a big collection of “helpful tips” stuffed in your brain, weighing you down and making you want to rage quit.

Instead of adding to the pile, I thought it might be more helpful to lighten your burden and give you a list of things you can stop doing.

These are all things I tried with my own dogs at some point. They only made me (and my dogs) more frustrated, but it can be really hard to let go of these things. There’s a lot of pressure to make them work, for reasons that boil down to “this is just the way it’s done.”

So here’s an incomplete list of things that this random internet dog trainer gives you permission to stop doing:

1. Enforcing “loose leash rules” on every walk, even when your dog is way too jazzed up to process what you’re trying to teach them

I know, I know – you’re trying to be a good dog owner, and do what the experts tell you.

Be consistent! Be clear! Don’t confuse the dog!

So every time you put the leash on your dog, you made sure to follow the cardinal rule of loose leash: stop walking when they pull.

And let me guess: you lasted about a week before that drove you absolutely fucking insane?

Same, friend. Same.

The reason you struggle has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the fundamental flaw in this approach.

The problem with enforcing the rules 100% of the time is that it goes against another major rule of good dog training: start training on an easy level, and gradually increase the difficulty as the dog gets better at the task.

Imagine:

I finish work at 6pm and take my dog Sparky on a walk. Sparky has energy to burn and, after chilling at the quiet house all day, his brain is highly stimulated by all the sights and sounds and smells of the outside world. He immediately starts sniffing like a mad man, drinking it all in.

I choose this moment to whip out my little bag of high-value training treats and go “okay, Sparky, time to learn a new trick right here in the middle of the sidewalk. I’m going to teach you to play dead on command!”

Pretty unreasonable of me, huh?

It’s equally unreasonable to ask a dog to learn the “trick” of leash skills in this scenario. But traditionally, dog owners are expected to do this all the time.

As someone who struggled with loose leash training for years and only achieved real success when I stopped doing this, I’m here to tell you:

Consistency is overrated.

Well – blind obedience to consistency is overrated. Selective consistency is better.

See, dogs are incredibly smart and observant, and highly sensitive to context clues.

You can easily teach them that when you clip the leash to, say, their collar, you’re going to enforce the rules. And when you encounter distractions at a level Sparky clearly isn’t ready for (or if you need a break from being the Pulling Police) you clip it to their harness and they’re allowed to pull.

This lets you “level up” in a controlled, systematic way, which makes training quicker and more efficient.

This is one of the pillars of our new loose leash walking course. We have a whole step-by-step process for teaching solid (and most important, sustainable!) leash manners by embracing selective consistency.

2. Training in your driveway/front yard as your first step in no-pull training

I’m afraid I have to apologize here: I taught this in my very first online dog training course.

My bad. I was young and foolish.

Walking out the door and heading down the street is, for most of us, the absolute worst place to practice fledgling loose leash skills. Because the front yard is almost never a place we just exist with our dogs. It’s the place we quickly blaze through on our way to much more interesting places. They’re excited, they’re distracted, and they’re impatient to just GO GO GO.

So there you are, diligently stopping every time the leash gets tight. It takes you 30 minutes to get out of your driveway, and you and your dog are sick of each other before the walk even begins.

Enough of this madness. You have my blessing to just let your dog pull (on their harness, see No. 1) through the driveway until they’re proficient at leash skills in other places.

3. Making your dog walk right at your side for dominance reasons

We’ve all heard that if your dog walks in front of you, it means they’re trying to be in charge. This stems from the whole “pack leadership” thing. Which, hoo boy, is one fossilized dinosaur of a long-debunked myth.

It’s hard to get this dinosaur to stay in the ancient history museum where it belongs, though. It’s deeply entrenched in pop culture. And I mean, I get it; Pack theory sure feels like a compelling and natural idea.

As a wee baby dog enthusiast who began serious research into dog training at the age of 7, I was raised with the core belief that you had to be a strong alpha for your dog, otherwise they would try to fill the alpha role themselves.

I did what the pack leader gurus said, trying my best to radiate dominant energy as I walked with a purpose, keeping my dogs on very short leashes to prevent them getting ahead of me or sniffing.

It sucked.

These walks made them tired, yes, but did they make them happy? I… wasn’t so sure.

And MAN was my arm sore after physically forcing my small but mighty husky mix to walk at my side.

It took a long time to untangle myself from those old beliefs. But eventually I allowed myself to accept the truth: The idea that dogs might think they’re in charge because they walk in front of their owner? It’s a fairy tale with no basis in canine behavior science.

Whether your dog walks next to you, behind you, just ahead of you, or ten meters ahead of you, it has nothing to do with status.

Yes, you can let your dog walk ahead and sniff things. In fact, please do!

(That isn’t to say that a well-trained Heel, where the dog walks right beside you on cue, is a bad idea. When you need to walk your dog through a crowded area, or give them a structured way to maintain loose-leash manners past a major distraction, it’s a super useful trick to have in your repertoire. But that’s all it is – a useful dog trick. Not, like, a moral imperative)

4. Waving a treat in the dog’s face to get their attention when they’re distracted

Imagine you’re visiting an exciting new place. The Grand Canyon, for example. After a looong boring drive through the desert, you walk up to the rim and gaze into the abyss for the first time and holy cow! It’s wondrous.

But not three seconds into this experience, your friend/partner/sibling/parent steps in front of you, waving their arms and saying “hey! Hey! Heeeey! What about ME? Aren’t I grand, too?”

What feelings would you be feeling toward this person in that moment? Affection? Curiosity? Respect?

I’m gonna guess none of the above.

This tactic -waving food to distract your distracted dog from a distraction- is pretty common. It’s where a lot of us former correction-based trainers start when we begin haphazardly experimenting with positive training methods.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t make the dog want to engage with you.

And it also doesn’t let them make the choice. When a dog chooses to engage with you because they want to, that’s a gazillion times more powerful than if they only engage with you to get the annoying treat waving to stop.

“Distraction” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. See No. 5 below.

(Note: I’m only talking about treat-waving as a training tactic being unhelpful. Sometimes it’s useful as a management tactic to get reactive dogs out of a bad situation)

5. Trying to be more interesting than the environment

Some of my agility instructors used to tell me to “be more interesting!” when my dog got distracted during class.

As if I, the shy awkward teenager, should have no problem jumping up and down and going “WOOHOOO! LET’S GOOO JONAS!”

My fellow introverts, I have good news:

You don’t have to be more interesting than the whole frickin’ world.

Are you just never going to be the type to enjoy dancing around and doing the high-pitched, singsong dog-praise voice?

That’s okay! Me neither!

If you’ve ever taken my online courses and seen me in action, you know I’m pretty reserved in training. But somehow, my dogs love me anyway.

My wife and co-conspirator, Erin, is one of those godlike beings who regularly and happily do the goofy dog voice even in public where PEOPLE can HEAR her. I’m in awe of this superpower, but I’m also satisfied with my low-key style.

There are ways to train that don’t pit you against the nebulous enemy called “environmental distractions” in a war for your dog’s attention.

Distractions can be put to work for you, like we say all the time here at 3LD.

And not only that, but I cannot tell you how liberating it was when I let go of the stressful task of being the sole focus of my dogs’ attention, and embraced the idea of exploring the environment WITH my dogs, as a true team. Some of my favorite lessons in our Practical Leash Manners course explain how to fit this concept into your training.

What to do next

Take a moment to let the sweet sweet vindication wash over you as you shed the burden of the old ways.

Then go watch The Loose Leash Roadmap, a free video series where we introduce ways to get your dog to stop pulling, using techniques that actually build your bond, and get them to want to listen you despite distractions.

Want step-by-step guidance and a friendly support system? Come join us in the 3 Lost Dogs Academy!

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