Why Does My Dog Keep Pulling Me?!?!?!

PHS Dog“Why does my dog keep pulling me?”  This is the phrase I hear over and over from clients who are trying their best to walk their dogs on a regular basis.  Short of giving up, they suffer the embarrassment, danger and sometimes pain, of walking a dog who pulls like a freight train when on a leash.  Before I became a dog trainer, this was the one skill my dog Wylie and I could not master!  Even after learning loose leash walking techniques in a basic obedience class, students still struggle with this often frustrating skill.  So what’s the problem?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly why your dog pulls.  Dogs pull for a variety of reasons but most can be put into a single category: excitement/over arousal.  It’s exciting to be outdoors exploring new places.  All the sights, sounds and especially scents are often overwhelming and your dogs just can’t get to where they want to go fast enough!  They are eager to explore and try to get to their destination the fastest way possible, and that means pulling the human they are attached to with sometimes ferocious strength!



    Some of the problems of pulling on leash have nothing to do with loose leash walking.  Instead, they are rooted in impulse control, or rather, a lack thereof.  For example, I have a client who brings her two young Labrador retrievers to doggie daycare several times a week.  When they arrive, the dogs are frantic to get inside.  Their arousal level is sky high. As soon as she opens the back hatch on the car, the dogs come crashing out, dragging her to the front door.  They love going to doggie daycare and can’t wait to get inside for a day of fun.  This became dangerous because the dogs easily overpower their owner and could cause her to fall.  The problem in this case is not walking to the door, it’s the crashing out of the car.  Teaching the dogs to wait before being asked to exit the vehicle, a release by name is preferred when there are multiple dogs involved, helped calm the dogs to the point where walking them inside was less of a problem.  So, it’s important to separate out the skills your dog needs to be able to keep himself under control.
    Have you ever noticed how dogs that have their leashes attached to their collars pull a lot?  The pulling is caused by an opposition reflex, also known as thigmotaxis, that is, an equal and opposite response to pressure.  We have all experienced this as humans.  Someone leans against us and we automatically lean into them with equal or greater pressure to maintain equilibrium.  The tightening of the leash actually causes the dog to strain against the collar.  You pull one way, they pull the other way.  Contrary to popular belief, putting your dog in a harness will not cause him to pull more.  Many people think that a harness will cause a dog to pull like a sled dog.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  A proper fitting two point attach harness, like Victoria’s No Pull Harness or the Freedom No Pull Harness, will actually decrease pulling and give you more control, even without changing anything else.  It sounds counter intuitive, I know, but it’s true.
    Trying to teach your dog to walk politely on leash when she has not been adequately exercised is, in itself, an exercise in futility.  Dogs have so much pent up energy if they are not exercised that they cannot focus, cannot walk slowly, and cannot listen to you.  A good romp in the back yard, a game of fetch or some fun time chasing a flirt pole*, will expend some of that energy making it easier for your dog to understand what you want her to do.  Leash walking is NOT exercise for a dog.  Humans walk really slowly from a dog’s perspective.  We are slow and pretty boring, mostly walking in a straight line.  Walking IS essential for their wellbeing.  It adds to their social skills, provides necessary mental stimulation and is a wonderful time for them to explore the world and bond with their humans.  So exercise your dog first, before you walk.  When your dog is learning to walk nicely on a leash, you should consider all walks to be training sessions.  All training sessions, whether it’s practicing the basics like sit and down, or learning loose leash walking, should be short and fun.  There is absolutely no point in trying to take your unskilled dog for a 3 mile walk.  You will be frustrated, the dog will be frustrated and you will be tempted to give up.
    Sometimes, a basic obedience class just doesn’t cut it and more intensive training is called for.  By concentrating on a single skill, the humans and the dogs are able to learn faster, practice those learned skills and succeed through positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.  Dogs learn faster and better if they are given a choice.  The idea of letting the dog decide whether to relax the leash or not may seem novel to many dog owners, but it is essential if your dog is going to learn to voluntarily walk nicely on a leash.  Need some help in perfecting this life skill with your dog?  There is an upcoming Loose Leash Walking course, two full days of learning, practicing and perfecting loose leash walking.  Work with your dog in a controlled, positive, environment, under the direct instruction of TWO of Victoria’s personally selected trainers.  Daniela Cardillo, VSPDT, internationally recognized multi-species animal trainer from Milan, Italy will be joining me at my facility in northeast North Carolina on April 4, 5 an 6th to offer an intensive weekend of training focused solely on Loose Leash Walking.  The first day is for dog trainers only.  We will be teaching trainers this easy, comprehensive method to teach Loose Leash Walking.  The rest of the weekend is for dog owners and their canine companions.  Come and join us!  Check out the links below.  We would be honored to have you attend!


Victoria’s No Pull Harness Combo is available here: http://positively.shop.musictoday.com/Product.aspx?cp=54834_55890&pc=YP05COMBO

Freedom No Pull Harnesses in a multitude of colors are available here:  http://www.usadogshop.com/1-Wide-Freedom-No-Pull-Harness_c27.htm

The Flirt Pole* is available through Squishy Face Studio here: http://squishyfacestudio.com/

tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

Positively Expert: Dale Ward

Dale is owner of Dale's Dog Training Academy, LLC serving southeast VA and northeast NC. She is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer, an AKC/CGC Evaluator, CBATI (Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor--in progress), and a full member of the Pet Professional Guild and APDT.


4 thoughts on “Why Does My Dog Keep Pulling Me?!?!?!

  1. S.C.

    The TYPE of harness makes a big difference. The front clip harnesses are the key. The ones that clip in the center of the back do create sled dogs - in my opinion.

  2. PremierDogs

    The article states, "Dogs learn faster and better if they are given a choice." I agree, but the trainer/handler needs to ensure that the DESIRED behaviour is the MOST rewarding of the possible choices. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Episode 838 - Nicky Campbell

What do the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Long Lost Family have to do with dogs? BAFTA winning radio and TV presenter, Nicky...

Episode 837 – Beyond the Operant

Obedience training has long been the accepted path to teaching dogs’ manners, but the concept of obedience might be doing dogs a...

Episode 836 – Free Work and Adolescent Dogs

What is Free Work and how do dogs benefit? Dog behaviour expert Sarah Fisher joins Holly and Victoria to discuss how Free Work is...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone