Why does a dog pull on leash?  When that question is asked in a classroom, usually at least one person will answer, “Because he wants to be in charge.”  In truth, the reason a dog will run out to the end of his leash and lunge has absolutely nothing to do with a desire for world domination.  The simple answer is that your dog pulls because he wants to go over there.  Wherever over there is, there are smells or activities going on that attract him.  Most of the time when your dog pulls on the leash to get somewhere, you oblige him by walking in that direction.  So one answer to that question is a dog pulls because it works.

If pulling on leash works for your dog, it follows that the way to teach him not to pull is to stop it from working.  He wants to keep walking in a certain direction.  As soon as the leash tightens, the walk should stop – or even suddenly continue in the opposite direction.  If your dog learns that he only gets to go where he wants when the leash is loose, he will begin to pay more attention to where he is in relation to you so that there is no tension on the leash.  To even further strengthen your dog’s choice to remain by your side, he should receive yummy treats and praise when he is in the desired position.

Loose-leash walking, commonly referred to in training circles as LLW, is not the same as heeling. A heeling dog is required to walk with his nose at his owner’s leg at all times.  This is necessary in an obedience trial, comes in handy when walking across a busy street or in a crowded area, but too restricting for most casual strolls around the neighborhood.  LLW simply requires your dog to stay on one side (no criss-crossing to trip you up) and pay enough attention to you to keep himself within the length of the leash.  He can sniff, look around, and thoroughly enjoy his walk while at the same time allowing you to enjoy yours – without you becoming his tug toy!

The bad news is that LLW is one of the most difficult behaviors for your dog to master.  Reasons for this include:

  • He knows how to sit and lie down.  You’re just teaching him the names for these behaviors.  But when you try to teach him to walk beside you, it’s an entirely new concept to him.
  • Whenever you teach a dog any behavior, it’s best to start in the most quiet, distraction-free environment possible so that he has the best chance to succeed.  If you look at this as a “kindergarten environment,” as soon as you step out the front door you’re in “graduate school.”
  • Not only does your dog have to break the habit of pulling on the leash, so do you!  Chances are that you are so used to keeping tension on that leash in order to try to control your little Tasmanian devil that you will have a difficult time training yourself NOT to hold it tightly or yank it.

The ultimate answer to the question, “Why does a dog pull on leash?” is simply:  “Because he hasn’t been taught another way!”  Learning to LLW with your dog is like both of you learning to dance together.  Clicker-training can be very helpful, as the clicker gives you the power to mark the exact moment that your dog is in a desired position so that he can be rewarded.  In the Orlando area, you can find help learning LLW with the assistance of a clicker at  DOG WILLING Positive Training Solutions in Oviedo.




Leah Roberts' photo

Orlando Dog Training and Behavior Examiner
eah Roberts has been training pet dogs in the Central Florida area for the last eight years. She specializes in clicker training, socialization and early puppy development. Known by her students as “Auntie Leah,” her classes and workshops focus on helping dogs and their owners strengthen…