How to Stop your Dog Pulling on the Lead - A Simple 5 Step Plan
We are asked this question so many times by concerned owners. We are not qualified trainers, but in over 30 years of owning and working Labradors, this simple method certainly works for us.
You don't need any special equipment or a big area to practice in – just 15 minutes a day and a little perseverance and routine.
Step 1 – Leads
You will need a suitable lead – We prefer to use a Slip Lead when training to walk to heel. Slip Leads have had some largely undeserved bad press with people associating them with 'choker chains' and having concerns about hurting the dog during use. Used correctly they are an invaluable training aid and should be unobtrusive and exert the bare minimum pressure to your dog.
At the risk of being controversial, we are just not fans of dog harnesses or any claims that they can facilitate learning to walk to heel. By their very design, harnesses encourage dogs (just like horses) to push with their chest – precisely the opposite of what we want to achieve.
Step 2 – Setting Up
We have assumed that you have started to train your puppy to sit on command. Have your dog sit on the side you feel most comfortable facing forward – Traditionally this has always been on your left if you are right handed.
Form a letter 'P' with the lead with a large loop and place the slip lead over your dog's head with the ring resting on the back of your dog's neck and with the long side of the lead being towards you. Position the lead so that it is immediately behind the ears at the very top of the neck and then slide the 'stop' down the lead until it fits comfortably without being too tight.
If you are setting out to train a mature dog, a large dog breed or simply a dog that can be 'quite a handful', further control can be gained by using the slip lead in a Figure 8 configuration. To do this, follow the process above but while the loop over your dog's head is still loose and hanging down by your dog's chest, simply twist it once and lift it back over your dog's muzzle before adjusting the stop so that the lead fits snugly.
Step 3 – Setting Off
Start walking briskly whilst giving the command 'heel' and praise him/her regularly as long as they are in the right position ie with his/her head in close proximity to your left knee. If your dog starts to lag behind, encourage them with a tap on your left leg but keep walking. If Puppy dashes ahead, do a quick about-turn so he/she is behind you and start the process again with lots of words of encouragement. If Puppy starts veering to the left, turn right to encourage him/her to take your lead.
Giving a few tit-bits with your left hand will help keep Puppy interested and keep his/her head up throughout the process.
It is important to state that the lead should be used as little as possible. Jerking on the lead is not necessary and should be avoided – the training session needs to be fun for both of you.
Keep this first lesson short and let the knowledge gained sink in for both of you!
Step 4 – Reinforcement
Simply repeat the first lesson – walking swiftly, giving lots of encouragement but checking every time Puppy gives an inkling about wanting to do his/her own thing.
Eventually the penny will drop and Puppy will start to become more focused on YOU and YOUR movements.
To avoid boredom, break up the lesson by halting and bringing him/her into the sitting position with a 'Sit' command and if you plan to use a whistle, introduce it at this stage.
Adopting the practice of walking in figures of eight where Puppy has to walk wide and then being cut-off by your left knee if he starts to inch ahead will further reinforce the two of you working together in harmony.
Again, the lead should be under minimum tension at all times. If Puppy strays and gets in front, just change direction and he/she will soon start to realise that attempting to chase ahead is a bit of a futile exercise!
Step 5 – Repeat
Set aside 15 minute sessions ideally every day at a similar time. Introducing some variants such as slowing your walking pace and adding further sitting at heel practice. If you're feeling brave enough, wrap the lead around Puppy's neck, tuck it in and try him/her on their first step towards walking to heel without a lead. Keep up the encouragement and above all, make it fun for both of you.
Within a week you should have the makings of a star pupil and a dog that you can be proud to take anywhere.