Dog Training – How Do I Get My Dog to Walk Politely Instead of Pulling on the Leash?

                                                           < Updated 30JAN19 >        

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In my experience, no piece of equipment, leash, collar or harness will cause a dog to happily and consistently walk on a loose leash unless the dog is also trained to walk politely.

Training a dog to walk on a loose leash takes patience and time. Unlike, sit or down, walking side-by-side another living being is not a normal behavior for a dog. Dogs sit and down all the time without even being asked, but when was the last time you saw a group of dogs walking side-by-side? It does not happen.

I have found that teaching someone to train their dog to heel or walk on a loose leash is best accomplished with a professional, reward-based dog trainer demonstrating how to teach and reward the behavior and then coaching the student as the student trains their dog. Technique and attention to detail matters when teaching a dog to heel. It is not something most people master in one lesson but is critical.

FMI – How to choose a dog trainer

Equipment Matters

As noted above, no tool, on its own, is going to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash. However, the following teaching aids are the ones that will be very helpful in teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash.

  • A regular 6-foot leash and a flat collar or properly fitted front-connect harness.
  • A treat bag filled with yummy treats. Wear it on the side where you want the dog.
  • A clicker or another way to mark the behavior that you want.
  • A motivated, happy and encouraging person at the other end of your dog’s

We NEVER recommend the use of any aversive such as a prong, choke, or shock collar for training or the management of a pet. These tools can cause significant physical injuries and emotional pain to a pet. They can severely damage the bond and trust between handler and dog and also have the potential to cause severe behavior problems such as aggression. Our philosophy is consistent with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG).

FMI – Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

I never recommend the use of any retractable leash if your goal is to teach your dog not to pull when walking. Retractable leashes work by keeping constant tension on the leash and thus are rewarding your dog for keeping the leash tight with every single step your dog takes. Retractable leashes also allow your dog to walk several feet in front of you, which if you want the dog at your side is counter-productive. After your dog has learned to walk loosely on a 6-feet leash, you may wish to then train them to walk on a longer leash. When in town or areas with large numbers of people, I walk my dog on a 6-foot leash; however, if we are out on a trail, away from most other people I routinely use a 15-foot leash so that my dog can explore. My dog has also been trained on this leash, and when I cue her to return to my side, she does.

When training, it is important to be able to instantly communicate with your dog to let them know the precise moment in time that they are in the exact position you want. The clicker excels at this. However, if you are not experienced with clicker training (operant conditioning), I would recommend working with a professional trainer that is, because if you click at the wrong time, or inappropriately, you may confuse your dog.

FMIDog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

A click without a reward is the equivalent to us receiving the envelope our paycheck comes in and finding it empty. A click is a sacred promise of a reward, and the best reward for the vast majority of dogs is a treat. When teaching your dog to walk nicely by your side, you need to quickly deliver the treat in the precise position where you want the dog to be, typically the side of your leg. If you give the dog the treat in front of you, you are encouraging the dog to move out of the desired position and to cross in front of you, an accident waiting to happen. Neither you nor your dog will be happy if you trip over them and end up kissing the sidewalk.

Maintaining Focus Matters

  • Keep lessons short, 5 minutes maximum.
    • It is more productive to do three 5 minute lessons than one 15 minute lesson.
    • Remember, every time the dog is on a leash they are learning to walk politely or to pull and lunge. What they learn is up to you.

While you may feel that you need to take your dog for a 30-minute or 15-minute walk, doing so is counterproductive if they are pulling on their leash at any time during the walk. Until you have trained your dog to walk on a loose leash, limit your walks to 5 minutes, the same amount of time we would recommend for any training session. If you are concerned about exercise for your dog, play fetch with them in a fenced area.

Every step you take with the leash tight is rewarding the dog for that behavior because they get one step closer to what they want. Rewarding the behavior you do not want, could dramatically increase the amount of time it takes your dog to learn the behavior you do want.

If you are having trouble stopping when the leash goes tight, consider getting a properly fitted front-connect harness. These harnesses can be very helpful when fitted and used properly.

  • Start with stationary attention exercises (Attention/Look Behavior).

I consider the heel behavior to be an extension of what we teach as an Attention behavior. Attention is all about teaching the dog to make and maintain eye contact with us. Heel or walking politely is essentially attention while in motion. The easiest way to get your dog to focus on you while walking is first to train them to have impeccable focus while you are stationary.

FMITeaching the Attention/Look Behavior –

  • Reward your dog with treats frequently when you start teaching walking politely, don’t be stingy.
    • The timing of the treat is critical.
    • The location where the treat is delivered is critical.

When I start teaching walking politely, I treat for every step or every two steps. Being stingy with treats will not be helpful. As I noted above the timing of the click and treat and where the treat is delivered are crucial. That is why I recommend that you work with a professional dog trainer that can coach you on timing and treat delivery.

  • You must be more interesting than the environment
    • It can be tough to be more interesting when outdoors, so start by practicing inside.
    • This is a time to talk to your dog as a means to keep them focused on you.
    • Change your pace and directions frequently and erratically, so the dog needs to focus on you.
    • Working off-leash inside or in a fenced area outside is a good way to practice.

Training your dog to walk on a loose leash is all about teaching them to be aware of their position in relationship to you when walking and for you to be able to immediately get their attention and focus in very distracting environments.

There are far more distractions outdoors than there are indoors, so I recommend that you practice and master this behavior inside, before working on it outdoors.

If you are silent when walking, your dog will quickly find something more interesting than you, and you will have lost their attention. When teaching your dog to walk politely, you will need to talk to your dog. However, be careful about saying the same thing over and over again. If you keep saying their name (Sparky, Sparky, Sparky) ad infinitum, they will tune you out, just as you have probably tuned out someone who constantly nags you with the same phrase.

When I first teach a dog to walk by my side, I use a higher-pitched voice (guys you can do this!) and tell my dog stories or talk to them about my day. They are not listening to the words, but by chattering away and frequently rewarding them, I have become more or at least as equally compelling as the distractions.

Walking around the block or in a straight line has very few learning opportunities and if you walk the same route every time the dog quickly learns that they do not need to focus on you. They know where you are going. For this reason, when you start to teach this behavior I recommend that you walk erratically and unpredictably. Change directions often, so the dog is thinking “Whoa, I have no idea where they are going, I better pay attention!” You should be walking in a manner that would result in your being pulled over by the police if you were driving.

When you start practicing this outdoors, you do not need to leave your yard. Just practice in the yard and driveway. Start somewhere the dog is familiar with as there will be fewer distractions. Your neighbors may think you have lost it when they see you chattering at your dog and are not able to walk a straight line, but who cares!

I also encourage people to practice the heel behavior with the dog off leash, but ONLY if they have an appropriate space where they can do so. An appropriate area is one where the dog is safely contained and cannot place themselves in danger. Fenced yards work great! If you do not have a fenced yard but are a regular client of Green Acres Kennel Shop, you can use our training field to work with your dog off leash. However, make it easy on yourself and start in one of the two small yards.

So why practice heel with the dog off leash? It is much harder to maintain your dog in position and focused on you when the dog has the freedom to move away. The leash is a crutch for both the dog and us. When on a leash your dog does not need to look at you to be aware of where you are, and you do not need to work as hard to keep them close. By practicing this behavior with the dog off leash, you are both going to need to work harder. In my 21 plus years of teaching people how to train their dog to walk politely, I have observed a consistent pattern in those that are not successful; they are not putting enough energy into teaching this behavior. If you are doing this correctly, after five minutes you and your dog will be ready for a nice break.

Consistency Matters When Walking

  • All family members need to follow the same rules and protocol.
    • Pick a side and stick to it.
  • If the dog is on leash it is learning, and if the dog is on leash you are training – ALWAYS
    • If the leash gets tight, stop until the leash is loose – ALWAYS
    • If the dog is in the position you want and paying attention to you, reward them. – ALWAYS

If multiple members of the family walk the dog you ALL need to follow the same rules ALL of the time. You need to pick a side, left or right, and stick with it. Imagine if you were being taught to drive by two people and one person taught you to drive on the left side of the road, and the next day another person resumed the lesson by teaching you to drive on the right side of the road. Would you be confused? Very likely. We need to make it easy for our dog and stick with a side. After your dog has mastered walking on one side, then you can also teach them to walk on the other side.

It only takes one person who frequently allows the dog to pull on the leash to make training the dog take longer and even possibly to cause you to be unsuccessful. If you are connected to the dog by a leash, and you are in motion, your dog will be learning, and you should be training. If the leash gets tight, stop so that you do not reward the dog for forward motion. When the dog is back in the desired position at your side and is focused on you, reward them! While you do not need to reward your dog every step, for the rest of their life, you should be ready to reward whenever you walk your dog in a new environment or if it has been several weeks since you practiced walking politely.

Some Training Tips

  • If the dog starts to pull ahead;
    • Call their name or ask them to LOOK (Attention Behavior) and the instant they look back at you click and when they are in the position you want them to be, treat.
    • If you want them on your LEFT, turn 180 degrees to the RIGHT
      • Click the instant they are in the heel position and then treat in that position
    • If you want them on your RIGHT, turn 180 degrees to the LEFT
      • Click the instant they are in the heel position and then treat in that position


Walks Need to Be Fun for Both of You

If you like to walk for pleasure, and your dog is not trained, take your walk and just leave the dog at home. It is not necessary to combine your pleasure walks with the dogs training walk especially if it is frustrating for you. Your dog will very likely feed off of your frustration and become anxious or frustrated themselves. If either of your is frustrated, very little teaching or learning will occur

If you invest the time and energy in training your dog to walk politely on a leash, you will eventually walk many miles together, enjoying one another’s company. Just remember, make the walk pleasurable for your dog and give them opportunities to stop, sniff and explore because that is what your dog enjoys about your journeys together. If you do not have the time to do the latter, leave the dog home. However, make sure to schedule a time when you can take your dog for a walk that they will enjoy.


Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (

How to choose a dog trainer

Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

Teaching the Attention/Look Behavior –


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