Take the lead: How to stop your dog pulling on the lead

lead pulling
Margaret Davies

Most dogs that pull have learned to do so over a period of time. The longer they have been doing it, the harder it will be for them to change. In most cases, a fresh approach is needed by introducing an alternative to the lead and collar.

Dog lead training

The following tips address how to stop your dog pulling on a lead, whether this is attached to a collar, harness or headcollar.

  • Before training begins, take your dog in the garden and attempt to wear them out. Having them slightly less ready to take on the world will help them to respond better to you.
  • Load your treat bag with tasty food and get your training lead ready. Ask your dog to sit calmly before attaching the lead. Reward calm behaviour at this early stage as you want to avoid teaching your dog to become overly excited every time you set out for a walk.
  • If your dog becomes wild with excitement, remove the lead from sight and walk away. Return to them in a few moments and try again. Once you have managed to put the lead on, it’s time to begin walking.
  • Walk slowly and encourage your dog to walk on a loose lead by rewarding them with food and praising them enthusiastically.
  • If your dog pulls ahead, simply stop. Lure them back to your side with a piece of food and when they do this, feed and praise them again. This technique is very simple and uncomplicated if your dog walks on a loose lead they get well rewarded and get to continue on his journey.
  • If they pull, the rewards stop and the walk is delayed. Most dogs learn the opposite of this, which is ‘the harder I pull, the quicker I get to the fun part’. Please bear in mind that dogs that have learned this over a period of time will need lots of help and encouragement in order to change the habit of a lifetime.
  • A dog’s natural walking pace is usually twice as fast as the average human’s. As a dog would not naturally choose to walk at such a slow pace, it’s doubly important that we reward them generously for something that they find difficult.

The right equipment to stop pulling


Using treats during your walk is extremely important as they have the power to help change your dog’s behaviour for the better. Before you say this is bribery, think again! Treats are a worthy reward for hard work – for example would you be so keen to work all day for half your salary? No, we didn’t think so… Also, it’s important to remember that it will be hard to change habits of a lifetime unless there is a really worthwhile incentive.

Using treats as rewards is the best way to encourage dogs to repeat the things that you want. They can also be extremely useful for distracting your dog away from things that cause inappropriate behaviour. Just knowing that you carry food around with you will automatically make you more interesting to your dog and you’ll find that they pay greater attention to you as a result. No rubbish and boring treats allowed – the only things you can use are the treats that your dog will work for in any situation. Here at Blue Cross we use a variety of hotdog sausage, cubes of cheese or fresh cooked chicken and ham. The other important thing to consider is to make sure that you don’t run out before your finish your walk, so be very generous and remember to take out enough. For the fashion conscious among you – you may find that compromising your street cred and sporting a bum bag will make this a lot easier.


For really strong dogs or dogs who may be reactive out and about, it’s worth considering using a headcollar at first, especially if there is a risk of you being pulled over. As they are worn on the dog’s face and the point of contact is typically under the chin (much like a horse headcollar), you have more control enabling you teach loose lead walking safely. There is a wide range of headcollars available on the market. As with all good dog training
equipment, it must be introduced to your dog in the right way and it must be used in conjunction with the right technique. If you don’t do this, it is likely to result in your dog hating having to wear it and feeling distressed and frustrated during a time when he should be having fun.

For a dog that has never worn a headcollar, it will feel very strange to suddenly have something placed over the bridge of his nose. Most dogs will attempt to remove this by either rubbing their faces on the ground or pawing at it.

How to use a dog headcollar

To teach a dog to fully accept walking on a headcollar, you must
firstly teach them to wear it at home before attaching the lead.

  • Unpack your headcollar and allow your dog to fully investigate it. While they are doing this, make sure you read the instructions and make sure you’ve sussed out which way it goes on. Prepare some tasty food and feed your dog while encouraging them to push their nose through the loop of the headcollar. This should only be for one or two seconds at a time. You can also get your dog used to the sound of the clip. Remember to be really positive and enthusiastic at this time so that is it clear to your dog that this unfamiliar object is a good thing. Take things slowly and end on a good note.
  • Repeat this process every few hours so that your dog becomes really familiar with the way that it sounds and how it feels.
  • When the headcollar is fully attached, we find it really useful to get the dog comfortable wearing it on a walk without attaching the lead to it (ie by having the lead attached to the collar or harness). It’s important to keep them busy and focussed during these early stages, as unless you do this, their attention may be drawn to the headcollar, which may lead them to attempt to remove it. Use treats to gain their attention and walk quickly to keep their mind off it.
  • Consider your dog’s learning ability, stress and frustration levels. Don’t ask for too much as in order to benefit from the maximum results of the headcollar it must be introduced slowly. It’s much harder to undo this if you rush and cause your dog to dislike the headcollar.
  • Once your dog will wear the headcollar, attach one end of your training lead to it and attach the other end to either the collar or the harness. Attaching it to both points is extremely important because as well as having a safety back up should the headcollar break or be pulled off, you will be able to steer and control your dog much better by doing this.
  • Practice using this together in places where there are minimum distractions – remember, be very generous with your treats when your dog responds to your technique. When this is working well, begin using it in slightly busier areas.

It’s extremely important to remember that it takes more than just equipment to change a dog’s behaviour. It must be used with the right technique, applied by a positive enthusiastic owner.

A headcollar should never be a long term solution to your dog’s lead pulling. It’s a great tool for teaching your dog to walk on a loose lead, and it can be a great time saver if you’re rushed and can’t commit the time to train properly. However it should always be our goal to teach your dog to walk calmly without it, so applying the right technique is the key to success.

(Article source: Blue Cross)

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