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updated 2023-01

Give your dog the idea that checking in with you,

just being near you, is always Safe and can be Rewarding.  Warmly receive voluntary approaches by your dog, add a tasty treat and/or a fun-for-the-dog interaction.  Whatever reward-type you choose, it should cause the dog to seek to do it again, because it feels good to the dog.  This exercise best taught first off-leash in a safe-contained area like in your home, within a fenced yard or in a classroom.  Part of the challenge here is to teach you, the handler, how to inspire and interact with your dog without giving in to physically controlling the dog with a leash.

​Walking your dog should be an activity you do together,

like walking with a friend—interact with your dog while on walks. 

With Me (a follow along "with me" game).  Ah yes, games ARE a fun and memorable way to learn for us and the dog!  I’d like for you to reward (mark the moment) when you observe that your dog is following along beside you, with you.  Your timing is critical!  Reward-mark the moment your dog chooses the right behavior.  You can initiate a session by letting your dog take a sniff of a yummy treat in your hand, then you take a few steps backward inviting your dog to follow you, reward with the treat for following and then turn yourself into the direction the dog is facing, so that both you and dog can now walk forward, together.  One step after your turn forward, reach down and deliver another treat directly to the dog's mouth, so that she doesn't need to jump up to get it.  Take 1- 2- 3 more steps and then reward again.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  The game for the dog is, can you figure out where to be to earn the reward? 

Initially, please consistently and often reward the dog for following along with you.  Increase reward value (a “what a good girl” and/or freeze-dried liver treat!) in those moments when she checks in with you (looks toward you) while following along.  We teach a pattern of behavior by being consistent and frequent enough that the dog is mostly successful (i.e., 4 out of 5 attempts are successful), before adding more time (duration between rewards) and moving into a random, intermittent reward system.  If we move to random reward too soon, before the skill is conditioned (learned), then we risk sloppy performance, lack of interest and the dog attempting other behaviors out of frustration to earn the reward.  Aim to create a strong initial pattern and then begin moving into an intermittent reward system to increase the dog’s drive to earn the reward and wean the dog from constant food expectation (the dog begins to do more, for less).

Step it up!  Increase the challenge by incorporating unpredictable changes in direction and speed changes.  Think, hey puppy, can you follow along with me… when I change direction?  Starts, stops, walking through distractions to learning to walk backwards with you.  If you notice your dog losing interest, try keeping training sessions short, fun and rewarding; when stepping up the challenge you will likely need to increase reward frequency to build the new skill, first. 


Something to work for.  Train your [dog’s] brain rather than rely on the leash. You may be amazed at how SMART your dog is!  Given appropriate motivation your dog will work hard to figure out what earns that reward that they seek. Appropriate motivation is up to each individual dog whether it is food, activity, toy, or access to something they seek. For instance, a hound’s high-level reward activity may be a simple thing like… sniffing the grass. So, for walking 3 steps “with me” I may then cue, “go sniff.”


If it's a reward to the dog,

then it can be used to reinforce; therefore, increase desired behavior.

Set a new precedent.  What if you decided that today, you will no longer allow any forward movement/access if it is preceded by a pull (a tight lead)? That sounds like a tall order doesn’t it? In short, yes. I submit to you that if you were 100% in your approach and were able to maintain this protocol for any time your dog was on leash that this method alone would make a significant difference. From the dog’s perspective, it’s about gaining forward access by accepting collar pressure—the dog associates (or accepts) collar pressure to get to wherever it is that they are going. What if collar pressure meant something else, like, we’re stopping or changing direction and it never meant forward access? Forward access is only granted when there is NO collar pressure – the leash is completely loose (visible slack in the leash).

Forward access is a reward!

In most cases, the dog naturally desires adventure; therefore,

allowing her to move forward is a reinforcement (a reward) in itself.

​Be a post (don't follow the puller).  Begin by selecting a low-distraction environment to work in. Position yourself as a post, standing in one place only, rewarding the dog whenever s/he is in close proximity to you, and reward a higher-value reward when s/he checks in with you (a turn of the head toward you). If the dog pulls on the leash, you will act like a post (standing still, no forward advancement); the leash is pulled tight and remains tight, but you do not move. Eventually, the dog repositions, sits or moves toward you; when this happens, reward it!  REWARD FOR THE BEHAVIORS YOU SEEK; allow your dog the opportunity to figure out what works, and what doesn't.

Fixed-length leash.  If you want your dog to learn where the end of the leash is, then your feedback must be consistent.  If you give a little, take a little, give little, take a couple of steps into the pull this time, but not next time… it confuses the dog.  Where is the boundary?  Set a fixed length, for instance, 4 feet of line or 6 feet of line; this is especially helpful in early on-leash walking training.

Because it works. . .  from your dog’s perspective.  Following behind a pulling dog essentially reinforces, teaches them that that’s what it takes to get there. So, they become more determined; and they get better at pulling, if it works. 

Consider the following illustration (from the dog’s perspective):


Opposition reflex.  When we apply a physical force to the dog, for example, while your dog is just standing there (relaxed), with a flat hand—pet and then gently press into the dog (on the dog’s side, at the rib-cage, press in with flat hand, continuous pressure, as if you were trying to move him away from you). Many dogs will respond by leaning into your hand—this is activation of the opposition reflex. When restrained or forced, the dog instinctively pulls away or applies an opposing force. No wonder dogs pull on leash! The dog may reflexively pull or work against what’s restraining him or her.

Impulse control.  Impulse control through obedience training (like stay, relaxation and distraction training) and tricks can help equip your dog with the ability to self-soothe and work through distracting stimuli. Dogs that regularly have off-leash access, such as group play, may be more likely to show on-leash frustration.

Tools.  Many folks find a walking harness helpful, giving them a head start (and relief to the dog's neck) when working with an established puller.  I much prefer the front-ring harness where the leash attachment ring is fixed to the front chest of the dog, rather than the traditional “on the back” ring (back rings actually help your dog pull more efficiently! Great, if you want your dog to pull a sled…). When wearing a front-ring harness, when the leash is pulled tight, it pulls/turns the dog’s body to the side, causing them to lose some of their forward momentum, giving you an opportunity to redirect and reward for a check-in instead.  Steer clear of retractable and bungee-style leashes until you and your dog are fluent at the art of walking on leash without pulling.  Retractables and the like create constant tension on your dog's collar, actually teaching him/her to pull to gain forward access. 

If you condition (train) the dog’s brain you will be less reliant upon tools—if the harness works for you, great; but don't forget to work on brain training anyway so that you're not entirely reliant on gear to do it for you.  

Don’t encourage stopping, stubborn-muling or braking; rewarding it.  

If your dog stops abruptly, resist the urge to go back to her and tease with a treat to get her interested in going again.  What you’ll likely teach your clever learner is that this is how to earn a treat!  Oops, not what we wanted.  Firstly of course, make sure there isn’t a solid reason for the sudden stop, perhaps she became startled by something, is feeling overwhelmed, the equipment is painful, or she is injured.  If not something that warrants an adjustment and/or support and you’re noticing a pattern of stopping beginning to emerge, then I encourage you to try the following.  When the dog puts the brakes on and “refuses” to go, keep your back turned, pay no attention to her, and just wait for her to approach.  When she does, praise, reward and move on, cheering her on.  If she continues to refuse to go, keep your back turned, squat down low (an invitation to engage) and tap your side and encourage her to approach, but don’t turn and look at her… wait for her to approach and then praise, reward and make forward progress.  Tip:  avoid excessive long walks with puppies, senior dogs or any dog who may experience discomfort in body and/or undeveloped pads from long durations of walking.

Establish and maintain positive association with the equipment. For puppies or dogs new to the leash, practice attaching the leash for a cookie and pleasant activities.  Some dogs sort out that the fun ends when the leash goes on and will therefore, protest or may appear to shut down once it has been attached.  Aim to replace cookie rewards with activity and access rewards; for instance, in puppy classes, when it's time to attach leashes after off-leash play, handlers praise puppy as they attach the leash and then re-engage their puppy into socialization.  Make leash attachment and wearing an everyday kind of business, where it becomes normal and not a significant event.

Get picky.  You can fine tune “where” your dog walks near you, such as with the heel exercise by only rewarding the dog when s/he is in that exact spot you desire. And you can improve the quality of the behavior by rewarding only for exactly what you want, or improvements of the behavior.  With success, you gradually increase the challenge. If I’m working with food, I will have at least 2 levels of value to my treats; for instance, a piece of kibble for a good job and a piece of chicken for BINGO, that was Brilliant!

Forget about a walking Destination in early training,

rather, focus on short sessions of Quality training

Practice!  No magic, it comes down to putting the time and work into it. You must practice (or rehearse) on a regular basis to develop a new pattern of behavior.  Practice regularly, positively, in many different settings and environments to build reliability in your dog.


“We are what we repeatedly do. 
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”   - Aristotle

"Teach your dog to walk politely on leash, without pulling"

-Tiffany Simpson-Terroux

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