Posted by: Linda Trunell | June 16, 2013

You Pulled Me First!

In the second week of puppy or beginner class we work on loose-leash walking.  Although I love my job I must admit this is my least favorite class.  It is much more fun to teach a puppy sit or down or leave it or just about anything else.  I feel this way because this is the lesson that I really have to teach the humans much more than the dogs!

Sunday Pack Walk

Sunday Pack Walk

First, let me say that I recommend a harness and a 4′ or 6′ leash for walking.  My favorite harness is one where the leash is attached to the front so if the dog pulls they are turned towards you.  Never use a choke or prong collar or a flexible (retractable) lead.  I will rant about those in another post!

Think about it.  Dogs are not born with leashes attached so loose-leash walking is not a natural behavior.  Most of the other things we teach them are natural behaviors that we just teach them to do on cue.  When people first put a leash on a puppy they usually start to use it to manage and control where the puppy goes and how fast.  Dogs pull on the leash because it is a reflex to resist the pulling of the person on the other end. The leash should be irrelevant. If you are using the leash to manage your dog how can you manage him when he is off the leash?

I suggest starting to teach your dog to walk at your side without the leash.  Do this in a secure area with minimal distractions. Walk around and click and treat your dog as he walks beside you.  Change directions and change your pace while continuing to click and treat at a high rate as long as the dog is staying with you.  You can start using the cue “with me” as he begins to stay at your side.  Practice stopping and asking the dog to sit and click and treat when he sits at your side.  If you are always rewarding by delivering the treat right to his mouth while he is sitting or walking at your side, he will learn that is the best place to be.

After several sessions of “with me” you can attach the leash.  Keep the leash slack and if the dog goes to the end of the leash – do not pull back.  Just stop and call him back (kissy sounds usually work well).  As soon as he puts slack in the leash by moving closer to you click but only deliver the treat when he’s at your side.  When your dog is walking nicely start to practice on the leash in areas with more distractions.  Remember that more distractions mean higher value rewards might be needed so have something really valuable to your dog when you are out and about the neighborhood.  Little bits of hot dog or string cheese work well with most dogs.

Loose-leash walking is not the same as heeling.  I teach heeling in Intermediate Class. Heeling means the dog is glued to your side, keeps pace and turns with you and sits whenever you stop.  Heeling is good when walking through a crowd or when passing someone on a sidewalk.  Your everyday walk should be mostly loose-leash which gives your dog some leeway to sniff – which is a very important part of the walk to him.

I tell Max “go sniff” when we get to his favorite spots to do his business.  He knows that means I will follow him as long as he is not pulling me. When his mission is accomplished we continue to walk loose-leash but I am deciding which way we walk.  He knows the cue “this way” means we are changing direction.  He also knows “leave it” means forget about that garbage/dead squirrel/dog in the yard and let’s keep moving.

If you let your dog pull you to where he wants to go he is being rewarded for pulling.  Remember to just stop but don’t pull him back.  When he comes closer and releases the tension on the leash you can praise or click/treat and continue to walk.  Once you both learn not to pull on the leash you both will enjoy the walk.

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



  1. Donna walks perfect on heel but will just as soon veer off if she smells something desirable… peemail usually. But the leash will still be loose, although sometimes she would tug if the smell is beyond the length of the leash. Sometimes because she tugs a lot less since we train every time we go out for a walk, and it has been 6 months.

    But you got me right there! I absolutely don’t have the confidence to set her off leashless. Once she’s in the dog run without her leash, she sets to sniffing everywhere and doesn’t hear me.

    I did try treating her as we walk before to encourage her to walk with me (with the leash). And I must admit, it’s not fun since I have to keep bending down to deliver treats to her mouth and every time she sees a treat she sits automatically which disrupts the walk.

    But now I’m reminded to persevere. Great post. : )


    • I feel your pain! Try to keep walking while offering the treat with your left hand (if she’s walking on your left side) so she will take it without sitting. You will need some really special treats to be more interesting than the wonderful p-mails. Sniffing is the best part of the walk for her so she should be allowed to do plenty of that but only with a loose leash. Sometimes a little play indoors (fetch or tug) before the walk helps to release some energy and allow her to have more impulse control. If you practice indoors with the leash it will be easier for her to focus and help to establish the habit. Don’t be discouraged. The learning curve moves up slowly in the beginning but if you persevere you will see you need the treats less and less and you both will have this loose-leashing walking thing down pat! 🙂


      • We are practising leashless heel at home, its working fine at home since she is not so distracted and actually lifts her head to look at me and take the kibble, rather than outside on the leash where she doesn’t look at me and I have to bend down to deliver it to her when she walks nicely by my side. 😛

        …although my fingers hurt after a while since sometimes she nips them when she is too eager to take the kibble from my fingers.

        hopefully we can practise some more at outside when the haze clears 😉

        Thanks for taking the time to reply with such detail. It helps 🙂


      • Keep practicing and gradually add more distractions as the behavior becomes more solid. Try not bending down to deliver the treat – wait for her to look at you (say her name or make a kissy sound to get her attention) and then treat. If she is really grabby offer it in your palm or drop it on the floor in front of her. If you offer in your fingers and she has a tendency to grab, you might be subconciously pulling your hand back which encourages the grabbing instinct. It just takes patience and practice – keep up the good work! 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on theeverydaydogtraining.


    • Thank you for reblogging! Walking a dog should be a nice way to exercise together – not a tug of war on the leash. 🙂


  3. […] Linda Trunell’s article in June gave me the push to continue […]


  4. […] If you do not enjoy walking your dog because he pulls on the leash too much, teach him to walk nicely using positive reinforcement.  I recommend using a well-fitting harness rather than […]



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