First off, you have to understand that walking nicely on a leash is a pretty unnatural thing for a dog. Their casual walking speed is much faster than ours, and their incredibly sensitive noses are much closer to the ground. In essence, we're telling them "Walk incredibly slowly and ignore everything interesting."
On top of that, most animals seem to really like actively resisting someone pulling on them. Push or pull on somebody and they automatically push or pull back. So, when you pull on a dog's leash, you're pretty much begging them to pull even harder. Obviously, that's a fool's game if you want the dog not to pull.
So, my recommendation for people who want their dog to stop pulling is
- Don't use a choke chain. For a dog that pulls, these can damage their trachea, and there's no real reason to use it. If you need something to help control your dog, see my suggestions below for alternative collars.
- Let the dog only have 2-3 feet of leash. Don't let them run out to the end of a 6' leash if they like to pull, and absolutely don't use a retractable leash. (More on that later.)
- Keep the hand holding the leash by your side, and make sure you have a good grip on it. Loop it around your hand if need be. I also recommend hooking a thumb into your pocket or belt to make sure your hand stays at your side even if the dog pulls. You're going to let your body do the talking, not your arms.
- When the dog pulls on the leash, STOP. Just dead stop in your tracks the very second you feel the leash tug in your hand.
- Your dog will pull for a few seconds, most likely. But at some point he will relax, or look back at you, or start to sit, or do something other than pull. The very second you feel that relaxation, start walking forward!
- Repeat #3 and #4. When you first start this, you WILL be stopping on almost every step, because the second you start moving, your dog will rush to the end of the leash, and you'll stop again. But I am confident that if you are consistent, then by the end of a block or two (which will take a long time to traverse), your dog will have gotten the message and will be pulling much much less.
- Start over on the next walk. It will feel like your dog will have forgotten everything. But if it took you 3 blocks to get your dog to stop pulling the first time, this time it may only take 2.8 blocks. And the next time, only 2.5 blocks. And so on, until - usually within 2-4 weeks - your dog will have learned that the best way to move forward is to never pull on the leash.
- If your dog doesn't seem inclined to relax once hitting the end of the leash, and is still pulling like mad 30 seconds or a minute later, try shuffling backwards just a few inches, pulling him back slightly. Your dog will break the pull in order to keep his balance, and that's the precise moment you start walking forward. Repeat.
- Use the things that your dog is pulling towards as the reward for stopping the pull. That's an awkward sentence, so let me use an example. You're walking and your dog sees a squirrel up ahead and, BAM, hits the end of the leash trying to run towards it. You instantly dead stop. Your dog is frustrated, but eventually stops pulling for a moment - that's when you start slowly jogging towards the squirrel! Your dog will pull again and you'll stop. But every time he gives you some slack on that leash, you take him quickly even closer to the squirrel. The very thing that was making him pull turns into a VERY powerful incentive to keep the leash slack. This is called the "Premack Principle," and it's one of the most powerful dog training tools there is.
- Don't forget to give your dog plenty of opportunities to sniff and pee - just make sure that you're doing the deciding. At many times on your walk, during one of those moments that your dog is not pulling (again, even if it's just for a third of a second), say "Check it out!" or "Go sniff!" and give him the full length of the leash to go sniff and pee on whatever is interesting to him. After a minute or so, say, "Let's go" and confidently start walking along again.
COLLARS AND LEASHES
Choke Chains: No. They carry the chance of injury for the dog and offer no advantages that can't be done in a safer way.
Retractable Leashes: No. The tension in the retracting mechanism means the dog ALWAYS feels like you're pulling, so it will never learn to walk properly. On any medium or larger dog, they're incredibly unsafe for both other people, animals and the dog itself. If it full out charges to the end of the line, two things can happen. One, the cheap plastic of the locking/retracting mechanism breaks and the dog is loose, still charging at whatever it wanted to get. Two, the mechanism holds, and the dog is yanked back at the height of a full charge, probably suffering whiplash and other neck trauma. Just no.
Martingale Collars: These are like choke chains, but they are limited in how much they can constrict, so lessen the chance of injury. They come in all-cloth and part-chain versions:
If you absolutely feel you must give your dog "corrections" (sharp yanks on the chain to punish bad behavior), use these. However, I recommend not using corrections in most cases. More later.
Used to make pulling physically uncomfortable or even painful. Only use on extreme aggression cases. Consult a professional. These can easily end up heightening aggression, or causing it in dogs that weren't aggressive in the first place.
Premier Gentle Leader:
Excellent for very powerful dogs with which you can't simply stop and keep the dog in place. The Gentle Leader attaches the leash under the dog's snout, so that when the dog pulls, its head is pulled to the side and around, completely redirecting the dog's direction. Takes all the fun out of pulling. However, dogs pretty much hate having stuff on their faces, so you'll have to condition your dog to accept it. Plus people always think it's a muzzle and are wary of your dog. (It's not a muzzle - it doesn't restrict a dog's mouth at all.)
Warning - the Gentle Leader is NEVER to be used with sharp yanks or jerks on the leash. It is far too easy to injure the dog's neck with sudden movements. For that same reason, it is important that you only allow 2-3 feet of leash, so the dog can't rush forward and injure itself.
Premier Easy Walk Harness:
Again, the leash clips in front - this time in front of the chest - redirecting the dog if it tries to pull. The advantage is that dogs don't mind stuff around their chest and people won't act like your dog is muzzled. Also, doesn't present the possibility of cranking the neck like the Gentle Leader does. The disadvantage is that it doesn't give as much control or leverage. But for medium-sized dogs, or dogs that pull, but not ferociously so, this can be a great tool.