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Dealing with Your Puppy's Leash Resistance

Does your puppy behave like a mule or lunge and drag when you walk him with a leash? You can curb your puppy's leash resistance. Whether your dog is pulling or just stopping dead in his tracks, the result is a no-win situation for everyone involved. Walking your dog becomes a downer, and his social skills will be sharply limited.

The lunge and drag

Up until now, you may have encouraged your puppy's reactionary mentality by allowing him to lead you. By letting your dog march out in front, you’re telling him that he must serve as the guardian and protector; that he must alert and respond to all distractions in the environment! Fortunately, this misconception isn’t that difficult to remedy after you set your mind to it.

The first order of business is choosing a proper teaching collar/harness, such as an easy-walk harness and a head collar. Next, set aside times to reteach your puppy his leash manners. Start in a low-distraction environment and gradually progress into more social situations. Follow these steps:

  1. Hold a 6-foot leash in your hand or secure it around your waist.

  2. Walk in a straight line. If your puppy races out ahead of you, call his name and turn around and walk in the opposite direction.

    In the likelihood that he doesn’t follow, he’ll reorient to your side with a little tug, which reminds him to pay more attention the next time!

  3. Verbally praise your puppy for catching up to you (“Good boy!”).

    Repeat these turnabouts until your dog is predictably focusing on you.

  4. Now break out into a circle, holding the leash behind the seam of your pant leg.

    For bigger dogs, hold the leash behind your back so you can use the trunk of your body to steady yourself if your puppy starts his pulling.

    Walk forward, turning as your puppy pulls, and then praise him as he catches up. [Credit: Illustrat
    Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake
    Walk forward, turning as your puppy pulls, and then praise him as he catches up.

Mule wannabes

If your puppy plops down on the sidewalk and refuses to walk with you, try to avoid the turn and face, don’t drag him, and never, ever pick him up! These actions reward his resistance. You also don’t want to acknowledge your puppy’s resistance with coddling, or you’ll create a dog who is plagued by learned helplessness.

You have a few options to stop your pup’s resistance. Follow these guidelines:

  • Let your puppy drag his leash around inside to get him used to having it on.

  • Lure him along with a favorite treat or toy. Gradually extend the distance between each reinforcement.

  • Condition your puppy to the sound of a treat cup and/or a clicker. Use these combinations to encourage and reinforce your puppy’s forward movement.

  • If he resists you, instead of turning to urge him forward, simply kneel in front of him (still facing forward) and tap the ground with your finger while you shake the treat cup or clap your hands to urge him along.

  • Use a head collar or harness and tug him gently along, using incentives to urge him to walk with you. Don’t tug if your puppy is wearing a neck collar because it puts undue pressure on his throat.

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