Leash Pressure and Pulling Dogs

blue pitbull bennett canine training

See the slack in the leash?

If you struggle to enjoy walking your dog because your dog pushes all of his weight into the leash you are not alone.  Thousand of owners out there struggle with their dog pulling.  If I had to venture a guess I would say at least 80 percent of dog owners wish their dogs walked better on the leash.  Loose leash walking doesn’t have to be a unreachable goal.  You can enjoy walking your dog if you can learn to  correctly use the leash.


Understanding collar/leash pressure is a must for achieving a enjoyable loose leash walking experience.  Have you ever seen a dog or a puppy the very first time that they are on a leash?  A lot of dogs and puppies become frightened the first time that the feel the restraint of a leash.  Their reaction is often to pull against the leash even harder, cry, roll around like a fish out of water or even bite at the leash. 

Why do puppies act like this the first time they are on a leash?

The dog or puppy is cycling through behaviors trying to figure out how to make the collar pressure go away; because he doesn’t like how it feels to have pulling on the leash/collar.  Their response is referred to by dog trainers as the opposition reflex

Dogs and puppies quickly learn to “get used to” this feeling which is ultimately why they pull.  If the owner just stood there, keeping the leash the exact same length and allowed their puppy to cycle through behaviors the puppy would eventually take a step towards the owner which would result in the feeling the puppy didn’t like (pulling on the collar) to go away.  Thus teaching the puppy the best way to make collar pressure go away is to give to it, by moving towards their handlers.  Unfortunately, many handlers overreact to their puppy’s overreaction, so they miss out on teaching this important opportunity.

Communicating through the leash:

Think of your leash as a phone line and every time there is solid pressure in the leash there is static in the phone line.  If you want to communicate with your dog through the leash you must have a loose leash.

A dog who understands to move with leash pressure can be asked to lay down with downward collar pressure, they can move to your left side with gentle guidance and they can back up with the slightest two finger tug.  In order for a dog to get to this level the owner must understand that collar pressure is a cue.  Just like sit or down your collar pressure is a cue that means “move this way”.

The pact of loose leash walking,  if I don’t pull on you then you don’t pull on me

Both parties; dog and owner, must agree on this pact.  I frequently see people trying to force their dog to heel by only providing 2-3 feet of leash and keeping their dog by their left side.

There are actually several problems with this attempt at teaching loose leash walking. 

 If your dog only has 2-3 feet of leash then your dog may not have any place to walk without pulling. By keeping your leash to short you are teaching your dog to pull.  You teach your dog to pull by not giving them enough leash to walk any were without having tension on the leash.

Another problem is that the well meaning owner is mistaking Heel and Loose Leash Walking.  By not having your goals clear in your own mind no wonder the dog ends up confused.  Heel is a position that you can call your dog into, their shoulder to your leg.  It has nothing at all to do with the leash and should be able to be trained off leash.  Loose leash walking is keeping slack in the leash.

You need to understand that your dog is either pulling or not, so if your out walking your dog and you are only giving your dog 2 feet of leash how can he walk without pulling?  Your training him to pull by pulling on him.  I know that sounds crazy, but the more opportunities that you give your dog to feel a tight leash the more you are desensitizing them to collar pressure. 

We want our dogs to be very sensitive to collar pressure. 

The more sensitive they are to the collar the less they pull.  There is no kinda of pulling, if you or your dog or you has taken the slack out of the leash your dog is practicing pulling.

Your leash should have a nice U- shaped drape in it if your dog is not pulling.  Once student’s dogs understand collar pressure and owners have great leash skills the biggest complaint you should have is your dog stepping on the slack in the leash.

Leash Rules:

  • Your dog should have at least 5 feet of leash between your hand and his collar, the longer the leash the better.
  • Don’t wrap the leash around your hand this shortens the leash and makes it harder to tell when your dog is pulling
  • Reward your dog every time he puts slack back on the leash by verbal rewards, treats or moving forward
  • Bring rewards like toys and treats, going forward can also be a reward for your dog.
  • Don’t accept pulling; each and every time your dog pulls you must address it.  If you feel as though you are in to much of a rush to train use a training collar like a easy walk harness for when you are in a hurry and a different collar for training sessions.
  • Stay calm, just because your dog is excited and worked up you don’t have to be. 
  • Pay attention while walking your dog.  If you want them to pay attention to you then you pay attention to them.

 The magic collar:

Why is it that when you try a new “no-pull harness” or new training collar that your dog immediately seems to be better on leash?  Remember, the puppy that has never been on a leash before?  They were sensitive to the new feeling, so they had a big reaction to even a little bit of pressure.  Since harnesses and training collars change what pressure feels like your dog is more sensitive to the new pressure. 

You often will see that your dog is immediately more sensitive to collar pressure, but just like with a regular flat collar you can quickly desensitize your dog to the new training tool. 

When to use a training collar:

You never want to rely on a training collar to teach your dog to walk nice on leash, but these training tools are great when you are too busy to train, you aren’t strong enough to keep control of your dog and if you need a little extra help until training sets in.

We will be posting how to teach yielding to collar pressure in the next few weeks.


Leaning in Collar Pressure

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