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Dog Leash Pulling; When Emotions Get in the Way

Learn More About Emotional Pullers


"Tell me the way your dog pulls on the leash and I'll tell you more about him." This could be probably a more appropriate title for this article. After all, each dog may have it's own modus operandi when it comes to leash pulling.

After walking several dogs on the leash, I have seen certain patterns repeat over and over. Truth is, as emotional beings, more often than not, there's more to leash pulling than thought. In some cases, more than training, for starters, some dogs need behavior modification.

This is why I think a cookie-cutter approach to solve leash pulling shouldn't be taken. Questions to ask is: why does the dog pull, when does he pull? What increases or decreases the pulling behavior? Following are some distinctive types of leash pulling and in the next paragraphs we'll discuss some tips on how to solve the issues.

Of course, this is just a general guideline and no black and white statements are made; each dog may pull for different motives or a combination of motives.

Fearful Pullers

These dogs start pulling the moment they are out of their comfort zone. Their comfort zone may end the moment they walk out the driveway or a few meters ahead. These dogs are over threshold, they cannot take treats on walks as they are too busy being hyper vigilant and attending to ever sight and sound.

And forget about talking to them or asking them to obey to commands... they'll pose a deaf ear. If you happen to touch them; they may startle. They often pull in a zig-zag manner changing sides often, walking slow, then fast in a yo-yo fashion. Often labeled as stubborn, these dogs are just worried about the world surrounding them. Many of them want to walk with their noses to the ground. Here's an insight on what goes on.

When dogs are anxious and go in places that are new or they haven't been there for a while or where they aren't entirely comfortable being in, they tend to sniff. Sniffing is their way of getting to know more about the place and by getting more acquainted, they often relax more. Preventing dogs from sniffing in these cases, is to some extent sort of like asking us to walk in an unfamiliar place blindfolded.

More and more dog trainers are discovering lately the importance of letting dogs sniff. I can attest that almost every week I am offered to attend some continuing education course that revolves around something that has to do with sniffing.

Panicky Pullers

These dogs are not just fearful; they are just simply terrified. They will grasp the road with their nails and pull with all their might. Whether the dog is terrified of gunshots, roller blades or a truck, these dogs are pulling to save their own lives out of survival instinct. If you fail to follow their lead, they may just decide to say "sayonara" and work their way out of the leash or harness so they can return home or somewhere they feel safe.

Enthusiastic Pullers

These dogs generally do fine until they notice a person or other dog they want to meet. They will therefore try to pull with all their might to go say hello. They pull straight ahead towards their point of interest. In this case, we are dealing with distance decreasing pulling. The dog wants to reach the dog or person. Often these dogs have a history of meeting other dogs or people on leash and are constantly seeking this form of reinforcement.

Frustrated Pullers

What happens when an enthusiastic puller is unable to pull his owner near his desired destination and he has little impulse control? He may get frustrated. This high arousal often causes lunging, barking and growling, the dog's way to vent off all that steamy enthusiasm and voice out his opinion in protest. These dogs often do fine when they get to meet the other dog off leash. It's restraint that angers them. This type of behavior is often referred to as "barrier frustration."

Defensive Pullers

In this case, the dog pulls to send away a trigger they don't like. They often like to put up a show of lunging and barking. Their goal? To scare the trigger away. Unlike the dog eager to meet and sending distance decreasing signals, in this case, we are dealing with a dog giving distance increasing signals; basically, the dog is requesting space and the best way they achieve this is by scaring the trigger away.

Recreational Pullers

These dogs are simply curious to explore the world around them. Often, these are outdoor fellows used to sniff and mark as they please and wish to continue doing so on walks. This is not because they're stubborn, it's just because they can't see a difference between wandering around the yard and being walked on leash. Some are simply dogs with a history of being owned by dog owners allowing them to sniff and mark as needed. The outcome is a dog who automatically investigates anything he encounters on walks and will actively and constantly pull towards their points of interest.

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Trained Pullers

Last but not least, these dogs are pulling as an automated response. They never received any training so they just think that pulling is a normal fact of life. In this case they may be no emotions involved, it's just as you automatically drive faster on the highway without much thinking involved. For these dogs, a tense leash is a normal feeling cause they haven't learned better.

To each their own. It's also important to recognize what leash pulling isn't. You may have heard that dogs may pull because they are "dominant" animals who wish to take charge and walk their humans. This belongs to the outdated old, dog dominance myth. According to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, dogs tend to pull simply because they are enthusiastic to be enjoy the outdoors and likely weren't taught any better. So how to solve the pulling? In the next paragraphs there will be a few suggestions for each type of pulling.

Attention heeling can help your dog walk by distractions without pulling.

Attention heeling can help your dog walk by distractions without pulling.

My favorite no-pull harnesses!

How to Deal with Emotional Pullers

Fearful pullers

These pullers need a more comprehensive program than just learning how to walk on the leash. They need to feel safe and that nothing bad is going to happen to them. Short, upbeat walks in the same areas each day when there is least activity may be helpful to start with.

Affected dogs should learn to take treats in quiet areas and then gradually in increasing distractions.

In dogs exhibiting this type of anxious sniffing, it may help to often find an initial compromise. Let them sniff the area initially until they seem more relaxed and then practice some loose-leash walking if the area permits.

It may help to start the walks with a long line. The long line should come to represent more freedom and ability to sniff. After sniffing (which is extra tiring too, by the way!) and moving around, the dog may often become calmer (unless they encounter stimuli or situations that trigger more anxiety).

At that point, once the dog seems calmer, the dog can be switched to the leash and you may be better able to work on loose-leash walking (always using high-value rewards).

Often, it is possible to park the car and walk to point A with the long line and then return with the regular leash to the car and the dog doing much better in heeling. This should be repeated several days always sticking to walking in the place to reduce the chances of setback associated with new places.

Then, the dog can be walked halfway to point A with the long line and then switch to the leash, gradually, reducing the length of the walk done with the long line. At some point the dog may be doing well with just the leash.

Desensitization and counterconditioning to triggers is recommended. Calming aids may be needed for severe cases.

Panic Pullers

Identifying the trigger is important. Then, desensitization and counterconditioning is needed in areas the dog feels safe at first or with the aid of calming aids. Prescriptions anti-anxiety drugs provided by the vet may be needed. Working along with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist may be helpful.

Enthusiastic Pullers

These dogs simply need to learn more self-control and how to follow obedience commands despite distractions. The dog can be taught to meet other dogs or people only when they are calmer such as walking on a loose leash, or an alternative behavior can be taught through dog differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors. Basically, the dog is taught to sit at the sight of another dog or can be taught do some attention heeling. A dog that is heeling or sitting cannot be pulling at the same time! Some trainers suggest not to teach dogs to meet every dog on the street, as this may lead to excessive pulling in anticipation. They advocate meeting other dogs only when off leash.

Frustrated Pullers

As well, these dogs need to learn more self-control around distractions. Reactive Rover classes are often suggested for frustrated greeters so they can learn better coping skills. Systematic desensitization with distance work may be helpful because it makes the trigger less salient allowing the dog a better opportunity to learn a differential response.

Defensive Pullers

These pooches need to learn that there's no need to act defensively by changing their emotional response. If the issue is the sight of other dogs or people, the "Look at That" game may turn helpful to help changes the dogs emotions. Open bar closed bar is another helpful force-free behavior modification method.

Recreational Pullers

In this case, dog owners need to learn strategies to make themselves more interesting than these dogs "points of interest." The use of high-value treats, toys and fun behaviors may help Rover see you from a different perspective. These dogs need to learn that when the leash comes on, it doesn't mean that the fun is ending, but is actually starting!

Trained Pullers

Trained pullers obviously just need training to learn loose-leash walking. I recommend reading how to train loose-leash walking, come to heel and attention heeling, my article with tips on how to train a strong dog to walk on the leash may be insightful. I also recommend reading more about leash manners in the recommended readings below.

As seen, dogs may pull because of different motives, and many times dogs who are pulling may need more than just training. This is why some dogs continue to pull despite attending obedience classes. If you are facing challenges walking your dog, don't give up! Employ a force-trainer/behavior consultant to help you out.

Alexadry© All rights reserved, do not copy.

Giving into leash pressure- by Kikopup

For further reading


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2013:

Recreational pullers, you'll need to start in low distraction areas and reward all signs of giving attention to you. If your dog pulls a lot, try a front-attachment no-pull harness, where the leash attaches to the front, you can find them at your local pet store. Don't give up! Persistence pays off, this hub may be helpful: Good luck!

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on December 02, 2013:

Great article! I actually avoid taking my dog for a walk because her pulling is so annoying. I think she's a recreational puller - I'll have to try your suggestions. Voted up.

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