Why Do Dogs Pull on the Leash?

“My dog pulls me around my block and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get him to walk beside me”.

“Walking my dog is never fun. I feel like he’s walking me, not the other way around”.

“How do I get my dog to stop pulling on his leash?”

These are questions that I hear all the time. Dogs pulling their guardians around on walks is in the top three complaints that people have about their dogs. So, this article is the second installment in the “Finding the WHY” series, dedicated to helping find answers to this very common problem. (Read the first article “Why Do Dogs Bark” at www.localpaws.ca/issue1)

Dogs pull on their leash for only a few reasons. The first is that they have four legs, and we have two. They are just faster than we are. That might sound simple, but dogs are anatomically built for it. Granted, some breeds are bred for size, stronger musculature, etc. but in general, let’s just keep it simple and say that “four legs are faster than two”. 

The second reason is also related to their body, but in this case, it’s all about their nose. Dogs have an unbelievable sense of smell. To put that statement in context; we humans can smell one drop of sweat in an area that is a square meter in size. A dog can smell a single drop of sweat in an area the size of an Olympic swimming pool! Incredible, right?

Alexandra Horowitz writes in her book “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know”: “Human noses have about six million of these sensory receptor sites; sheepdog noses, over two hundred million; beagle noses, over three hundred million.” Suffice it to say that our dogs learn about our world through their noses and when they get a scent in there, there can be no stopping them. 

And the third reason, dogs pull on their leashes to get away from or create space between themselves and something they are afraid of. People say, “but my dog pulls toward another dog”.  Although it might seem like they’re pulling toward the trigger because “they want to meet”, if the pulling is accompanied by barking, lunging and growling, it is not because they want to meet. Leashes are hard for dogs in that they remove the dog’s freedom to choose what they want to do (move away or move toward). If a dog genuinely wants to go meet the oncoming dog, their body will be loose and wiggly and there is no tension in their bodies, heads, tail or face. 

If, however, their ears are back or tense, their eyes are hard and staring and they are flexing muscles like they are ready to burst into action, this means that they are trying to communicate their unease. Any of those changes in your dog’s body signals to the other dog that they need to stop approaching and to you that your dog needs your help. Even though they’re facing the other dog and appear to be pulling toward them, they’re communicating to the other dog (and to you) that they need some space. 

If you have a reactive dog on a leash, one of the best things you can do is to help your dog achieve that time and space between themselves and the approaching dog. Face to face confrontations between two dogs are usually harder than going around and sniffing from behind. You can move to the other side of the street if that’s enough room for your dog but if not, it is perfectly acceptable to do a U-turn and go in the opposite direction. 

Once we understand why a dog is doing what they’re doing we can help. It can be as simple as allowing a dog to sniff wherever he wants to do (as long as it’s safe for him to do so). If he’s really pulling, just stop walking. Once he stops moving completely, you can release him to “go sniff” and move forward. If he looks back at you, as if to say “why aren’t we moving anymore?”, he’s creating the looseness in the leash and again, you can release him to “go sniff”. 

It does take time and patience but teaching a dog that he can go wherever he wants to as long as he’s not pulling, ensures that you’ll both have a calmer, more enjoyable walk. 

Article by Mariana Jones

Based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Mariana Jones (MJ to all that know her) was the first Family Dog Mediator® in Ontario! One thing, that as an FDM® she is very passionate about, is bridging the gap between what our dogs need and what we, as their caregivers, want. 

The goal for MJ and My Girl Friday (MGF) is to empower every dog and human to live together with understanding, kindness, compassion, empathy, trust and love. MJ helps humans to understand WHY a behaviour may be happening, based on the L.E.G.S® (Learning, Environment, Genetics and Self) of the dog. Once we know WHY the behaviour is happening, we can figure out HOW to help the dog and what we need to teach them so they can thrive in our human world.

MJ currently shares her life with her two children (Victor and Bella), three dogs (Happy, Joy and Maximum) and two cats (Monster and Magic). Every dog in her life teaches, inspires and brings joy to her every single day!

Website: My-girl-friday.ca 

Facebook: My Girl Friday – Dog Training

Instagram: mjatmgf