Beagle pulling on the lead

Dogs want to engage with their environment so they may pull on the lead to get to a stimulus if they haven't been taught not to. 

© Artem Beliaikin - Unsplash

Why does my dog pull on the lead?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

If you've ever experienced your pup taking you for a walk, you may have wondered why dogs pull on the lead. Here are the 5 most common reasons.

Walking a dog that pulls on the lead can be tiring for any dog owner, but it's important to remember that without training, your dog doesn't naturally know how to walk nicely to heel. 

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash takes time and patience, but it's easier to get the hang of it once you understand the reasons dogs start pulling in the first place. 

To reach a stimulus

In many cases dogs pull to get to where they want to go faster. They may pull en route to the park, or in the direction of an exciting stimulus such as a new scent. If a dog is always moved on during walks and stopped from sniffing, they may resort to dragging their person along. Ensuring they receive plenty of mental stimulation and exercise will help your dog focus on you and encourage loose leash walking during your time outdoors.  

To counteract pressure on the lead

When a dog feels pressure on the lead, they may naturally strain forward. This can make pulling your dog back counterproductive. Instead, focus on rewarding them for time at your side, as this will build positive associations and good walking skills long term.

Learned behaviour

In many cases pulling on the lead is rehearsed, rewarded by the fact that your dog gets to go where they choose. The difference between a dog that walks nicely to heel and one that pulls on walks, is that they have a different expectation of the outcome of the behaviour. If you reward your canine companion for time spent by your side, and stop walking when they pull, your dog learns that this action gets them nowhere. Practice makes perfect when it comes to training and consistency is key

Your dog is feeling anxious

While excitement and rehearsed behaviour are often at play, a dog that pulls on the lead may actually be feeling anxious about the environment around them. This could relate to other dogs, unknown people, traffic noises or new spaces, and they may be trying to move away from a scary stimulus in order to get back to their safe space as quickly as possible. It's important to observe your dog's body language, because in many cases stress is actually the reason a dog pulls on the lead. Signs to look out for include the following: 

  • Whale eye
  • Tucked tail
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning 
  • Panting

If you believe your dog is pulling away from something they find scary, you will need to address the reason behind this, and work to build their confidence gradually over time.

Your dog is experiencing pain

Perhaps one of the most overlooked reasons why dogs pull on the lead is the presence of pain. In some cases this may be the result of a health condition, which means that your dog either walks faster or pulls backwards to relieve pressure. 

Health issues should be factored in when assessing why your dog pulls on the lead, particularly if the behaviour begins suddenly with a dog that used to walk to heel. A consultation with your vet will help rule out any medical concerns, and they may suggest your dog would benefit from shorter walks or different walking equipment. 

For some dogs, it may actually be the walking equipment used that causes them to drag back or pull on the lead. If a collar is too tight or a harness fits poorly, this can apply unwanted pressure that your dog is trying to get away from.

Time outdoors with your four-legged friend will always be most enjoyable when you're able to walk along comfortably together. Your dog doesn't need to walk perfectly to heel for the entire walk, nor do they need to always remain on the same side, but it is important that you don't feel like you're being dragged down the road or that your dog is out of control. Consistent pulling on the lead can cause ear and eye issues in the long term, and some reports suggest it may even contribute to thyroid problems in some dogs. 

Understanding the reason why your dog pulls on leash will go a long way in helping modify the behaviour, and you can then implement the necessary steps to address the root cause.

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