How Do I Get My Dog to Walk Politely Instead of Pulling on the Leash?

How Do I Get My Dog to Walk Politely Instead of
Pulling on the Leash?

By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP

< Updated 2024-04-19 >

< >

In my experience, no equipment, leash, collar, or harness will cause a dog to happily and consistently walk on
a loose leash unless the dog is also trained to walk politely.

Training a dog to walk on a loose leash takes patience and time. Unlike the sit or down behaviors, heeling or walking side-by-side with another living being is not normal for a dog. Dogs sit and down all the time on their own without even being asked, but when was the last time you saw a group of dogs walking side-by-side? It does not happen.

I have found that teaching someone to train their dog to heel or walk on a loose leash is best accomplished with a professional, reward-based dog trainer demonstrating how to teach, practice, and reward the behavior and then coaching the student as the student works with their dog. Technique and attention to detail matter when training a dog to heel. It is not something you and your dog will master in one lesson, so being patient is critical. We teach This behavior in our Basic Manners Classes (

FMI – How to choose a dog trainer

Equipment Matters

As noted above, no tool will teach a dog to walk on a loose leash. However, the following teaching aids can be beneficial.

  • A 6-foot leash, flat collar, or properly fitted front-connect harness. These are available at Green Acres Kennel Shop, and we can help you choose and fit the best harness for your dog.
  •         A treat bag filled with pea-sized treats with a high meat content. Kibble and treats that are mostly grain will not suffice. Wear the treat bag on the side where you want the dog to be.
  • A clicker or another way to mark the behavior that you want.
  • A motivated, happy, and encouraging person at the other end of your dog’s leash.

We NEVER recommend using any aversive, such as a prong, choke, or shock collar, for training or managing a pet. These tools can cause significant physical injuries and emotional trauma to a pet. They can severely damage the bond and trust between you and your dog and potentially cause severe behavior problems such as reactivity and aggressive behavior. Our philosophy is consistent with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG).

FMI – Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

I never recommend using any retractable leash if your goal is to teach your dog not to pull when walking. Retractable leashes work by keeping constant tension on the leash and thus reward your dog for keeping the leash tight with every step your dog takes. Retractable leashes allow your dog to walk several feet before you,
which is counter-productive if you want the dog at your side.

After your dog has learned to walk loosely on a 6-foot leash, you may wish to train them to walk on a longer leash. When in town or areas with large numbers of people, I walk my dog on a 6-foot leash; however, if we are out on a trail, away from most other people, I routinely use a 15-foot leash so that my dog can explore. My dog has also been trained on this leash, and when I cue her to return to my side, she does.

When training, it is essential to instantly communicate with your dog to let them know when they are in the exact position you want. Clicker training excels at precision training.  However, if you are not experienced with clicker training (operant conditioning), I would recommend working with a professional trainer because if you click at the wrong time or inappropriately, you may confuse your dog.

FMIDog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

A click without a reward is the equivalent of us receiving the envelope our paycheck comes in and finding it empty. A click is a sacred promise of a reward, and the best reward for most dogs is food or a treat. Anyone who tells you otherwise has not kept current with the scientific literature on training published over the past thirty-plus years.

When teaching your dog to walk nicely by your side, you must quickly deliver the treat precisely where you want the dog to be, typically the side of your leg. If you give the dog the treat in front of you, you encourage the dog to move out of the desired position and cross in front of you, an accident waiting to happen. Neither you nor your dog will be happy if you trip over them and kiss the sidewalk.

Maintaining Focus Matters

  •    Keep lessons short, 5 minutes maximum.
    • It is more productive to do three 5-minute lessons than one 15-minute lesson.
    • Remember, every time the dog is on a leash, they learn to walk politely or to pull and lunge. What they learn is up to you.

While you may feel that you need to take your dog for a 30-minute or 15-minute
walk, doing so is counterproductive if they pull on their leash at any time. Until you have trained your dog to walk on a loose leash, limit your walks to 5 minutes,
which is the same time we recommend for any training session. If you are concerned about exercise for your dog, hide a few treats in your fenced yard and let your dog hunt for them while you sit and watch. This is a very natural behavior for a dog and a meaningful way for you to enrich their lives.

Every step you take with the leash tight rewards the dog for that behavior because it brings them one step closer to what they want. Rewarding the undesired behavior can dramatically increase the time it takes your dog to learn the behavior you want.

If you have trouble stopping when the leash goes tight, consider getting a properly fitted front-connect harness. These harnesses can be very helpful when fitted and used correctly.

Start with stationary attention exercises (Attention/Look Behavior).

I consider the heel behavior to be an extension of what we teach as an Attention
behavior. Attention is about teaching the dog to make and maintain eye contact with us. Heel or walking politely is essentially attention while in motion. The easiest way to get your dog to focus on you while walking is to train them to have impeccable focus while you are stationary.

FMITeaching the Attention/Look Behavior

  • Reward your dog with treats frequently when you start teaching walking politely; don’t be stingy.
    • The timing of the treat is critical.
    • The location where the treat is delivered is critical.

When I start teaching walking politely, I treat for every step or every two steps. Being stingy with treats will not be helpful. As I noted above, the timing of the click and treat and where the treat is delivered are crucial. I recommend working with a professional dog trainer who can coach you on timing and treat delivery.

  • You must be more interesting than the environment
    • It can be challenging to be more interesting outdoors, so start practicing inside.
    • This is a time to talk to your dog to keep them focused on you.
    • Change your pace and directions frequently and erratically so the dog needs to focus on you.
    • Working off-leash inside or in a fenced area outside is an excellent way to practice.

Training your dog to walk on a loose leash is all about teaching them to be aware of their position in relation to you when walking and for you to be able to get their attention and focus in very distracting environments immediately.

There are far more distractions outdoors than indoors, so I recommend that you practice and master this behavior inside before working on it outdoors.

If you are silent when walking, your dog will quickly find something more interesting than you, and you will have lost their attention. You will need to talk to your dog when teaching your dog to walk politely. However, be careful about saying the same thing over and over again. If you keep saying their name (Sparky, Sparky, Sparky) ad infinitum, they will tune you out, just as you have probably tuned out someone who constantly nags you.

When I first teach a dog to walk by my side, I use a higher-pitched voice (guys, you can do this!) and tell my dog stories or talk to them about my day. They are not listening to the words, but by chattering away and frequently rewarding them, I have become more or at least equally compelling as the distractions.

FMI – Shared Blog Post – Dog brains are tuned to dog-directed speech spoken by women

Walking around the block or in a straight line has very few learning opportunities, and if you walk the same route every time, the dog quickly learns that they do not need to focus on you. They know where you are going. For this reason, when you start teaching this behavior, I recommend walking erratically and unpredictably. Change directions often so the dog is thinking, “Whoa, I have no idea where they are going; I better pay attention!” You should be walking in a manner that would result in your being pulled over by the police if you were driving.

You do not need to leave your yard when you start practicing this outdoors. Just practice in the yard and driveway. Start somewhere the dog is familiar with, as there will be fewer distractions. Your neighbors may think you have lost it when they see you chattering at your dog and cannot walk a straight line, but who cares?

I also encourage people to practice the heel behavior with the dog off-leash, but ONLY if they have an appropriate space where they can do so. A suitable area is one where the dog is safely contained and cannot place themselves in danger. Fenced yards work great! If you do not have a fenced yard but are a regular client of Green Acres Kennel Shop, you can use our training field to work with your dog off-leash. However, make it easy on yourself and start in one of the two small yards.

So why practice heeling with the dog off-leash? Maintaining your dog in position and focused on you is much more challenging when the dog is free to move away. The leash is a crutch for both the dog and us. When on a leash, your dog does not need to look at you to be aware of where you are, and you do not need to work as hard to keep them close. By practicing this behavior with the dog off-leash, you need to work harder. In my 28-plus years of teaching people how to train their dogs to walk politely, I have observed a consistent pattern in those who are unsuccessful; they are not putting enough energy and time into teaching this
behavior. If you do this correctly, you and your dog will be ready for a nice break after five minutes.

Consistency Matters When Teaching Walking Politely

  • All family members need to follow the same rules and protocol.
    • Pick a side and stick to it.
  • If the dog is on leash, it is learning, and if the dog is on leash, you are training – ALWAYS
    • If the leash gets tight, stop until the leash is loose – ALWAYS
    • If the dog is in the position you want and paying attention to you, reward them. – ALWAYS

If multiple family members walk the dog, you ALL need to follow the same rules ALL of the time. You must pick a side, left or right, and stick with it. Imagine if you were being taught to drive by two people, and one person taught you to drive on the left side of the road, and the next day, another person resumed the lesson by teaching you to drive on the right side of the road. Would you be confused? Very likely. We must make it easy for our dog and stick with a side. After your dog has mastered walking on one side, you can also teach them to walk on the other.

It only takes one person who frequently allows the dog to pull on the leash to make training the
dog take longer and possibly cause you to be unsuccessful. If you are connected to the dog by a leash and in motion, your dog will be learning, and you should be training. If the leash gets tight, stop so that you do not reward the dog for forward motion. When the dog is back in the desired position at your side and is focused on you, reward them with a treat! While you do not need to reward your dog every step for the rest of their life, you should be ready to reward them whenever you walk your dog in a new environment or if it has been several weeks since you practiced walking politely.

Some Additional Training Tips

  • If the dog starts to pull ahead,
    • Call their name or ask them to LOOK (Attention Behavior), and the instant they look back at you, click, and when they are in the position you want them to be, treat them.
    • If you want them on your LEFT, turn 180 degrees to the RIGHT.
      • Click the instant they are in the heel position and then treat in that position.
    • If you want them on your RIGHT, turn 180 degrees to the LEFT.
      • Click the instant they are in the heel position and then treat in that position.

If you like to walk for pleasure, and your dog is not trained, take your walk and just leave the dog at home. Combining your pleasure walks with the dog’s training walk is unnecessary, especially if it is frustrating for you. Your dog will likely feed off your frustration and become anxious or frustrated. If either of you is frustrated, very little teaching or learning will occur.

If you invest the time and energy in training your dog to walk politely on a leash, you will eventually be able to keep your dog close when walking in public—when necessary! If a five-year-old can do this, so can you!

However, the best walk for your dog will never be a brisk walk around the block. The ideal walk for a dog is more of an amble than speed walking. It’s a walk where your dog is allowed to choose where you go and is permitted to stop and sniff at their own pace. Sniffing relieves stress and is a very normal canine behavior. Please give your dog ample opportunities to sniff when out on a walk. Also, you do not need to go on a walk to have a sniffari. My dog, Muppy, does this almost every time we spend time in the yard.


Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog  & Words, Woofs and Meows Blog logo

How to choose a dog trainer

Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

Teaching the Attention/Look Behavior –

Shared Blog Post – Dog brains are tuned to dog-directed speech spoken by women

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( and the founder of, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Division. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at, the Apple Podcast app, and this blog. The opinions in this article are those of Don Hanson.

© Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

Subscribe to this Blog