Why do dogs pull?

There are two problems that I hear or see over and over again; pulling on the lead and not coming when called.  I’m going to deal with pulling in this blog and cover recall in the near future.

All situations and dog/owner dynamics are different, there is therefore no ONE reason or solution which will suit everybody. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the most common factors.

Animals didn’t survive to pass on their genes by repeating behaviours which didn’t pay (or give an advantage).   We (and our dogs) leave the house by the door. We don’t usually try to leave by walking through the wall. I think we would if we could but we can’t. It doesn’t work, so we don’t do it.  Leaving by the door works, it gets us outside, it pays.

This is something to be considered with our dogs. If we allow pulling on the lead to work (for the dog) by moving forward, then of course the dog will pull. How can he not pull if pulling is what works?  Now if I was to brick up your front door so that when you opened it, instead of the outside world you were met by a solid brick wall, you would soon stop trying to leave via the front door. It just doesn’t work to get you outside.  We could do the same with dogs. What if every time the lead went tight a brick wall appeared in front of you both (you stop walking) and every time the lead loosened the brick wall vanished (you move forward)?

The dog might learn that tension on the lead doesn’t work.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not, it takes a great deal of persistence and patience and time.

So what if we helped a little by not only allowing the dog to move forward on a loose lead but also having some extra goodies appearing from our pocket as we walk.  If the treats are only given tight against the left hand side, where will the dog learn to be?

He might learn that your left hand side is a great place to hang around.

Mr B. looking for treats

It is still not going to be easy because he may be in a high state of arousal due to environmental stimuli.

Do more with him, try enrichment toys throughout the day, get his brain working, stop feeding from a bowl and get him really interested in working a little to get his food.  Practice indoors and in the garden. Just being at your side could result in a treat, then a few steps and build it up from there.  Always be nice to your dog. Frustration, yelling and yanking will only give him more reason to be stressed (we don’t learn well under stress) and less reason to want to be at your side.


It will still not be easy because it is not easy. It takes time and persistence and patience and practice.

Some dogs have been bred over hundreds of generations to be away from the handler, investigating everything in the universe. Just watch a Springer Spaniel in the park, they just don’t stop.  Try to incorporate your dog’s genetic traits into his life so that he has an outlet for these impulsive behaviours.

Or, don’t bother, it’s not the end of the world, especially if you have a small dog which can’t pull you around. Get a nice harness so the dog isn’t at risk of damaging the important structures around the neck (larynx) and just enjoy the walk without worrying if they pull a little or not.  I actually know of some very accomplished trainers who don’t bother with training their own dogs to walk nicely without pulling. It depends what’s important to you and in the best interest of your dog (and how much time you have).

I have a bad back, I can’t be constantly yanked around by my enthusiastic Lab so he’s been trained to understand that pulling doesn’t work. My Westie on the other hand, weighs just 7kg and I barely notice if the lead is tight so I simply haven’t bothered to train her to the same level for loose lead walking.

Keep in mind that if you sometimes allow pulling (when you don’t have much time), you’re teaching him that pulling sometimes works.  He can then become very persistent as he tries to make it work, because sometimes it does. This is similar to repeatedly trying to start an old car because you know (think) it will eventually start (known as resistance to extinction).


Whichever way you go, be nice (they really do appreciate it) and enjoy your time together. It will one day be just a memory.

So why do dogs pull? because it works.

Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read

8 thoughts on “Why do dogs pull?

  1. Observation, not criticism! I’ve noticed over the years that teaching keeping your dog to the left is the norm; I’ve always been puzzled by this. I live in the UK countryside on single narrow lanes. I walk facing the direction of traffic for my own safety and as taught as a child! I want to protect my dog, so have them on my right hand side (inside/kerbside). I don’t carry a gun or a sword in my right hand, I don’t enter competitions. I’d think that this would be applicable to the majority of doggie folk, so I wonder why ‘dog on the left’ still the preferred position?

  2. Thank you sooooo much. It has take two years but we have persevered and now my very enthusiastic springer Evie is able to walk with a loose lead and can enjoy a long walk every morning. Every now and again she has another go at pulling and I always make sure the wall goes up . After a few pulls she gets the message . This has given us a new quality and bonding and we are both much happier .

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