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Troubleshooting the Dog: Leash Lunging

Dear Troubleshooter,

I need some help. Whenever I go out for a walk with my German shepherd, Spunky, he pulls ahead on his leash and I get dragged behind. This is an especially big problem because of his size. Once he gets going, I can’t seem to stop him.

Spunky’s not a bad dog, but he doesn’t seem to understand what he’s doing when he pulls me along for a ride. He definitely doesn’t understand how his size factors into the mix. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

I’m not just worried about the headache of being led around by my dog. I’m also worried about the danger of what could happen if he runs ahead into a dangerous situation and I can’t stop him. Is there anything I can do to end his leash pulling/running ahead?


Dragged by Dog


Ask the Troubleshooter

Dear Dragged by Dog,

Although it sounds like Spunky has caused you some trouble, it’s good that you aren’t taking it personally. After all, Spunky isn’t purposely pulling just to spite you or make your life more difficult. The fact of the matter is that you’re simply an indirect victim of the underlying problem.

No offense, but Spunky is pulling because he finds his surroundings more interesting than whatever it is you may be doing. For this reason, it should be your goal to keep Spunky watching you, coming back to you, and thinking about what you’ll do next, like you’re an intriguing, beguiling celebrity and he’s the pup-arazzi. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Practice off-leash skills (sit, down, come, and stay) with him daily, in a room or fenced backyard. This will increase his listening skills. Be sure to bring the high-value rewards for every time he gets the cue right. And praise, praise, praise him for a job well done.
  1. While you’re in the room or the backyard, teach him to follow you off-leash. Walk the perimeter a few times, while singing, snapping, humming, slapping your thigh, even telling him your work gossip about James from marketing. Reward him with a lick of peanut butter on a spoon and lots of praise if he walks with you for ten to twenty steps at a time. (Gradually increase the number of steps between peanut butter stops and praise, but keep being interesting.) He’s learning that you’re fascinating, that you’re interested in him, and that staying near you is rewarding.
  1. Now that he’s following you around the room or the yard, switch directions quickly and randomly. After a few successful switcheroos, reward him for sticking with you.
  1. Teach him to heel, off-leash and on-leash. Use our handy guide at
  1. Now you’re ready for an on-leash walk around the block. Hold the leash near your bellybutton for better control. If he starts to pull on the leash, cue him to heel. If he heels, reward him amply! If he still pulls, be a statue—stop walking and ignore him. Hum, sing, or talk to yourself. When he turns to you, give him your attention, call him to you, and reward him when he comes. Always require slack in the leash before you take a single step. Talk to him while you walk together, and praise him for walking with you.

Good luck and happy training!

The Troubleshooter

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