If you want to reduce leash pulling, this trainer says these are the behaviors to reward

A young golden doodle walking to heel in a park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When all you want is a nice, leisurely walk with your pup, leash pulling can be something of a nightmare. 

You might think you’re doing everything right on your walks, from bringing the best dog treats to paying plenty of attention to your dog, but what if they still pull on their leash? Well, expert trainer and founder of JW Dog Training, Juliana DeWillems, has discussed some of the behaviors she rewards when walking dogs to help reduce leash pulling overall – and we think her advice is well worth following!

“You can’t do a don’t!” explains DeWillems in the caption. “It’s not enough to say ‘I want my dog to stop pulling.’ What do you want your dog to do instead?”

If you want to know how to stop a dog pulling on a leash, she recommends thinking about the sort of desirable behaviors you can reward your dog for, to improve your rate of reinforcement. This, she says, will allow you to “shape your dog’s behavior towards what you want.” And, “The more you reward what you DO want, the less you will get what you DON’T want.”

DeWillems adds, “Always be on the lookout for small glimpses of desirable behavior on a walk. By rewarding those, you will be on your way to loose leash walking in no time.”

So, what sort of behaviors does she consider desirable? In the footage of the walk she posts, she first rewards the dog for checking in with her unprompted, looking up as they walk. She uses a clicker to mark the behaviors, before giving the dog a small treat.

The next behavior she rewards for is looking back at her after having a long sniff. She also rewards for picking up pace without putting tension on the leash, for stopping on cue, walking next to her, and speeding up when she does because she realizes they’re running late.

Finally, when the dog stays next to her because they’re passing someone, DeWillems marks and gives a treat.

There are lots of desirable behaviors that you can mark when you’re walking your pup, even if you may not even think to mark some of them at first. But, if you keep alert for them, you can help make them more frequent, and decrease the likelihood of your pup pulling on their leash. 

If you’re struggling with leash pulling, why not hear from someone who used to be in the same situation? Check out this article: My dog’s leash pulling made walks miserable until I helped her reactivity, here’s how.

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$16.89 from Chewy
We gave these to our tester Isaiah for his dog Hayes to try. He reports back that they're his new favorite treat and are a suitable size for training. "He could and would eat the whole bag if allowed!"

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.