How to stop a dog from pulling and whining on walks



Jack Russell terrier whines and pulls on the leash

A reader emailed me recently with a question:

  • How should she stop her Jack Russell terrier’s frantic whining and pulling on the leash?

Here is her email, edited for punctuation and length:

I just got a 2-year-old Jack Russell. She is a timid little thing and has come from a home with another Jack Russell. She will not sit anywhere but my knee 24/7 and doesn’t stop licking my face. She is so jumpy, the poor, wee thing.

She hasn’t been whining much at all in the house but when it’s time for her walks, she whines a lot. She is terrible on the leash because her previous owners didn’t use one so she is pulling like mad constantly. The pulling is even worse when she sees people or dogs. I’ve only had her a week, so I’m hoping all this will calm down.

Do you think she cries because when I take her out she thinks she is going home? I am a very caring dog lover and want to do everything I can to make this little lady happy and content :) Any advice would be appreciated.

Here is my response:

I can tell you are a committed dog owner. Congrats on the new family member.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t allow your dog to sit with you all the time.

It’s not healthy for a dog to sit with her owner all the time. This makes the dog too dependent.

Make a point to ignore your dog for 30-minute blocks, especially if she is frantically licking you or whining. Do not allow her to sit in your lap or on the furniture next to you during those times. Physically block her if she tries, or connect her leash to a piece of furniture across the room. I wouldn’t even let her sit at your feet. You want to ignore her until she is calm and quiet. Then invite her back for some attention.

You could also train her to stay in her kennel for short periods. This can be her time to appreciate chewing on a Kong toy with peanut butter or another special treat. The point is to help her feel comfortable when she is not with you 24/7.

See my post on how to stop a dog from whining for attention.

2. Teach your dog solid obedience skills.

Jack Russell terriers are generally intelligent, active dogs. Working on obedience gives them much-needed mental challenges, so teach your dog the basics like sit, down, stay, heel and come. Work up to the point where she will obey these commands in nearly all situations. I highly suggest attending group obedience classes or hiring a personal trainer for individual lessons.

Before you take her out for a walk, teach her to sit and stay calmly and quietly before you put her leash on her and again once it’s on. This will be a challenge for her, but you can start with just a few seconds and eventually have her sit for a few minutes. You should also teach her to walk calmly at your side through the door, rather than pull like a maniac.

3. Keep walking and socializing your dog.

I don’t think your dog is trying to find her old home. I think she’s anxious, excited and overwhelmed to be outside, and she doesn’t know how to act on a leash. Keep taking her out every day so she has a chance to burn some physical energy. You could try getting her a dog backpack to wear for extra exercise.

Make sure you are using the right training collar to minimize her pulling and to teach her to walk on a loose leash. Personally, I would try a prong collar for your type of dog. If that’s not your style, an Easy Walk harness or a Halti might also work.

Next, decide whether you want your dog to walk in a formal “heel” position at your side or if you simply want her to walk on a loose leash (no pulling). It doesn’t matter what you prefer, but you should be consistent.

Here are some links to help you improve your walks:

How to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash

Should I teach my dog to heel?

How to stop my dog’s excitement/aggression on walks

It’s hard for me to give advice without actually meeting your dog, so I hope you’ll take away some general ideas and apply them to your specific situation.

Let me know how it goes.

Does anyone else have any tips for this reader?

Pictured is Janee, another Jack Russell, who is one of my dog walking “clients.”

Janee the wirehaired Jack Russell terrier

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14 Readers Commented

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  1. Ty Brown on December 13, 2012

    I very much agree with step 2 regarding obedience.

    I refer to a number of behaviors as ‘chaos behaviors’. I’m referring to fear, anxiety, aggression, excessive barking, etc. The dog’s mind is in chaos as he or she is experiencing these things and isn’t thinking.

    The opposite of chaos, in the natural world, is control. In dog-speak, that means obedience, structure, checks and balances, processes, etc.

    This dog needs to learn proper leash walking which is the first step to help the dog’s mind calm down in the face of something that frightens her.

  2. sheep on December 13, 2012

    Sometimes, the best remedy is to allow the dog to get over things naturally. So if she is anxious due to lack of socialization and is too dependent, the best thing might be to socialize her as much as we can, without stressing her too much of course. Maybe the owner can start by taking her out as often as she can, so that she can get used to the outside world gradually. And then at home, the owner can try to ignore and leave the dog alone more often, while encouraging lonely activities with chew toys, kongs and bones.
    Usually, we don’t need to force things to happen, dogs are good at adapting themselves with the conditions of the environment that they will soon be less nervous when going out.

    Although there’s a possibility that the dog might have weak nerves by nature, and for that they might never be 100% calm when facing outer stimuli.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 14, 2012

      Good points. It takes a dog some time to settle into a new home/environment. I like your ideas.

  3. sheep on December 13, 2012

    By the way, I’m not sure if prong is good for a dog with weak nerves. If the dog is too nervous, tiring her before going for walks and then using maybe even a harness (maybe one with front clip – halti harness) can be better. The dog might pull like no tomorrow, but then it’s better to worry about her getting more used to the outside world stimuli before worrying about leash manners. Maybe the owner can take her out for long walks that are calm and slow, maybe even stopping at a few places to rest during walk. The owner can also ignore the dog for a bit. The dog will soon see that there’s not much to worry about, and this is just routine.
    After the dog feels safer and calmer during walks, then the owner can begin with leash manners.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 14, 2012

      Also a good point. Each owner has to decide what collar is best. A prong might be a bit much for this dog. I was worried about her slipping out of a regular collar, and I thought she might pull too hard on a choke collar. The harness might be the way to go. I’m not a fan of harnesses since they encourage a dog to pull, but perhaps an anti-pull harness will do the trick.

    • Steph on December 20, 2012

      I’m with you. A friend has 2 lab mixes, who pull constantly so the “trainer” suggested prong collars. The dogs still pull, and actually injure themselves since the collars dig into their skin.

  4. sheep on December 14, 2012

    Anti-pull harness is a good idea. For slipping off a regular collar, a martingale might help. Also, you can attach the martingale and the harness together so that if the dog can slip away from the harness, there’s a safe measure to avoid running away.

  5. may on January 23, 2013

    Hi, I have two jack russell terriers, I just adopted my second one in October within 4 days of fostering him. He was a fit. Being a little familiar with the breed from being an owner and being around them as a dog lover, sitter and foster mom. Jacks are often misunderstood. Some can be really shy like mine, which is often true to the breed. Often, Jacks if not socialized early on, will tend to be dog and children aggressive. These dogs are not for every one. For one, they are high energy and strong minded. They’re extremely smart and loyal but require their owners to understand their needs. The whining is a form of communication, it seems that she is simply uncomfortable and still not used to walking on leash. Like most dogs that never walked with a leash, they feel constrained in their movements, it’s strange and even a bit scary to them. Something is pulling/holding them back and preventing them from moving fully freely. I would suggest you used positive reinforcement, such as high praises and using reassuring words such as “you’re okay”, “you’re fine” and at times some treats when she relaxes on the leash. It’s pretty typical behavior for any dog not yet used to a leash (same with some puppies). Also, I would suggest depending on your comfort level that you keep a small leash (not an expandable (flexi) one) on her while at home, just let her move about while dragging the leash. She’ll get to become a little more comfortable with it, as in her normal and safe environment. Also, know that Jack Russell by nature tend to want to train their owners, so as Lindsay mentions, you need to set boundaries. You are not being cruel, you’re providing her with stability and directions. Also, know that Jack Russell being HIGH ENERGY dogs tend to require lots of exercise. Thus, she may need some running about in the house (you could use a laser light to make her run about in the house, while controlling that she does not run frantically in the house, if you want), you could make her chase a ball back and forth in the living room if your living space permits it. One more suggestion is that Jack Russell being so smart also need to be intellectually stimulated to tire them out. I use puzzles with them, or play hide and seek with a toy of theirs. I will make them sit, and stay, while I leave the room and go hide their toy, then come back and tell them to go find it. You are doing all the right things, most importantly you care for her, you’ll get there. Good luck. Remember though she will try to train you, don’t allow her.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 23, 2013

      Great advice, especially since you are very familiar with Jacks. Thank you!

  6. lisa on April 10, 2013

    A prong collar is very harmful to a small dog or any dog,do u want yr dog to run to the farthest corner shaking in fear at the thought of dog- walking absolute agony,it does not make for a healthy & happy dog,u wudnt put a prong collar on a toddler to keep them close by whilst learning to be steeet wisw & independantnni

    • sheep on April 11, 2013

      1 – Dogs are not toddlers. Toddlers don’t bite nor get aggressive, toddlers don’t hurt or run loose and get hit by cars… And toddlers certainly don’t live in crates, eat on a bowl on the floor, and pee and poo on the grass.

      2 – Prongs doesn’t make dogs run to a corner and cower in fear. If it does then you are either using it in a fearful dog and/or using it too harshly. And it certainly doesn’t torture dogs into agony. Please educate yourself before commenting. If you don’t like a certain tool, then it’s not by exaggerating the image of it that it gets the message passed. If all, it just makes your message lose credibility. Positive trainers don’t get their message passed by claiming exaggerated things about corrections, but rather talking about and showing how positive methods can work.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 11, 2013

      Here is how I feel about the prong collar: http://www.thatmutt.com/2011/08/24/gentle-leader-vs-pinch-collar/

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