I can’t stop every time my dog pulls because she needs the exercise

The title says it all.

My foster dog Lana is a strong leash puller. I’d love to train her not to pull, but what she needs more than anything is lots of exercise. (Update: Lana has been adopted.)

I’m wondering if any of you have some advice on how to balance the two (leash training + providing adequate exercise).

A little more info on us:

Lana is around 10 months old, and I’ve been fostering her for two weeks. She is a medium-sized dog, about 40 pounds, and her breed mix is anyone’s guess.

We do not have a yard or an off-leash area I can safely take her for exercise. She can’t go to a dog park yet. So, all her exercise is through walking and running on a leash with me, and she’s usually pulling.

Stop a dog's pulling when she needs lots of exercise

We go out for a minimum of an hour a day for combined walking and running. Usually 30 to 45  minutes in the morning and another 30 to 45 in the evening. Around 4 miles total, which really isn’t enough.

I’ve been walking/running with her using a Gentle Leader (that fits around her face). I basically force her to stay at a heel position. Whenever we’re walking, she pulls. When we’re running, she trots nicely at my side.

A common tip: Stop moving forward if your dog pulls

When teaching a dog to stop pulling on the leash, a popular tip is to stop moving whenever the dog pulls. (Here’s a great post about this method from Lola the Pitty.)

The goal is to teach the dog you’re not going anywhere unless the leash is loose. It’s effective, but it requires a lot of time and patience.

While following this method, if the dog pulls, you stop and wait for a loose leash, which can take awhile. Then you take a few steps forward. If the dog pulls, you stop again and wait for a loose leash … repeat, repeat …

This is great, but what do you do if your young, slightly psycho dog, truly needs to run, run, run?

How do I train my dog not to pull while also providing enough exercise?

I don’t know, but here’s what I’m thinking I’ll try:

I’ll continue using the Gentle Leader when we’re not focused on training. This at least minimizes the pulling. A no-pull harness would be another good option.

Then, when we’re specifically working on leash training, I’ll clip the leash to a collar around her neck like a martingale collar or a prong collar. These training sessions will be short, just 5 to 10 minutes at first.

Most of our leash training may need to be in my apartment at first, and then in “boring” areas like a parking lot.

I tried searching for any blog posts or articles addressing this issue of exercise + leash training, and no one seemed to address the two together. The closest thing I could find was Patricia McConnell’s wonderful post on making leash manners fun. She suggests using whatever tool you need to at least manage the pulling for the time being.

What do the rest of you think? We could use some help!

What are your ideas for training a dog not to pull while also providing exercise?

Related blog posts:

Gentle Leader vs. prong collar

Should I teach my dog to heel?

Tips for teaching your dog to heel

*Lana has been adopted!

21 thoughts on “I can’t stop every time my dog pulls because she needs the exercise”

  1. Belle was the same way!!! She needed the exercise but the loose leash walking would frustrate both of us!!! I would say do a good run, maybe a little tug of war, chase and then take the last couple minutes, walking into your apartment to work on the loose leash walking. That way she’s tired (or at least somewhat tired) and maybe more mentally ready for it. Also, maybe increase the running time? If she likes it and enjoys it, maybe go a little longer.

    Good luck with her training. She is blessed that you are taking the time to train and work with her. I need to take more time to walk Aeon and D.O.G. They would both benefit from longer walks.

  2. If you are a confident cyclist and have reasonably quiet streets I would definitely recommend cycling. To avoid dangerous situations you could outfit your bike with something like this http://www.examiner.com/article/springer-dog-walker-attachment-for-bicycles so she can’t pull you anywhere and can’t get in front of your wheels etc. It worked wonders for my parents rescue (a hyper retriever cross when they first got her at about 18 months old). I don’t mean that you should be cycling at max speed, but you’ll probably find a speed that is comfortable for Lana and is still well above your normal running speed. After 20-30 minuted she’ll probably stop pulling and happily trot along – the perfect time for some leash work.

  3. I like Elizabeth’s idea: tire her out first, then train in your apartment.
    I use prong collar and backpack to manage the pulling. Walking/ biking every day and basic obedience/ trick training also worked for my dogs. They have to learn impulse control and minding the handler so any training you’d put in paid off.
    You’re doing great, giving Lana structure, training and exercise. It’s hard to unlearn whole life of chaos and bad habits.
    I wonder if tying her to Ace would help. Or she might just pull him too.
    Maybe some controlled pulling would be ok, like rollerblading? I swear I wanted to harness one of my foster dogs to a truck for weight pulling, ha ha.
    Good luck!

  4. I was also going to suggest bicycle or rollerblading to get Lana moving more and tired.

    The reason no one is writing guides on how to exercise your dog and practice loose leash at the same time is because the two are inconsistent with one another. As you know. Hehe. It’s like asking, “How can I teach my dog to fetch and lie on his mat at the same time?”

    The only “game” I know that reinforces both is a chase me game, where you encourage the dog to chase or follow you, while you move around, run, stop/start, go laterally. It works better with puppies or small dogs. With a big dog, you would really need a longer line to make the game fun in teaching non-pull while moving together. I’ve seen it encouraged where the person uses a hands-free leash that is a regular length (like 6 foot), but that just seems to let you pull the dog rather than them pulling you. Doesn’t actually teach or reinforce the loose leash in a dog that doesn’t care if the line is tight.

    Sounds like Lana needs exercise more than leash skills at this point. There is no shame in admitting that and focusing on exercising her in ways that don’t make the leash pulling worse (biking, using long line in open public spaces, etc.). For a young large breed dog like a lab mix, walking is a mental exercise, not a physical one. If running isn’t enough, then you just need to get her moving faster with the limited time you have.

  5. I just let them pull a lot when they are younger. I’m used to it, it lets them have fun, and I find they usually figure it out within a few months on their own. If we are in a crowded or city like environment, I have the collar up behind the ears and they do pretty well not pulling, but on our every day long walks, I let them go here and there and have fun, do lots of sniffing and tracking, but they have to return to my side at the street or when others approach us. When running, they never pull. I think it is because I am very strict about remaining on one side in a heal position having been tripped a few times in the past by zig zag dogs, so long runs are a cinch. I’m sure my letting the young ones pull isn’t a popular option, but it works for me, and as I said, they figure it out on their own in time anyway.

  6. I like Sean’s idea too. Long line in open public spaces.
    How about attaching a rope from a hardware store to Lana’s leash and taking her to the beach? Maybe she would enjoy water retrieving?
    Thank you for opening your blog to exchanging ideas. Together we’ll think of something. 🙂

  7. I agree with Sean that it sounds like Lana needs exercise more than leash skills at this point. Can you focus on exercise and not worry about the pulling sometimes without it being confusing for her? Is it truly physical exercise she needs or mental stimulation? Mental exercise–through some simple agility or even zigzags or more interesting walking–could tire her out and also help her realize she needs to focus on you and keep the leash loose.

  8. I use the easy walk harness to reduce the pulling. It is very effective. And I know they get a bad rap, but I use a retractable leash so Ranger can run around and sniff things while I walk at a brisk pace. Somehow it was easy to train him not to pull on the unlocked retractable leash. Loose leash walking is still a work in progress with him though. I agree with only working on it with Lana after she is already tired. That’s when Ranger is politest on a leash!

  9. I have this issue everyday with my border collie! Unfortunately (for me) it just means I have to go on longer walks so Phoebe can get more exercise! I do mix in both. I make her heel for the first part of the walk (this is when she is most excited) and once she calms down I tend to worry less about the training and more about the exercise.

    Sean, while I agree with you that you need to focus on exercise first. This problem does continue. I got my 5 year old border collie last year and she pulls very hard. But I am aware how much exercise a collie needs. So unfortunately, for energetic dogs you cant just solely focus on the exercise part and you need to factor in both at the same time or you’ll never get anywhere.

    Also, Lindsay at all costs AVOID rollerblading (or cycling for that matter) with a dog that pulls. Its way too dangerous! Certainly do not do it with a medium size dog like Lana. I got pulled to the ground when I was on rollerblades by my 6kg border terrier…..a lab mix could do a lot worse to you!

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    I just want to thank everyone for all the wonderful advice. Thank you so much. I think it is a good idea to really focus on exercise right now and other training but not worry so much about the pulling. I will do more running with her and I will also take her somewhere on a long rope so she can really run around and just be a dog. I am comfortable biking with a dog and used to do it often in North Dakota, even with “naughty” dogs like Lana, but unfortunately I am not comfortable doing that here in San Diego. Way too much traffic and way too many people. I hate to admit it, but … a retractable leash would probably also come in handy in certain situations for Lana. Did I just admit that?

  11. Personally, I think both are equally important to teach. The walking will become even more enjoyable once the manners are established. I have recently gone back to using my electronic (shock) collar for my dog, Hershey and the change is like night and day. He is a totally different dog just wearing the collar and I don’t use it much at all. I use the absolute lowest setting and only use it maybe 5 times total on a walk. I might have to turn it up as we are passing another dog but it still doesn’t take much and Hershey is so much better. I can’t get over the difference. One day we walked after about 2 weeks of keeping him calm after surgery and it was a nightmare. I wanted to cry and we ended our walk early. The next day I decided to try the e-collar and see how it went. It was beautiful, I truly enjoyed my dog and our walk and it took very, very little in corrections. It was like I had a new dog. I don’t recommend them for everything or everyone. Someone who doesn’t know how and when to use one shouldn’t but they are a very effective tool when used correctly.

    1. I also think they’re both really important (teaching heel and providing exercise). I have toyed with the idea of using a shock collar with Lana to stop her from fixating on other dogs on walks. I would only do that if we officially adopted her. But for now, I’m going to focus on lots of exercise and maybe start using a prong collar and lots of treats to work on not pulling. I’m more comfortable using a prong collar for leash work, at least for now. I’m so glad the shock collar has made such a difference for you and Hershey. Good to hear.

  12. I’m so glad to see an article about this! We lived in an apartment when we got our pup and all the articles said to stop walking when he pulled, not to let him go to dog parks, and to not let him off-leash until he was completely reliable. There was no information about the heck I was supposed to exercise him.

  13. I always say that ideal would be to take Cookie for a walk before taking her for a walk. No-pull harness certainly does take the edge of it. But I’m always open to some genious ideas. Cookie can walk really nicely. But when she wants to get some place quickly, she wants to get there quickly …

  14. When Misty pulls I turn and go in the opposite direction until she is walking and not pulling. Then turn around and go where we were going. I have a big yard so I play with her back there.

  15. Not sure I can add much to all that great advice but a couple thought. Kaya is was a huge leash puller. When she was young, I managed her pulled with a prong collar & made her not get in front of me. And the most important rule was that she had to sit & look at me when I stopped. That at least kept her a bit focused on me.

    I honestly think that some dogs will always be pullers & are best managed with a no pull collar, harness or halter. I think the best outcome might be that they are not dragging you & you can get their attention when you need/want it. Kaya has learned to heel very well but give her free reign on the leash & she will always get to the end & keep pulling.

    1. I think you’re right that some dogs will always be pullers. I like your tips of teaching them to sit when you stop for a treat. Lana could definitely benefit from that, and it’s a great place to start.

  16. I don’t have any advice; this is something that I’d like to be able to control better. If we’re not using a harness or backpack Laika pulls – a lot. I thought maybe I was walking too slow so I started going faster, but that in turn makes her speed up even more. I’ve done a lot of loose leash training with her but when we’re out at a park or somewhere new her excitement still gets the better of her.

  17. I learned a really cook trick from a dog walker – walk in a zig zag pattern to get the dog to pay attention to you instead of the destination. It worked really well with Rodrigo who no longer pulls.

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