Dog Training

Leash Pressure Training: The Key To Stopping Dogs Pulling

November 2, 2021

Imagine taking your dog for a walk…… What did you just picture: 1) a relaxing outing, or 2) being dragged down the street? If you picked the latter, your dog needs leash pressure training!

Things we will cover in this article:

  • Why leash pressure training is important
  • What you’ll need
  • How to do leash pressure training
Leash pressure

Why is leash pressure training important?

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that their dog drags them on walks. It’s hard to enjoy taking your dog for a walk when you feel you’re about to be pulled off your feet at any second. I completely believe every dog can learn loose leash walking. If your dog has already learned to pull for what they want then leash pressure training is an important skill to teach them before trying loose leash walking!

Dogs naturally have an oppositional reflex. If you push on them, they push back. If you pull, they pull against it. We want to use leash pressure to teach your dog to yield to pressure rather than pulling against it.

I believe in positive, force free training methods so teaching leash pressure sounds counterintuitive. However, your dog is going to learn leash pressure by either:

  1. Dragging you down the street (pressure = pulling) or
  2. In a constructive way that teaches your dog to yield to pressure rather than pulling against it

Option two sounds much better to me!

You do not want walks with your dog to be a battle of wills to see who can pull harder. People often misuse the leash to pull their dog back over and over, or to hold their dog back from where it wants to go. This desensitizes the dog to leash pressure and actually teaches them that leash tension doesn’t mean anything. We want to reverse that and re-sensitize them to leash pressure!

Think of your dogs leash as a safety belt, not a steering wheel.

If you are using the leash to force them to stay with you while they’re pulling at the end, you’re over using the leash! You want your dog to walk nicely beside you without forcing them.

Leash pressure training allows your dog to self-regulate their pace and will increase your ability to communicate with your dog through subtle tension in the leash. It’s an important precursor skill to teaching your dog loose leash walking (where they walk nicely with you without any tension).

leash pressure training

Before you get started with leash pressure training:

I often tell my clients to start practicing the 4 pre-skills required for loose leash walking at least one week before starting loose leash training. I consider leash pressure training to be the 4th (or most advanced) of the pre-skills. There’s a few things you should teach your dog before getting started!

You want your dog to already have impulse control as well as knowing to look to you when they’re confused before starting leash pressure training. The two skills required for this are:

  1. Know the command “focus
  2. Know the command “Leave it”

Make sure you spend a few days practicing “focus” and “leave it” before moving on with leash pressure training. Tutorials for both are linked above.

There are also a few items you will need:

Leash pressure

How to teach leash pressure

When your dog properly understands leash pressure they will move towards the pressure (releasing the pressure). If a dog has never been taught the correct meaning of leash pressure oppositional reflex will cause the dog pull against the pressure (and possibly freeze or vocalize).

Every step in this exercise should be easy on your arms. If you ever feel like it’s a power struggle or you’re being pulled, you’ve progressed too quickly! Go back to the last easy step and practice it longer. You want your dog to realize that yielding to pressure results in great things!

Step 1: Building the connection

The first step is to help your dog to build a positive association between leash pressure and food. Don’t worry! This will not teach your dog to pull.

Start in a quiet room in your house with just you and your dog. Have your dog in front of you with their collar or harness already on. Make sure your dog is relaxed. Your dog can be sitting or standing.

Very gently pull the leash for one second, release the tension, and immediately give your dog a treat. You don’t need to praise your dog or say “Yes!” during step 1. Your dog does not need to do anything to receive the treat! We’re just building a positive association. Repeat the pressure/release/treat for a few minutes.

Step 2: Teaching your dog to release the leash pressure themselves

Have your dog face you again with their harness on. You should be standing for this exercise, but your dog does not initially need to. We now want to teach your dog that moving towards you with the slightest amount of pressure results in treats!

Keep this easy! You’re not expecting your dog to walk all the way back to you yet. They simply need to make the tiniest move to release the pressure and they get rewarded. Do not expect too much yet!

Stand in front of your dog and very, very gently pull on the leash. Do not say anything. The second your dog moves slightly towards you say “Yes!” and give them a treat.

Repeat this many times until you’re confident your dog understands the game. You’ll know when that is because they will yield to pressure so quickly that you start to struggle to even apply pressure before they move towards you. It might take a few sessions/days to get to that point. Stay calm and keep it positive!

Step 3: Increasing the distraction

Eventually you want to use leash pressure training to help with loose leash walking. When you’re outdoors you’ll be competing with smells, sounds, and excitement for your dogs attention. It’s helpful if they already understand yielding to leash pressure when they’re a bit distracted.

I usually suggest starting with a toy and progressing to throwing treats as your distraction for step 3.

Again begin with your dog on leash close to you. Throw the distraction (toy or treat) away from you beyond the length of your leash. Naturally your dog will try to follow & get the item. When they move towards it and the leash becomes taught just hold on! We’re teaching the dog to release the tension, so make sure you do not pull back on the leash.

Your dog will likely stare at the item at the end of the leash a bit confused. Say nothing. You want your dog to figure out that they need to check in with you and release the pressure themselves. The leash pressure is how you’re communicating now. Wait for your dog to turn back towards you and release the smallest amount of pressure, then say “Yes!” and give the treat.

If you feel your dog has pulled towards the stimulus for too long you can say “Leave it” to grab their attention. Still praise and reward when they give you attention, but take it as a sign that you should throw a less distracting stimulus next time. Continue to progress the difficulty until you can throw treats outside the leash range and get them to quickly refocus on you.

Leash pressure training helps re-sensitize your dog and teaches them to self-adjust.

Once you’ve mastered leash pressure it’s time to progress to loose leash walking!

Happy training 🙂

Disclosure: Happy Hounds uses affiliate links. Purchasing with these links will not cost you any extra, but I get commissions for purchases made through these links. Affiliate links help me to continue to offer free resources & blog posts. I would love if you used them!

Leash Pressure Training: The Key To Stopping Dogs Pulling

About the author:

Stephanie Rombough, DBTMc, is a force-free dog trainer in Edmonton, Alberta. She owns Happy Hounds Dog Training, offering private in-person or virtual dog training services. 

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My mission at Happy Hounds is to help owners train their dogs using positive, force-free methods. A trained dog is less likely to end up in a shelter, and a dog trained with positive methods is more likely to be confident & happy. Everyone wins!


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