It’s inevitable that your German Shepherd is going to pull on leash when he or she first comes home. Whether you have a puppy or an older GSD you are most likely going to have to train your German Shepherd not to pull on leash.
Walking any dog that pulls is not enjoyable but it is doubly distressing when it’s a large, powerful, and energetic breed like a German Shepherd.
Leash pulling with German Shepherds is often a result of their curious nature compounded with their high energy. This is especially true in new environments where they tend to get over-stimulated wanting to sniff and survey everything around them.
I know from experience that the more excited your dog is to walk the more pulling is going to occur. When Allie was a puppy the beginning of walks were like a pulling festival. However, once we got toward the middle of the walk and she was less excited she walked next to me naturally without any hassle.
Your dog’s walking discipline will serve as the foundation for all activities you will engage in so it’s important to train your German Shepherd not to pull on a leash as soon as possible.
When to Start Training for No-Pull Walks
If you get your German Shepherd as a puppy, start training them while they’re young. Their size makes a difference because this task gets more and more difficult the heavier they get. You don’t want to have to deal with a 70 to 90-pound puller if you can avoid it!
If you don’t get your German Shepherd as a puppy, no problem. Start leash training as soon as they come home if they don’t already have proper leashing walking skills.
Best Time to for Leash Training
Many people make the mistake of trying to do leash training as a substitute for or combined with regular exercise time but it’s actually best if you set a dedicated time for training.
The most ideal time to engage in leash training is after exercise or active play. This is when your GSD has already expended excess energy and is going to better listen and focus.
As per my example in the beginning of the article, if I had tried to leash train puppy Allie before her walk when she was all excited and worked up, both she and I would have gotten frustrated. But after her walk she was much calmer because her energy had been expended so it was easier to get the desired behavior from her.
You always want to set your dog up to be successful and trying to train a rambunctious energy filled GSD puppy isn’t going to yield that result.
Best Place for Loose-Leash Training
The best place to start is at home. Home is a familiar environment that is less likely to get your GSD as excited as another new location.
However, if home isn’t the best place for whatever reason, you want to pick a location where there are few distractions. The key is that you want to minimize new things that will distract and over-stimulate your German Shepherd during training.
Once you perfect this at home, gradually move onto other spaces until you’re confident enough to take your GSD just about anywhere. Just remember that different places will have different stimuli and it’s important to constantly practice in many different places to perfect no-pull walking.
What You’ll Need for Leash Training
Having a proper collar and leash makes a huge difference in leash training. A flat collar would be most comfortable for your German Shepherd. I prefer a belt-type flat collar because a clip-type collar might break under substantial tension. However, there are many other types of collars to consider depending on your needs.
For your leash, select a sturdy one that feels comfortable in your hand and is comfortable to grip tightly. The ideal length of an everyday walking leash is 4 to 6 feet for most people.
Apart from a collar and leash, you’ll also need a lure or reward to keep your German Shepherd’s attention. Training for no-pull walking is best done with a high-value treat but if your German Shepherd isn’t motivated by food, a toy that gets them excited works just as well.
Steps to Train Your Dog to NOT Pull on a Leash
Step 1: Prepare for Training
To start, get your dog used to wearing a collar and leash. For some German Shepherds, the newness of a leash may be distracting, and they’ll tend to sniff, chew, or tug. Get them over that excitement before starting your training sessions.
Also, decide on which side you’d like for your dog to stay while walking so you can get them to favor that side early on. It is common to teach your dog to walk on your left side but chose the side that’s most comfortable for you. Allie walks on my left side.
The side closest to your dog will be your treat hand and the other would be your leash hand.
Step 2: Get the Behavior
Use your leash hand to loosely hold the leash and your treat hand to hold a treat by your side, at your dog’s sniffing distance. Capture their interest by getting them to sniff the treat and then slowly walk a few steps to see if they will follow. If they do, give them the treat and praise them for doing a good job! Do this a few times and let them realize that yummy treats come when they walk with you.
Another tip is whenever your dog starts to pull, change directions. For example, if you are walking to the left and your dog starts to pull turn and walk to the right. This tactic shifts their attention and refocuses your GSD on walking with you.
Step 3: Name the Behavior
Get your dog to walk with you for a few steps, say “heel” (or whatever word you want to associate with the command), walk a few more steps and then release the treat and praise your pup again. After doing this successfully a few times, they’ll begin to associate the “heel” command with the behavior of walking beside you.
Allie’s heeling command is “with me” for our everyday casual walks (what this article is teaching), and “fuss” for when she is working.
“With me” means just walk at my side in a relaxed manner. Basically it means don’t pull me down the street. Whereas, “fuss” means heel with attention, like the heeling in obedience part of Schutzhund.
Step 4: Make it More Difficult
In this step, you’ll need to hold a treat in each hand. Close one hand into a fist, use that to lure your dog into movement and after about 5 steps, say “heel.” If your pup stays with you without being distracted for 10-15 steps or so, praise them and release the treat from the other hand.
Doing this will keep them from being fixated on the treat and they’ll eventually realize that following your fist will still bring good things.
Gradually increase the steps after the heel command as you dog gets the idea. Once your dog can heel for 10-15 steps, increase it to 20-25 steps, and so on.
Step 5: Command the Behavior
Once you’ve perfected the steps above, chances are your German Shepherd can already associate the “heel” command with the behavior of walking beside you. You can test this by holding a treat in your leash hand and then no treat in what used to be your treat hand. Keep holding your treat hand in a fist even if there’s nothing in it just so things aren’t too different and your pup won’t get confused.
Get your dog’s attention with your fist, say “heel,” and then start walking. If the pup walks nicely beside you, treat them using your leash hand.
Continue practicing this and gradually build up distance. The goal here is to minimize being motivated by the treat and then get them to realize that they’re doing a great job just by staying beside you and following you where you go.
Eventually, you won’t have to hold your hand into a fist and they will be following you at your side whenever you say “heel.”
Step 6: Perfect the Behavior
Practice in the real world! Slowly move your training sessions to different places so you’ll have the opportunity to perfect this behavior. In new environments, your German Shepherd will be more likely to pull but now that they understand the “heel” command and the rewards that come after, you’ll have better chances of getting the desired behavior even with the distractions.
Whenever your GSD attempts to pull, stop walking completely, and repeat the command. This teaches them that a loose leash means they can move and a taut leash means they’ll have to stop.
Set longer and longer distances and praise them for each milestone.
Later on, you can also try keeping a high-value lure (toy/treat) at the end of the path. They’ll want to pull and walk quickly towards it but by stopping every time they pull, they’ll eventually realize that the quickest way to reach the goodies is simply to walk with you.
Teaching your German Shepherd to walk nicely on a leash is by no means a quick and easy task. You’ll need to perfect each of these steps before moving on to the next one. Just be patient and enjoy the process. Once you perfect the walking behavior, you can safely and enjoyably engage in many other activities with your dog.
Here are a couple of good videos that demonstrate how to train your dog not to pull on a leash: