Walking a dog is a non-negotiable part of dog ownership. Most dog owners walk their dogs as a fun activity to do together, plus it’s a great form of exercise for you and your dog! Even dog owners with fenced-in yards often opt to walk their dogs either at the park or around the neighborhood when the weather is nice. Not only is this beneficial exercise, but it’s a great time to decompress in nature.
If a dog doesn’t know how to walk on a leash without pulling, walking them can become super frustrating for you. The more annoyed you are with the process, the less likely you’ll want to walk them.
If you have a large, strong dog who doesn’t know how to walk on a leash without pulling, not only will walking them become incredibly frustrating, but it’s also a serious safety concern.
So, how do you walk a dog that’s stronger than you? After all, walking your dog is a necessary part of dog ownership, and you need to be able to walk your big dog safely and confidently.
Walking a dog that’s stronger than you requires consistent training on loose-leash walking. In addition to training, using the proper gear, such as a front-clip harness, will give you more control when walking your dog. With repeated practice on loose-leash walking and ignoring distractions, you’ll be able to safely walk your dog in no time.
This is an important topic to unpack with specific training techniques and gear to try, so let’s get started!
The Importance of Loose-Leash Walking for Big, Strong Dogs
Teaching your strong dog to walk nicely on a leash can be time-consuming. After all, in the wild, dogs aren’t used to being walked on a leash by a human; instead, they go wherever they desire. Many bigger, stronger dogs are actually working dogs that have been purposefully bred with a job, like pulling, in mind.
Putting in the time when you first get your dog to train them to walk nicely will be one of the best uses of your time! Being able to walk your dog without concern of getting hurt will benefit you for the entirety of your dog’s life!
Besides being a bit embarrassed about who is walking who if your dog is dragging you through the park, you’re at serious risk of injury if you aren’t in control of walking your big, strong dog. If you talk to any dog walker or even Google the subject, you’ll see countless tales of people reporting broken fingers, hurt shoulders, and sometimes even more severe injuries from being pulled entirely to the ground by their dog.
Even though teaching your dog loose-leash walking can be time-consuming, it is arguably one of the most important things you’ll ever teach your dog.
Since most dogs have a natural tendency to pull, ensuring that your strong dog knows how to walk nicely will mean that you can safely and confidently walk your dog throughout his entire life. You can now understand how important it is to be able to walk a strong dog on a leash without any pulling or dragging issues!
Gear for Walking a Strong Dog
While taking the time to train and teach your dog is critical, using gear that is made specifically for big, strong dogs who tend to pull will make the process easier for you.
Just like with people, every dog is an individual. There are tons of different types of collars and harnesses on the market so that you can choose what works best for you and your dog.
Keep in mind that there may also be some trial and error in finding the best equipment your dog is most comfortable in, so always keep the receipts to exchange or return.
Of course, first thing is first, you’ll need something to connect you and your dog! There are many types of leashes on the market that range in size, construction, and material.
The most important thing with a strong dog is to ensure that your leash is durable and high quality. When choosing a leash, ensure you use a thick, durable material in the appropriate width.
You’ll want a 1″ wide leash for a large, strong dog, and always remember to double-check that the snap is functioning correctly when you put it on your dog. While there are a variety of leashes in different lengths available, a 6-foot leash is considered standard.
The Double-Ended Leash
Consider a double-ended leash if you feel you’d like extra control because your dog is so strong. With a double-ended leash, one end snaps onto the dog’s collar while the other end snaps onto the dog’s harness. Both of these ends merge into one leash and handle.
The double-ended leash applies pressure evenly if a dog pulls. Plus, it provides additional attachment points, so if your dog starts to pull, they get redirected back toward you. This functions to keep them slow and turn back towards you instead of allowing them to pull out ahead of you and risk causing any injuries.
Many dog owners walk their dogs in harnesses instead of just a collar- just make sure you get one that’s made to be used with bigger dogs. Harnesses protect the throat and can help you feel like you have more control over your dog. When you’re walking a strong dog, it’s essential that you feel comfortable and in control!
Most harnesses come with a front clip and a back clip. Most dog owners with solid and large dogs choose to use the front clip harness. This prevents your dog from pulling as much because they’ll be redirected and turned back toward you when they start to pull. This will prevent them from pulling straight ahead, which can catch you off guard, cause shoulder injuries, or cause you to lose your footing.
Head halters mimic the halters used on horses. Head halters are designed to control your dog’s head. Head halters are often the best for large, strong, persistent pulling dogs. They give you more control but require less strength from you.
Since head halters sit directly on the dog’s head, you have to be cautious when using them. These should only be used with a standard 6-foot leash and never a retractable leash or a longer leash.
A head halter is probably not the best gear to use if your big dog is prone to lunging after a distraction like a squirrel. If the dog makes a sudden move, there is a serious concern that he could hurt his neck anytime he jolts forward.
Now that you’ve figured out what gear works for you and your dog and helps you to feel confident and safe when walking your dog, it’s time to move on to teaching them how to walk on a loose leash.
How To Teach Loose-Leash Walking
Selecting the right gear is the first step in safely walking your big and strong dog. You and your dog will feel safe, secure, and comfortable with the right equipment.
Even though choosing the right walking gear is essential, the gear alone will not transform your strong dog with pulling tendencies into a great walking buddy overnight. Like anything else you do with your dog, you’ll need to teach them how to walk nicely.
When walking a large, strong dog, it’s essential to ensure that he walks next to you when he’s on a leash and doesn’t pull. You’ll also want to teach them to ignore distractions and not pull or lunge toward them.
To start teaching your dog how to walk on a loose leash:
- Find a high-value reward your dog loves (cheese, lunch meat, freeze-dried liver, etc.)
- Hold some treats in your hand on the side of your body you want your dog to walk. Then hold the leash with the other hand.
- When your dog is right next to you, feed them a treat.
- Take a step, stop, and feed your dog another treat at your side.
- As he begins to understand, take more steps before stopping to feed them a treat.
- If your dog begins to pull, immediately stop and call them back to you. Lure your dog back into the position by your side, take 2 or 3 steps, stop, and reward them.
- Gradually add more steps between each treat.
Once your dog has mastered this skill and can walk loosely on a leash for a block or two, you can begin to add distractions.
In the video below, you can see these tips in action with the dog and handler team. Be sure to pay close attention to the placement of the rewards for the dog. If you reward too far in front of your body, you risk encouraging your dog to get ahead of you and begin to pull.
How To Teach Loose-Leash Walking with Distractions
Teaching big, strong dogs to ignore distractions is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your dog remain safe on your walk! Since dogs tend to lunge suddenly at things like squirrels, practicing these skills prevents that from happening. You can imagine if your big dog lunged out of nowhere, that could potentially hurt your shoulder or fingers!
To start teaching your dog how to ignore distractions:
- Starting in a familiar environment like the backyard, place a distraction like a tennis ball or food in a dish on the ground.
- With your dog on a leash, walk them parallel to this distraction with enough distance that they aren’t tempted to pull towards the distraction.
- As you walk past the distraction, reward your dog as long as he is ignoring it. Even if your dog looks at the distraction but then back at you, reward them.
Continue practicing these skills in different environments and with different distractions. Always start with a large distance between your dog and the distraction and gradually decrease that distance.
You can even give this behavior a cue like “leave it,” which will be helpful throughout your dog’s life in various situations, like leaving dropped food on the floor in the kitchen.
While the video below is focusing on trash and food on the ground when walking, these concepts will also help you with other distractions, like squirrels!
Tips for Walking a Strong Dog
As we’ve already mentioned, most dogs will naturally pull once they’re on a leash. Walking nicely doesn’t come naturally; to them, a leash slows them down. Plus, if your dog sees something he’s interested in, he’ll be even more inclined to pull.
Since walking nicely only comes naturally to some dogs, it can be challenging to teach and take a while. Despite that, there are some tips to make it an easier and quicker process.
Use the Best Treats
One of the main principles of good dog training is to reward the behavior you like and want to see more of. In this case, you want to reward the behavior of your dog walking next to you without pulling.
When teaching such an essential skill like this, use your dog’s absolute favorite, high-value treats. Things like freeze-dried liver, cheese, lunch meat, or plain boiled meat are good options but avoid over-the-counter deli meats.
The more your dog is interested in his reward, the more likely he is to stay engaged and perform the behavior that earns them the reward. In this case, it’s walking nicely at your side instead of pulling! The more your dog walks nicely without pulling and the more you reward them, the more likely they are to continue walking nicely without pulling!
Start at Home or in the Backyard
Anytime you teach a new skill to your dog, you want to start teaching the skill in a familiar environment, like at home or in the backyard. These familiar environments provide less distraction, and we want as few distractions as possible in the initial training stages. Distractions will cause your dog to pull and maybe even lunge or jump.
We want your dog to avoid accidentally practicing the pulling behavior. Plus, we want to keep you safe and not risk getting any severe physical injuries we mentioned above!
Walk in Circles
It is crucial that your dog doesn’t practice the behavior of pulling, so when he begins to pull, you should stop immediately. Lots of trainers refer to this as “being a tree.”
Pulling is a self-reinforcing behavior because your dog gets somewhere he wants, and when he gets there, he usually gets to smell some interesting things. The more your dog pulls, the more likely he will continue pulling.
It’s frustrating for you to have your arm yanked continuously, so in the beginning stages of teaching your dog to walk, try walking in circles or changing direction frequently. This will keep your dog engaged with you and will prevent them from pulling to begin with.
Only Walk One at a Time
If you have multiple dogs, it’s best to walk your big, strong dog separately even though it can be a lot more convenient to walk more than one dog at a time. It’s best to leave other dogs at home until you’ve mastered the art of walking your big dog alone without any problems. Sometimes a great deal of strength is required when walking a strong dog if they tend to pull towards something, so it’s safest if you keep the other dogs at home so you can focus.
Walking a dog that’s stronger than you can be challenging and even a safety concern in some instances. But it’s far from the only challenge of having a big strong breed and everything from walks to car rides can become more challenging.
It’s important to choose the right gear and teach your dog loose-leash walking skills and how to ignore distractions. It’s essential that you practice these skills with your dog because this is one of the most important skills your dog will ever need in their life.