Why Does My Dog Zigzag On Leash?

Why Does My Dog Zigzag On Leash?

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Taking your dog for a walk should be an enjoyable activity for both you and your dog.  Walks are great for both mental and physical health!  Plus, daily exercise is an absolute necessity for indoor dogs.  But, if you’re having issues during your daily walks, it could become a source of stress instead of relaxation!  Does your dog pull, bark, or drag you around?  Maybe your dog doesn’t walk beside you but insists on darting ahead and walking in a zigzagging pattern!  If you’re here you could be wondering;

Why does my dog zigzag on the leash?

There are actually a lot of reasons your dog could be zigzagging on leash.  Your dog could be acting this way because they are excited or fearful.  They might be following instincts to herd and to track smells.  It’s also a possibility that they were never trained not to zigzag!  

If you’d like your dog to stop zigzagging on leash, the first step is to understand why they’re doing it.  Let’s discuss some of these reasons in detail and try to figure out what is going on!

5 Reasons Why Your Dog Zigzags On Leash

When your dog makes a zigzag pattern on a walk, it can be frustrating.  If you’re walking on a sidewalk your pup is bound to get in someone’s way.  In other situations, the zigzagging could be an annoyance to you and starts to hurt your arms and shoulders.

When dogs zigzag on leash, it seems like they have no purpose.  They dart side to side and sometimes forwards and backward.  But, you might be surprised to find out there is usually a very good reason that your dog is zigzagging!  In fact, it could be a combination of reasons.  Here are five things that might make your dog hard to walk on leash.

1. They’re Excited

One of the biggest reasons that dogs zigzag on leash is that they’re excited!

When you get home from work or from running errands, how does your dog greet you?  Do they sit calmly and wait for to come to them?  Probably not!  When your dog is excited to see you, they run to you, jump, and wag their tail.  By doing all of these things, your furry friend is able to express their excitement at your arrival.

The same level of excitement can be found on walks and sometimes dogs can stay extremely excited even after their walk.  Most dogs get very excited when you let them know you’ll be going on a walk!  My dog starts to prance and pace when I get his leash out, it’s natural.  If your dog is very excited, they might continue to dart around while on the leash.

When they’re outside they could become even more excited and stimulated by everything going on.  This excitement can cause them to dart one way and then another, creating a zigzag pattern.

If this sounds like your pup, we’ll talk more about how to combat this below.

2. They’re Smelling Everything

Another reason why your dog might zigzag on leash is to smell everything that they can.

It’s no secret that dogs have amazing senses of smell.  In the same way that we humans see with our eyes, dogs see the world through their noses! Dogs’ senses of smell are so keen that they can smell hormones, bacteria, and old meals just by sniffing our mouths!

When you walk outside do you only look at one fixed spot on the sidewalk or do you look around?  I would imagine that you look around to be aware of your surrounding and sometimes to enjoy the scenery!  On a walk, dogs also want to do this!  The difference is that they’ll do it with their nose.

To get a really good sense of what’s going on around them, dogs will skim the entire sidewalk to make sure they don’t miss any important smells.  If something stands out, your dog might dart over to inspect that smell.  Unfortunately, this could cause your dog to walk erratically, in a zigzag pattern.

Some breeds will be more prone to this than other dogs.  Many breeds that have been raised as hunting dogs have also acquired extra super senses of smell.  Dogs like spaniels, terriers, retrievers, and hounds can all be counted on to have extraordinary senses of smell.  If this sounds like your dog, it could explain why they zigzag on leash.

3. They Have Herding Instincts

Another instant that could be responsible for a zigzag pattern is a strong instinct for herding.

This video shows a great example of how herding dogs operate.  Whether they are at the front, side, or back of the herd, they usually run in small zigzags.

Dogs like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Australian Cattle Dogs all have strong herding instincts.  When these herding dogs go out for a walk, they could see it as an opportunity to practice their herding skills!  Even more than that, these dogs might feel an instinct to herd as they walk.

One great thing about dogs with reading instincts is that they have the ability to learn quickly.  Many people think that because of their high energy levels herding dogs like German Shepherds don’t make great pets for first-time owners.  But, if you can channel their energy into something productive, you can quickly teach them to walk in a straight line!

These heading instincts could be causing your dog to zigzag behind you or in front of you.  They could also attempt to her other people passing by, which would be pretty bad manners!  If this sounds like your dog, don’t worry.  As we mentioned above, these dogs are quick learners and can be taught to stop zigzagging.

4. They’ve Been Taught To Walk This Way

I’m not here to point fingers but it’s possible your dog zigzags because that’s the only way they’ve ever been taught to walk on a leash!

If you never trained your dog to heel of to walk beside you, they might think that running around on a leash is normal!  Sadly you may have even reinforced a zigzag pattern on accident called yoyo walking.

What Is Yoyo Walking?

Yoyo walking refers to an accidental phenomenon.  This describes a dog that runs ahead when the leash is loose and comes back when the leash is pulled.  It’s a natural reaction to pull back on your dog’s leash if they have gone too far.  However, this creates a chain reaction.  Your dog starts to understand that when the leash is loose they can go anywhere they want until they are pulled back.  This can cause sporadic movements and pulling while out on a walk.

If you think you have accidentally trained your dog to be a yoyo walker, you need to focus on keeping them beside you while the leash is loose, not only when you’re pulling on it!  We’ll talk about this more below.

5. They’re Nervous

The last reason your dog could be zigzagging on leash is that they’re nervous.

Does your dog seem scared or overwhelmed while you’re walking outside?  If so, this could explain the sharp zigzagging movements.  If your dog is worked up, they could be in fight or flight mode.  They might start to dart away from people, walls, grates, etc.  If they’re scared of everything, they will start to zigzag on the leash to avoid negative stimuli.  Some dogs might even become upset when you interact with or hug another person while on a walk!

If this sounds like your dog, I recommend trying to walk your dog in less busy areas, where there are fewer obstacles and people to make them nervous!

Let’s discuss some specific zigzagging patterns now and then finally talk about what can be done to fix zigzagging.

Why Does My Dog Zigzag In Front of Me?

If your dog is zigzagging from side to side in front of you, there are two likely explanations!

Your pup is either very excited or is smelling as much as they can.  A dog that goes ahead of their owner is trying to get everywhere first.  This means they are eager to play or to gather scents.  While these aren’t bad things for your dog to want to do, that doesn’t mean pulling on the leash is a good thing either!

Why Does My Dog Zigzag Behind Me?

If your dog is zigzagging behind you and pulling you backward they are probably fearful or nervous of something ahead.  If they start to get too wild, they could end up hurting you or themselves.  If this sounds familiar, you need to try and figure out what makes your dog so afraid while walking.  Once you figure out what they don’t like, you can start to encourage them to overcome their fears.

My dog is particularly afraid of metal plates on the ground.  He basically refuses to walk over them and will start darting from side to side behind me if I go over one.  The best way for me to deal with this is to make sure to give him plenty of treats when we’re around metal plates in hopes that one day he will start to look forwards to the treats and the metal plates

How To Stop Your Dog From Zigzag Walking

So, how do you get your dog to walk straight?  Well, no matter what the reason is that your dog zigzags, you are going to have to put in some work on leash training.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing and can actually be beneficial for both you and your dog in the future!

Pick A Side and Stick With It

One of the easiest ways to start training your dog to walk in a straight line is to always walk them on the same side of you!

If you pick a side and stick with it, your dog can start to expect that walk time means that they will be on only one side of you.  I always walk my pup on my right side when I can.  This keeps him away from the road, keeps my stronger hand closest to him, and helps to teach him that I like him to be at my side.

You can teach your dog to do this by keeping them on a short leash and close to your side.  They’ll start to get used to it quickly!  You can also reward them with treats whenever they stay close to your right side.  Eventually, this will completely stop them from zigzagging ahead of you on the leash.

Teach Heel

Another great tool to use to get your dog to walk in a straight line is to teach them how to heel.  Teaching your dog to heel teaches them to walk with you and not ahead or behind you.  Heel sort of means that you have a dog glued to your side at all times!

This video shows quick steps to start teaching your dog how to heel.

Obviously, if you have the command of “heel” at your disposal, you can quickly get your dog to stop zigzagging and come back to your side!

I’ll admit training is easier said than done.  It takes repetition and consistency.  What you teach your dog one day should stay the same for the rest of the following days.  It could take months or years for your dog to walk perfectly on the leash, but if you try you will start to see improvements.

Let Them Run Off Leash

The last thing you can do to keep your dog from zigzagging on the leash is to give them time and space to play off-leash.

Being able to make the choice of where they run, sniff and play is important for a dog.  There should be some time each day when they can make their own decisions about where they want to go.  Dog parks or secluded grassy areas can be good spots to let your dog run off leash.

By giving your dog some “me” time, it will help them to zigzag less on leash. After running around on their own, they will feel satisfied and less likely to dart out of excitement. This type of energy release can also help curb other unwanted behaviors that are rooted in overexcitement.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve figured out why your dog zigzags while on leash. They could be excited or nervous.  They might be trying to smell or herd while on a walk.  If your dog never learned to walk straight on a leash, this could also explain a zigzagging pattern.

Once you figure out why your dog zigzags you can start to use training to teach them how to walk in a straight line.  In no time, you and your dog will be able to go for an enjoyable walk together (minus the zigzags).