Labrador are wonderful and affectionate dogs but many pet Labradors get into the habit of pulling on the lead. They aren’t the worst breed for pulling but they are big. And VERY strong. Young labradors are excitable, fun-loving dogs with, on the whole, friendly personalities who want to investigate everything.
We’ve written a detailed ebook about how Labrador owners in 2019 cope with their dogs pulling. It’s packed full of hints and tips for training and for training aids that people have found successful as well as theory about why Labradors pull and how to make walking much pleasurable for dog and owner. The following is a summary of our research.
Labradors, and all breeds, pull because we have trained them to pull without even realising.
Whenever a Lab gets where he wants to go by pulling on the lead, he is learning that this is what he must do to get there. It doesn’t matter if it hurts his neck or makes his owner angry, his overwhelming desire to investigate everything takes over. And because pulling on the lead has always got him where he wants to go, he is convinced that this is the only way to do it.
There is also a subconscious reflex called the “oppositional reflex” that is partly to blame. When part of the dog’s body is pulled in one direction, his natural instinct is to balance himself. He therefore pulls in the opposite direction to maintain balance. Once a dog pulls and you pull back, just by holding on to the lead, this oppositional reflex comes into play and makes the pulling even more difficult to control.
When labradors pull on a flat collar and lead, they can cause a wide range of injuries, many of which are only just starting to be picked up by vets. See our ebook for more information about these injuries.
We wanted to find out how Labrador owners in 2019 are managing their dogs pulling on the lead, what training aids they are using and what training methods work.
We asked 500 Labrador owners how they have managed to train their dog to walk nicely on the lead. The results were:
62% of owners use a headcollar or harness
62% of Labrador owners simply used a headcollar or harness to manage the pulling. They didn’t use any definite training method and are happy that their dogs are under control.
35% have trained their dogs to walk on a flat collar and lead
They used the following methods:
4% of Lab owners haven’t stopped their Labradors pulling
Some comments from these owners included “Give up and accept she is going where she wants” and “Never managed to stop it and she’s 13 now.”
The majority of respondents to our polls (62%) haven’t carried out any formal lead training with their labradors. They use a headcollar or a harness to restrain their dog and find that this works for them. The dog is fully under control and both parties enjoy their walks. You may choose to do the same and there is nothing wrong with this.
Many owners reported that once their dogs have got used to walking nicely on a headcollar or a harness they will walk nicely on any lead. The training aids have helped to train the dog almost without either the dog or owner realising.
You will always get people who claim that it is “lazy” or irresponsible and that the dog should always be trained. However, this ignores the fact that people have a whole range of different circumstances and priorities. Never feel bad about doing what you feel is best for you and your dog. You know what your capabilities are and it is better to use a training aid for walking the dog than either struggling on or not walking the dog at all.
We would always recommend training the dog to walk nicely on the lead if possible and the following section sets out all the methods that the respondents to our polls said that worked for their dogs.
There are two sets of options to consider when working to stop your Labrador from pulling:
1. A training method that you feel comfortable using
2. A way of managing the pulling while your dog is in training
There are a few different methods of training that people in 2019 use to train their Labradors to walk on the lead.
With all methods it is important to only walk the dog when he is in a calm state of mind. Don’t leave the house until he had calmed down, even it if does take 15 minutes or longer. Setting off with him like a coiled spring is setting him up for failure.
Some of the respondents to our polls suggested walking the dog first (off-lead or using a management tool such as a harness or headcollar) then training using the following method after the walk when the dog has calmed down.
Please download our ebook for a full explanation of how to teach each method.
This method focuses on how to train your Lab to walk by your side in a position that is best for you and the dog. He stays by your side because he has been trained that this is the nicest place to be.
This method works to rectify the dog’s belief that by pulling he will get where he wants to go. Once you start using this method, whenever he pulls on the lead, you will either stop, turn and walk the other way, do a figure of 8 or ask him to sit. He will only be able to go forward when the lead is loose.
The slip lead method is traditionally used for training Labradors and gundogs in general. Slip lead training involves using a quick “correction” by giving a very quick, sharp pull on the slip lead then immediately releasing. The lead must be put on the dog correctly according to the side that your dog will walk. If it’s not correctly fitted, it will not release, causing discomfort to the dog and will not be successful.
This was suggested by a few respondents to our survey and they swear by it. The handler carries a stick of some description while walking the dog and waves it just in front of where they want the dog to be. The dog will choose not to walk into the stick and therefore maintains the heel position. He is then rewarded.
This is a similar theory to the stick method but a tube of cheese spread is the stick and dog is rewarded periodically with a small squeeze of the tube! Or something nice is smeared on the end of the stick that the dog is allowed to lick when in the correct position. Once the dog is walking nicely, the tube/stick can just be carried and used if the dog does surge forward and eventually it can be dispensed of altogether.
“Give up and accept she is going where she wants.”·
While in training, it is vital that your Lab is never allowed to pull on the lead and get to where he wants to go. This would be selfrewarding and undo your training up to that point. Therefore, if you need to take the dog out anywhere and, for whatever reason, you are unable to keep up the training, you will need a way of managing the pulling.
Some people will say you should just train the dog, others will say that you are being lazy. But it’s not that simple. This ignores everyday living in the real world. Training takes time and your dog needs walking in the meantime, even on days when you don’t have time to train him. It’s essential to be able to control your dog if he is stronger than you. Dog anti-pull devices come in when you don’t have time or are not able to train and don’t want to be dragged under a bus.
There are two types of apparatus that can be used to control pulling: headcollars or harnesses:
Headcollars stop dogs pulling by giving you more control over the dog’s head and taking away most of the dog’s strength when he pulls. As one dog trainer told us, “if you have control of the head, you have control of the dog”.
There are a number of brands of headcollar, and many Labrador owners that we spoke to were relieved and amazed by the instant effect of headcollars in stopping their Labs pulling. However, the problems with most of the headcollar options currently available are:
The k9 bridle was created when the designers were frustrated by seeing dogs at shows with their headcollars pulling over their eyes and across their mouths. The dogs often looked miserable and depressed. They wanted to find something different.
There are 5 good reasons why the k9 bridle is more suitable for helping owners to control their dogs than other brands:
As with headcollars, dog trainers’ and vets’ opinions also tend to be divided about harnesses. There are three types of harness available:
Don’t buy one of these unless you want your dog to pull like a steam train! As we have already described, the oppositional reflex means that as soon as your dog pulls on this harness and you, by holding the lead, pull back, he will just pull harder. His attention is directed away from you, facing forwards. This is why sled dog back-fastening harnesses are so effective.
Your lead attaches to the front of these harnesses, somewhere on the chest. These are somewhat successful in stopping dogs pulling. When the dog pulls against the harness, the force of his pulling against the force of you holding the lead, swing the dog’s body round to face you. His attention is then diverted from where he was pulling back to you and he cannot go forwards in the direction he wishes to.
There are concerns regarding the safety of this type of harness:
Using a double-ended lead, these can be a good compromise that are becoming increasingly popular.
Some respondents on our survey reported that when a harness doesn’t work they also use a headcollar, usually with a double-ended lead. This gives them choices about the type of control restraint they use on the dog and with particularly strong dogs, has been shown to be what they needed to ensure that they can continue to walk the dog.
As mentioned above, using both headcollar and harness can help control an aggressive dog.
Labradors are a wonderful breed. Their friendly, loyal nature makes them ideal pets for families with young children and it’s a shame when their relationship with their owners is put under strain due to pulling on the lead.
We hope that this study has helped. We have examined why Labradors pull, why it’s dangerous to allow them to continue to do so and we’ve looked at the different options that Labrador owners are using to control their dogs’ pulling in 2019.
Despite most people being aware that training the dog to walk on the lead is the best option, in the fast pace of life in 2019 this is not always possible. Labradors are often family pets and families have busy lives. Labrador owners come with their own set of circumstances and everyone has different priorities.
In our polls, 62% of respondents use headcollars or harnesses to control their dogs’ pulling and there is nothing wrong with this. If it means that you are avoiding all the risks of pulling to your dog and yourselves and your dog gets the exercise it needs, that is all that matters.
If you do decide to train your dog, we’ve listed the five methods that lab owners responding to our polls have successfully used. We’ve gone through the basics here but there is a lot more information available in our ebook and online.
Thank you to everyone that responded to our polls, thank you for reading and good luck with your dogs!