Why does my Spaniel drag me around on walks?

November 30, 2021
Spaniel pulling on lead

Raise your hand if your Spaniel or Spaniel mix pulls on the lead when you’re out and about?

Nod along if you have been dragged from one end of the park to another by your Spaniel’s eager nose?

Perhaps you’re sick of your shoulder aching from what you wish was a nice family walk to the park?

Or do your family members bicker over who’s going to hold the lead because it’s an energy draining task?

Maybe you’re tired of looking at other dog owners enviously as they achieve loose lead walking with ease?

Is it common for Spaniels and Spaniel mix breeds to pull on walks?

First of all, I want to reassure you that you are not alone if your Spaniel or Spaniel mix pulls relentlessly on the lead. Whether they are a puppy or an elderly dog there are things that you can do to help make sure that you can all start to enjoy your walks!

I have worked with plenty of Spaniel and Spaniel mix owners who have come to me with similar stories, all themes of pulling on the lead, being dragged around the park and feeling frustrated that they can’t just enjoy their walks. In fact, I’ve worked with countless puppies, teenagers and adult dogs whose owners have been struggling with walks.

Just like all aspects of behaviour our dog’s need to be taught how to walk on the lead before we can expect them to walk nicely!

Why do Spaniels pull on the lead?

Spaniels naturally do not choose to walk in a straight line, instead, they often zig zag from one side to the other, a process known as quartering which helps them effectively search a piece of ground.

And Spaniels are bred to use their nose, did you know that dog’s noses are 40 times better than ours?[1]

In fact, sniffing is one way that your Spaniel produces feel good chemicals which help your Spaniel to calm down and relax. The same sort of feeling we might get after a nice hot bath! And we can use scent work with our Spaniels to get them to use their nose with us, it’s also great for confidence, so if you have a nervous Spaniel this is great for them, and is great for the relationship between you both.

So without being taught how to walk nicely on the lead their senses lead the way permitting them to pull you around whilst they chase every scent they can and try to say hello to every other person and dog in sight!

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Another reason your Spaniel or Spaniel mix can pull when you walk them on a lead is because pulling on the lead is very self rewarding, when your Spaniel gets to pull they get to sniff what they want or greet the other dog, or maybe even go and chase that bird that’s winding them up, so this reinforces the pulling on the lead behaviour.

How can I stop my Spaniel from pulling when we’re on a walk?

With patience, understanding and the right training techniques loose lead walking can be achieved, no matter how old your Spaniel or Spaniel mix is. I can confirm a few glasses of wine at night also helps with developing patience for loose lead walking! And you will need patience I can assure you.

With many factors in dog training it comes down to the relationship between you and your dog, you want to strengthen your bond and add value to your time together so that when you are out and about your Spaniel looks to you first before they let their nose take over!

Eye contact is your foundation for loose lead walking, if your Spaniel or Spaniel mix breed is looking at you they cannot pull on the lead, so how can you achieve eye contact I hear you ask?

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The importance of check-ins with your Spaniel

Reward those check ins! Every time your dog looks at you say yes or mark with the clicker if you use one and give them a treat. One great way to make sure you’re consistent with this is to have a jar of 20 treats and aim to reward your pup 20 times a day for looking at you. Start this in the house, then the garden, then outside the front door and so on. They will soon start to learn when they check in with you that good things happen, adding value to your relationship.

It’s also really important as I have said above that you start off your training, as with all training, in a low distraction environment such as your house, then you can progress to the garden before trialing out quiet streets/carparks and eventually tackling the highest distraction areas like the park, as soon as your Spaniel hits grass arousal goes up, so you want to have a really good loose lead before this. You wouldn’t go straight onto the M6 for your first driving lesson, would you? So don’t try loose lead walking for the first time in your local park!

Instead, practise your check ins at home once your Spaniel has started to check in with you you can advance to training them to walk to heel, for this lure them into the heel position and reward, then progress until they choose to come to your heel because of the positive association you have created. Ideally, you want them to be able to stay in the heel position for 30-40 seconds before you start adding movement in.

When you’re out on a walk and your recalling your Spaniel reward them in the heel position instead of when they are sat out in front of you, we really want to build value in this position. Think how often you likely reward your Spaniel for sitting in front of you instead of at heel?

You can even use some of your dog’s breakfast to teach them this, instead of putting it all in a bowl, feed your dog a piece of food simply by being by your side – the more you feed them the more they will come back to that position.

What equipment to use for loose lead training

Whilst you are training you will still want to be able to take your dog out on walks so it’s a really good idea to have different equipment for the walks you are going to do. You can use two different pieces of equipment, For example, you might use your collar when you are going to work on loose lead and your harness when your dog is allowed to pull and sniff till their heart is content! However, you can also contrary to belief teach a Spaniel to walk nicely on a harness.

I personally prefer a two point attachment harness such as the Perfect Fit harness and a double ended lead when you’re training. I often recommend to attach both points of the lead to the back clip if you’re not working on the training, and the lead to the front and back clip when you’re working on the training.  Your dog will learn the difference and learn what behaviour you want from them,also you want a decent length lead, your Spaniel will pull more on a short lead as they can feel constant tension from it.  

So what can you do if your dog is pulling when you’re out on a walk?

The simple answer is just don’t let it happen! Turn away, and don’t let them take you where they want to drag you. If you really want to work on loose lead walking, stop allowing rehearsal, remember that patience I said about, you may have to for a while change your walks, pop them in the car to go out instead of letting them drag you down the street to the park.

Try not to let your dog build a habit of stopping, coming for the treat and then running off and pulling again.

Really work on your heel work and build lots of value to this place before you start to add movement! If they pull when you are out, you can walk a few steps with them and then reward them, but you may need to go back to building value in that position without movement first.

If you want to get loose lead walking or any strong training session from your Spaniel or Spaniel mix it’s really important to lower their arousal and keep them calm. Yes, calm and Spaniel can be used in the same sentence!  If your Spaniel or Spaniel cross leaves the house like a kangeroo you’re not going to get loose lead walking.

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One way to do this is to lower your dog’s arousal and change their association around items they associate with walks such as the lead, the front door. You can try putting the lead on them and making a cup of tea, and then taking it off, or putting your shoes on and coat and their lead and then sitting down to watch the TV. By doing this you’re desensitising them to items they associate with walks so that when you do go out they will be calmer and more ready to learn!

You can also allow them to go be a crazy Spaniel as a reward for being in the heel position as part of your training. For this call them to heel position and take a few steps, then release them to go and run around, I usually use the word “free”. Spaniels love to be busy so you can use this as their reward for nice heel work! Try it a few times where you practise heel work, release them to be crazy, call them back for more heel work, release and repeat. You will see them wanting to come back and do heelwork in order to be allowed to go be busy again. You can also use the environment to reward them, we know Spaniel are going to want to sniff, so we can ask for a few steps of heel walking then wait for a check in and release them to go and sniff that bush.

spaniel running

As you know our Spaniels are very clever, intelligent dogs, and whilst loose lead walking is challenging for them it’s not all that interesting and a bored Spaniel is a Spaniel that can pull, bark or whine. You can help to motivate your Spaniel once they have got basic heel work by trying precision heelwork, this is where you walk backwards and sideways whilst they maintain heel, your Spaniel or Spaniel mix will love the challenge!

Other reasons your Spaniel might be pulling on the lead

If your Spaniel is pulling because they are feeling anxious, for instance, they are trying to get away from another dog or you notice them pulling whilst walking next to a busy road because of the traffic this isn’t necessarily a case of teaching them loose lead walking. It would be working on helping them feel happier and safer, so make sure you fix the underlying behaviour before you expect too much from loose lead walking! A lot of loose lead walking cases I see have an emotion behind the behaviour.

Engaging games to tire out your Spaniel

As much as we want loose lead walking we also have to let our Spaniels and Spaniel mix’s sniff, a great way to do this is by letting your Spaniel go on a Sniffari:

  1. This is a walk where your Spaniel sniffs whatever they want, and they choose where you go.
  2. Dogs and especially our Spaniels explore the world through their nose, and we have to let them sniff. Imagine going on an actual safari and not being allowed to use your eyes to see any of the animals, that’s what it can be like for your Spaniels if they are not allowed to smell.
  3. Have your Spaniel on their lead or a long line attached to a harness, and just wander around together. Life is busy, Spaniels can be busy but sometimes we want to slow all down.

You will be amazed at how tired your Spaniel is after this.

Get immediate help for loose lead walking today

I recently did a loose lead walking masterclass live session in my Spaniel Inner-circle, it shared in-depth training advice and answered questions from Spaniel and Spaniel mix owner members. Every month I deep delve into a Spaniel topic I know Spaniel owners need help with!

See what our members say below:

“Proud member of the SpIC! Love that there is absolutely no judgement, never feel belittled or frowned upon. Wonderful tips and information, always up to date. Training always through positive reinforcement, no shouting, no force, no “I am the packleader” attitude. Thank you so much for your wonderful work Hannah – I only wish I would have “found” you earlier; would have made the teenage phase so much easier.”

“Really enjoying, lots of useful stuff & love that I can ask questions in real time”

“I’m finding the resources very helpful and it’s great to find some specific spaniel guidance as so much of the online resources elsewhere are more generic so I’m quickly learning to better navigate some of the unique spaniel ‘quirks’!”

If you want to feel supported in your training, have the opportunity to ask me your personal dog training queries and get access to tons of Spaniel and Spaniel mix knowledge then join the Spaniel Inner-circle, where you will get access to my Spaniel secrets, two live interactive sessions a month plus a drop-in Q and A with me and access to a community full of Spaniel owners like you who are looking for help!

Join the Spaniel Inner-circle to get help enjoying your walks and getting the bond you always wanted.

Click this link to take you to the Spaniel Inner-circle to find out more about the membership and get immediate help.


[1] https://phoenixvetcenter.com/blog/214731-how-powerful-is-a-dogs-nose#:~:text=They%20possess%20up%20to%20300,40%20times%20greater%20than%20ours.

By Hannah Antrobus

Hannah is a spaniel specialist dog trainer for spaniels and spaniel crosses. Her catchment area is Warwickshire but she offers video sessions and works with clients nationally and internationally so don’t hesitate to get in touch from wherever you are in the world!

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