dogpullIn the dog training world, opposition reflex is a term used to describe why a puppy first resists walking on the leash. It’s a natural reflex driven by...


In the dog training world, “Opposition Reflex” is a term used to describe why a puppy first resists the tension of the leash by stopping or pulling away.  When tension is applied, a dog’s predatory instinct of fight, freeze or flight kicks in.  Many people don’t realize dogs have this reflex or they believe a dog stops or pulls out of spite or challenge. It was discovered by Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and is discussed in many books since,  including a 1996 book by Jean Donaldson, “The Culture Clash”AMAZON BOOKS .  

To see opposition reflex in action, just put a leash on your cat. That’s opposition reflex! The more “wild” an animal is, or the more predators an it has, the stronger the reflex will be. Thankfully, dog’s have been domesticated and puppies are fast learners. Through conditioning, patience and trust, this reflex diminishes.

People make the mistake initially when getting a new puppy by placing it on the ground and following it around. Once the puppy can tolerate the collar and leash, the owner then allows the puppy to pull in the direction they want. As the puppy grows and gains more pulling strength, most owners make the mistake of putting these harnesses (that you see on sled dogs), along with a tightly held leash or retractable leash, allowing opposition reflex and the pulling behavior to really kick into gear.

Opposition reflex plays a role initially and throughout their lives, but there are other reason dogs continue to pull on lead.  1) The owner has conditioned them to lead the way 2) They’re being rewarded for pulling  3) Dogs have been conditioned to believe that the harder they pull, the more distance, smells and exercise they get, even if it means choking themselves in the process, and 4) The owners never taught them, in a language they understand, how to walk on a loose leash.

Leash pulling can be counter-conditioned at any age by hiring your local reward / science-based dog trainer.

The earlier you get started, the better.

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7 thoughts on “Opposition Reflex (Why dogs pull)

  1. Hi, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m happy I did a blog about this subject. I’m curious how some people hear about my site?

  2. Hi there,

    How I explain this to pet dog trainers is that in agility training we USE opposition reflex when we want to teach a dog to blast off! We put a little pressure on the dog’s collar in order to teach the dog to lean into it, prepare for blast off! And guess what, that is NOT the way we teach loose leash walking! I tell my students that the leash is a cueing system in itself, and that pressure on the leash naturally cues a dog to pull and so I need to come up with a very different cue to condition the dog to walk with a loose leash! Many of my clients have been older, and they kind of LIKE to have the dog pull them (for stability), and where that is happening, I really try to recognize it and set it up to be more intentional rather than accidental.

    One of my daughters is going to Australia next year for one semester! How do you like it? Good like with Frieda

  3. Hi Jenny,

    “Blast Off” I love it! thanks for sharing.

    I’m sure your daughter will love it over here!, they have a great education system.


  4. Hi Rob love your site.

    I was told about it by one of your customers and I am hooked on it.
    I have a 5mth old Border Collie and we go to obdience class but I find a few things they show and tell me a bit confusing but,at the same time i have learn’t alot.
    When I want to know about a subject, I read on what you have to say.
    Leash walking is one of those subjects, It’s a slow process but it is slowly starting to come together. They say at obedience class not to let your dog run free in a park wellllll, I take Tyson to a Dog friendly park which is safe from road ways and let him run and socialize with the other dogs there every afternoon…he comes when i call him 90% of the time, the other 10% is selective hearing, He will walk either behind me or in front of me and enjoys his outing. When its time to go he sits on command for me to put his leash on to go.
    So why would they say not to let them run free??? hmmmmmm very confusing.

    Anyway… love your site

    Nerang Gold Coast

  5. Hi Lee,

    Thanks, glad you like it. I probably don’t update this site as often as I should. Mostly because of the videos I make for my YouTube channel, they take up most of my free time, and of course my business Facebook page. If you’d to have a lesson with a trainer who is “updated” with all the training techniques that aren’t confusing at all, just give me a call :o) 044 926 3400

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