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Leash Training

Who has a dog who just can not walk calmly on a leash?

Ya a lot of people do.

Leash walking can be challenging for some dogs. It's weird. Hooking up some harness or collar to a long leash just to go outside? Some dogs just don't understand it. Some dogs don't like the restraint, some dogs just want to sniff around ( which is a completely acceptable behavior), some dogs are fearful...

Whatever the reason is every dog can be trained to walk calmly on a leash so walks can be more enjoyable for you and your dog. So don't worry! Your dog will be calmly walking in no time.

Here are two different approaches to leash training in dogs.

Tip 1: Loose Leash Walking

1. Fill your pocket or treat pouch with treats.

2. Decide what side you’d like the dog to walk on and hold a few treats on that side of your body. For example, if you’d like your dog to walk on the left side, hold treats in your left hand.

3. Hold your leash in the hand opposite the dog. For example, if your dog is on your left, hold the end of the leash in your right hand. Let the rest of it hang loosely in a “J”.

4. Take a step, then stop. It’s okay if the dog doesn’t stay in “heel” position. Feed the dog some treats from your hand, in line with the seam of your pants. This will help you position the dog.

5. Repeat. Take step, stop, feed a treat at your side, along the seam of your pants.

6. When the dog is looking eagerly up at you for more treats, take two steps instead of one before stopping and feeding the dog.

7. If the dog pulls ahead, stop walking immediately. Call your dog back to you, or use the treats in your hand to lure the dog back to your side, but don't treat her yet: take two to three steps forward before feeding. This is to prevent teaching a sequence like: “I pull ahead, I come back, I eat.” We want them to learn that walking alongside you on a loose leash makes treats happen, not pulling.

8. Gradually take more steps between each treat. You can talk to your dog to help keep her attention on you.

9. When the dog walks well on a loose leash, give this kind of walk a name. It could be “heel,” “with me,” “let’s walk,” or another word/phrase of your choice.

10.Release your dog (“all done,” “okay,” “that’ll do,” etc.) when they no longer need to walk in “heel” position.

Photo byAaron Clinard on Unsplash

Tip 2: Training a dog to heel

The process of training a dog to heel goes through four key stages.

- Establish heel position

- Walk at heel

- Add distractions

- Succeeding with distractions

1. Establish heel position

What we are going to do is get the dog into the heel position, let them know that this is the position we are looking for and reward him for being there.

-We’ll start in a quiet room or yard with no distractions, no other dogs, no kids, no toys, just you and the dog. We won’t be telling the dog to ‘heel’ (he doesn’t know what that means yet). You don’t need a leash.

-Have treat pot in a pocket or in a pouch clipped onto your belt. Hold a treat in each hand. With the dog in front of you (waiting for his treat) put the right hand treat in front of his nose (don’t let him have it) and lure him around behind you until he can see the treat in your left hand.

-Tell the dog ‘yes’ as he moves into the heel position on your left and give him the treat from your left hand.

-Do this only two or three times then repeat without a treat in your right hand. Show him the palm of your hand so he can see it is empty, then carry out the exact same movement you did when your hand had a lure in it. This hand – the one that held the lure, is now going to be a hand signal or heel cue.

*If the dog refuses to follow the empty hand repeat one time with a food lure then try again without.

-Over the next few repetitions, once your dog willingly follows your ‘fake’ lure, you can change your lure hand shape so that instead of holding a pretend lure, it becomes a simple pointing motion with one finger.

-You point behind you and the dog goes around behind you and moves into the heel position.

-Once the dog recognizes that when you point your finger behind you he should go into the heel position, you can add the verbal heel cue. Just say heel, then point. After two or three times, just say heel and don’t point unless he seems confused. He will soon be whisking around behind you on the cue ‘heel’

- If you enjoy shaping, you can also establish the heel position with the clicker heel technique. With my version of clicker heel, you skip the stationery stage and start moving right away. You can find instructions in this article

If you are luring, once the dog will follow your hand signal into the heel position, you are ready to start moving.

2. Walking at heel

-This is about teaching the dog to hold his new heel position, even when you are moving forwards.

-It is important not to move too far to begin with. We’ll start with just one step.

-Give your heel cue and instead of treating the dog with your left hand immediately, take a step forward and treat him as he moves to keep up with you. Once he moves with you, without any delay, progress to two steps

-Repeat, adding distance very gradually, just a couple of extra steps to begin with, then three or four. Treat the dog when you have completed the steps in and in the correct position. Take several sessions to get to ten steps and don’t try to add changes in direction at this point.

-At this point you can add a collar and leash if you wish. It’s one more thing to think about but you’ll need it when you go out and about in public, so you add it at some point.

-Just walk a few paces with the dog at heel. Pop his collar and leash on and walk a few more. No fuss, no change in how you behave other than that.

Changes in direction

-Once your dog can walk to heel in a straight line for ten paces, you can start to introduce some changes in direction. Take two steps then stop. Then rotate a quarter turn to your left or right.

-Treat the dog for any attempt to rotate with you, (he’ll get better at this) then set off in the new direction. Once you can do this, you can make little squares with two or three steps each side.

What to do when you stop walking

-Walking to heel isn’t just about movement of course, it’s about leash manners and about your dog being focused on you rather than doing his own thing.

-Your dog shouldn’t leave the heel position just because you change direction or stop and talk to someone.

-Holding the heel position when you are stationery is an important skill and one you need to practice. Many people teach their dog to sit each time they stop moving forwards, and this is fine.

-If you practice walking ten paces and stopping, ask your dog for a sit, and then treat him in the sit position, you’ll soon be able to drop the sit cue and your dog will sit automatically each time you stop.

At this point you are ready to take the heel position out into the real world. This is the opportunity to go on regular walks around the neighborhood where you might encounter other pets and neighbors. You can choose to go to a dog park or a regular city park as well. The goal here is to take what you have been practicing and apply it in real world scenarios. Remember to bring your treats and reward every time the behavior you are looking for is achieved.

Photo by V Srinivasan on Unsplash

Good luck everyone! Remember to have fun and your dog will have fun!

-Muddy Paws Training & Behavior

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