Dog Training and Dog Care advice from UK Professionals

Dog Heel Training On Lead


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Dog Walking To HeelDogs pulling on the lead is probably the most common complaint we hear from our dog behaviour clients and website visitors alike.

Often adult dogs that perform other commands perfectly have a problem with walking on the lead.

Many owners resort to using head collars, or other contraptions. Even the best of head collars may cause injury to the dog or result in the dog escaping by pawing at the collar to remove it. Which device you use is immaterial, they are not solving the problem, and neither are you by using them.

The problem is in the fact that the dog is not obeying your command or your position as its leader. Lead training involves teaching a dog to walk on lead without pulling or jerking to the side. The dog will be far more comfortable knowing he is doing right by walking quietly beside his master and life in general will be far easier with any dog which understand this clearly. The dog's stress levels will also be significantly lower when it knows that it doesn't need to take a lead role on a walk with its owner.

A headcollar and other tools are fine for using during training, but resigning yourself to the problem being permanent and just sticking to a headcollar for ever is no way to deal with the problem, it leaves you liable to an accident later (headcollars do come off) and above all, the dog will know you can't control his behaviour through your presence and natural authority which can only lead to worse problems later on. A better option than a headcollar can be a full body harness allowing more control and security for both owner and dog, we would recommend a walking or training harness such as the Walkezee for this purpose.

Ideally, lead training should begin at the puppy stage. Arm yourself with treats and attach the collar and lead to the puppy. The best place to start training is in the home or the garden with no distractions. The aim is to keep the lead loose at all times.

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At first the puppy will probably pull backwards, wriggle and try to get the lead off. Do NOT respond until the dog is quiet. Try moving forwards. If the puppy surges ahead, turn abruptly and move away in a different direction attracting the dog's attention with vocal noises or a clap of your hands.

As soon as the puppy follows you give him lots of praise and a treat. The trick is to make the turn before the puppy has pulled the lead taught. Instead of correcting the dog after he is pulling, you do not give him the opportunity to pull by turning and walking in a different direction well before he makes his break for leadership.

Timing is of the essence. If you fail to correct him in time do not try to correct him after the fact, it just doesn't work because a dog can not rationalise your behavoiur as being linked to his own when the incident is over with.

Either stop in your tracks and firmly say no, or turn slowly to bring the puppy back to your side. Do not move off again until the puppy is back under control. Never yank on the lead. This is counter-productive and all the dog learns is to pull even harder on the lead to escape the situation which equates to a trap in many dogs not used to having a lead attached. Yanking causes confusion and panic in a young dog, and many adult ones too. You can't assume that just because we are accustomed to walking dogs on lead as a society, that your dog is used to it himself. He isn't. He needs to be gently and patiently coaxed into accepting it, and then trusting it, and finally enjoying it as part of his relationship with you.

The puppy should understand not to pull on the lead before you take him out for a proper walk. Once the puppy is heeling try adding distractions like the children playing nearby, or ask a friend to drop by. The dog should heel regardless of what is going on around him. Remember to say the dog's name and, “heel” to let him know what you expect him to do. Keep training sessions short and end on a positive note by asking the pup to do something such as“sit” before removing the lead and playing for a few minutes to finish on a playful and enjoyable note.

Different training methods may suit different dogs. With an older dog, turning and walking off in a different direction (Koehler method) may not suit a dog that is timid or nervous. The dog needs to learn what lead manners are. All dogs are inquisitive and this can be to your advantage. Arm yourself with a tasty treat such as tiny slivers of cooked liver, or cheese. If you do not use treats as a reward, use a new toy, a baby's rattle or a squeaky toy to hold the dog's attention. If you can keep your dog's eyes focussed on you, the body will naturally follow. Never try to teach a dog to heel if he won't look at you first, this is a complete waste of your time and is unfair to the dog.

Begin the training where there are no distractions. Attach the lead and in an excited voice say, “Heel”. If the dog surges ahead or moves off in a different direction, SAY NOTHING. You must not communicate with the dog by voice or body language. If you follow the dog, this is telling him that he controls the walk. Turn your body sideways and walk off. If the dog makes even one step towards you, give him lots of praise and a treat. Walk off again in a different direction, and repeat giving the dog attention if he follows.

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He has to learn that if he pulls or does his own thing, he gets no response but if he walks beside you he gets loads of fuss and treats. The perfect position for you is arm slightly bent and the lead loose. If the dog starts to pull ahead the lead will go taut. At this point move your arm quickly forward to create a bit of slack and then turn and move off in a different direction again clapping your hands or saying his name to bring his attention to you and the new direction you are moving in. The dog will feel a quick jerk on the lead without physically pulling him in any way. He will come to associate this noise and slight sensation on the collar as meaning “change of direction” and if you can be good with your timing, you dog will see this whole exercise as exciting and interesting, never knowing what to expect which will help in his attention being on you, the person who keeps changing the direction.

The timing on your part is crucial and may take some practise to get it right. All you have to do is be consistent in never letting the dog pull you around, and be unpredictable so the dog remains focused on you. If you accept a tight lead then expect the dog to learn to walk on a tight lead. If you pull backwards, the dog will learn to pull forwards.

Above all, don't expect too much too soon. This is not easy for a young dog or a dog which hasn't had leads attached much in the past. It will normally take a few weeks with a dog which doesn't heel naturally. Some dogs will heel perfectly out of respect for you, but others won't, and this isn't 'naughtiness', it's just your dog's character coming out and it's what owning a dog is all about.

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