Walking nicely on a lead is an important skill for dogs to learn. If your dog is constantly pulling on the lead, it makes walks less enjoyable for both of you. It also puts you at risk of straining a muscle. Even if you have a safe place to let your dog exercise off lead, there will be times when you absolutely need her on a lead for her own safety and the comfort of those around you. Taking your dog to the vet is just one example. So how do you effectively teach your dog this critical life skill?
It helps to start young. But if you have gotten an adult dog from a rescue or your dog has managed to make it to adulthood without learning, do not despair. Old dogs can learn new tricks. It takes patience, but it is possible.
One way to teach your dog to walk calmly on the lead starts without using the lead at all. ‘Heel’ is the traditional command for a dog to walk close to you on your left side. Once you teach your dog to heel off lead, heeling on lead is easy.
How to Teach Your Dog to Heel
Most dogs are very motivated by food, and dog treats are a powerful training tool. Fill your left pocket with small dog treats. Leader Train Me treats are ideal for this. Because they contain only six calories and are full of wholesome ingredients, you can use them liberally to motivate your dog without worrying about your dog gaining excess weight or eating too much junk food.
Training in the house means fewer distractions for your dog while she is learning a new command. Start by calling your dog to your left side. When she comes to you, reward her with a treat. Use your left hand to give it to her to prevent her from crossing to your right in search of treats. Take a couple of steps forward while saying ‘heel’ or whatever word you want to use for this command. Stop and give her another treat when she walks beside you.
Continue this, and gradually increase the distance you walk between treats. When your dog seems to understand what you expect when you give the command, you can advance to changing direction. When you turn, repeat the command. When she cooperates and remains at your left side, reward her with a treat. As she learns, you can progress to zig zagging around the house, pausing to reward her with a treat when she stays by your side.
Don’t expect to teach this lesson in one session. Work with your dog for a short period every day. This keeps the experience positive for her and avoids frustration for both of you. Try to end the session on a high note when she is getting it right. Treat this like a game, and remember to praise her with words and pets as well as treats.
Taking It to the Streets
The goal is to train your dog to walk calmly by your side on the lead. So once she really has the hang of heeling off lead inside the house, the next step is to take it outside. An enclosed space such as a fenced garden is best. She’ll have more distractions outside, so keep your left pocket full of healthy treats to keep her engaged and focused on you.
Once your dog is heeling well off lead in the garden, introduce the lead to the equation. Try a couple of sessions in the garden with her heeling on the lead. If your dog has an established habit of pulling, she will need more time to change her ways. But she can learn if you are patient, positive and consistent.
Don’t scold her if she pulls. Instead, abruptly turn around and begin walking briskly in the opposite direction giving her the command to heel. When she does, reward her with a treat and praise. This will take a lot of repetition. Think of these walks purely as training exercises to help you avoid frustration, and keep them short.
Your dog is faced with an incredible amount of distractions on a walk. Not only does she notice all of the sights and sounds you do, but her keen sense of smell is also giving her information. She can tell another dog left a scent off to the side, and it is her nature to go smell it more. Seeing a bird, squirrel or cat is also massively tempting to her. It takes enormous self-control for her to walk calmly at your side!
More Benefits of Heeling On and Off Lead
No matter where you go with your dog, heel is an important command for her safety. It’s also important to understand that any dog’s training and knowledge can, in the right circumstances, be short circuited by instinct. Never rely on your dog’s obedience when safety is an issue, such as walking along a busy road, near livestock or any situation where she could be tempted to bolt and get lost or hurt. It’s always safest to have her on a lead in those situations.
Like people, dogs thrive when their intelligence is put to use. Your dog’s overall well-being is improved by training. Learning gives her purpose, and pleasing you is her main ambition in life. An active mind is important for your dog, and teaching her obedience commands and tricks helps her avoid boredom. And boredom is the root of many negative dog behaviours such as inappropriate chewing and barking. Training her is also a fantastic opportunity for bonding with your dog. It increases her sense of loyalty and appreciation for you, and yours for her.