Are you struggling to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash? Look no further! In this article, we will explore six key strategies to help you teach your dog to heel. From understanding the challenges your dog faces to creating a positive reinforcement system, these tips will guide you in developing your dog’s leash manners. We will also discuss the importance of starting small, using the right cues, and considering other factors that impact your dog’s training. So grab your dog’s leash, and let’s get started on this journey to successful loose-leash walking!
Keep in mind that it’s harder for your dog than it looks
Without a leash, most dogs would be well ahead of their (slow!) human counterparts. They’re built to go faster – they have twice as many legs! Not to mention a nose that can smell parts per trillion. Asking a dog to walk on a loose leash is asking a dog to choose to walk slower than their natural pace while largely ignoring most of the amazing smells and other distractions they’d love to pull toward. It’s important to keep in mind that this behavior is not easy for them and requires patience and understanding.
Be willing to pay well
If we expect our dog to walk slower than his natural pace, paying less attention to the environment and more attention to us, we must make it worth his while. Dogs repeat behaviors that are reinforced. If pulling gets him closer to the smell he wants to sniff, pulling has been rewarded. When teaching leash manners, it’s crucial to reward the dog quickly and frequently, so he doesn’t have time to think about pulling. By providing rewards such as treats and praise, we can incentivize the dog to walk with us and focus on the task at hand.
Create a zone of awesome
Polite leash walking is built one step at a time. Start by rewarding your dog for being next to you. Make the area that’s next to you a “zone of awesome,” where the treats and praise are free-flowing. Your dog needs to be able to stand next to you on a loose leash before he can walk next to you on a loose leash. By creating this positive association with walking by your side, your dog will be motivated to stay close and follow your lead.
Start small and don’t be greedy
As your dog realizes how well it pays to stand next to you, begin adding movement – one step at a time. Reward your dog in your “zone of awesome” before he has a chance to surge ahead of you and self-reward with the fun of moving forward or reaching an enticing smell. Talk to your dog as you walk, emphasizing that you are on the walk together and are a team. Polite leash walking should not look like a precise military heel. Instead, focus on creating a zone of awesome within the radius of your 6-foot leash.
During the early stages of teaching leash manners, it’s normal for the training to involve a lot of repetition. One step, treat, one step, treat – over and over! As your dog becomes more accustomed to this pattern, you can gradually increase the number of steps before giving a treat. Sometimes, surprise your dog with a treat after just a single step. It may feel like you’re constantly feeding treats, but remember that your dog will repeat behaviors that are reinforced. It may take longer than expected, but with consistency, your dog will eventually require fewer treats as he becomes accustomed to proper leash manners.
To make the training process easier, consider starting in a familiar and low-distraction environment, such as your backyard or hallway. By minimizing distractions, you can help your dog focus on the task at hand and increase his chances of success. Gradually increase the difficulty by introducing more challenging environments as your dog becomes more proficient in walking politely on a leash.
You can call it whatever you want!
The cue used to command your dog to walk politely on a leash doesn’t have to be “heel.” The term “heel” originated in the 1800s and typically referred to the behavior of walking closely behind a person, mainly on the left side. This positioning was preferred for right-handed individuals and for military and hunting dogs, as it prevented ejected shells from hitting the dog. When training new behaviors, it’s often best not to immediately name the behavior. Instead, focus on teaching the desired behavior without attaching a specific cue. Once your dog has mastered walking politely on a leash, you can introduce a cue of your choice, such as “heel,” “close,” or “with me.”
Other things to consider
Remember that polite leash walking is unnatural for dogs. While teaching your dog to walk politely on a leash, it’s important to provide ample opportunities for them to experience the world in a more natural way. Allow your dog to engage in “sniffaries,” where he’s free to explore and sniff to his heart’s content. This helps fulfill their natural instincts and provides mental stimulation. You can do this by using a long line in appropriate areas or allowing your dog to walk off-leash in safe environments.
In situations where you need your dog to focus more on getting from Point A to Point B rather than training, consider using a well-fitting front-clip harness. These harnesses discourage pulling by redirecting the dog’s attention when they attempt to pull. They provide more control and make it easier to guide your dog without causing discomfort or harm.
If you’re struggling to teach or maintain your dog’s polite leash-walking skills, remember that you’re not alone. Walking in the outside world can be challenging due to various distractions. Seeking help from a positive-reinforcement trainer can be incredibly beneficial. These trainers specialize in techniques that use rewards and positive reinforcement to teach dogs desired behaviors. They can provide personalized guidance, tips, and tricks to help improve your dog’s leash manners and make your walks more enjoyable for both of you.
By keeping these tips in mind, being patient, and using positive reinforcement, you can teach your dog to walk politely on a leash. Remember to make it a fun and rewarding experience for your dog, and enjoy the journey of training together.