How to teach a dog how to heel

How to teach a dog to heel? This is essential for any dog owner. 

Actually, let me qualify that. 

Teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash is essential. Strict heeling may or may not be necessary. Here we’ll teach you how to train a dog to walk on a leash, both at heel and just without pulling.

In the video Shiva is walking to heel. But now that he’s grown and basically trained, I don’t insist on that. What I want is no pulling. Other than that I let him walk how he likes. 

How to stop a dog from pulling on the leash is not necessarily easy but all it takes is rock solid consistency on your part.

How to walk a dog? Simple. You just have to be more patient — and more stubborn— than your pup. And dogs can be pretty, well, dogged

Shiva doing some stellar loose leash walking.

How to stop a dog from pulling on leash

First of all, decide exactly what behavior you want from your dog. Do you want him to strictly heel, or is it okay as long as there’s no pulling? Have it clear in your head what you’re aiming to teach. If you’re confused, he’ll be confused.

Loose leash walking

Whenever you’re on leash, any time your dog pulls, stop walking. When he releases tension on the leash, start again. The moment he pulls, stop in your tracks. At first, this will make for a very staccato experience and you will probably not make it far. But once your dog understands the cause and effect, he’ll realize if he wants to move, he needs to play by your rules. In other words, how to walk a pulling dog boils down to: don’t. Only move when he is not pulling.

How to teach your dog to heel

Teaching a dog to heel is a bit different. It’s a bigger ask of your dog, because it requires him to walk right beside you, matching your pace. To teach this you need to be more exciting to your dog than his surrounds. More exciting than any dog you pass, any scent. High value treats should accomplish this. (More on that later.)

Always use positive reinforcement in dog training

Start with your dog sitting in the heel position beside you, on leash. As you step forward, talk to your dog and maintain eye contact, as Shiva is doing in the demonstration. When first starting praise lavishly and treat constantly — with every step almost — keeping your dog motivated and encouraged to maintain engagement with you.

Train away from distractions and as your dog masters walking to heel move your practice sessions progressively closer to things he finds exciting, requiring him to maintain focus on you and keep walking to heel. If it’s too hard, move back to a quieter area for a while so he is succeeding rather than constantly failing. Up the difficulty level again when he’s ready. As with all training, keep it fun and sessions short. A few minutes is enough in the beginning. Break it up with play.

Things that can help 

1. A dog harness with front clip

This is a super useful piece of equipment when mastering how to train a dog on a leash. As opposed to a harness that attaches to the leash between the shoulder blades, a front-attaching harness will veer the dog into you when he pulls. Which makes pulling much less fun. 

2. Leash technique

If your dog stands at the limit of the leash with the line taut and his attention firmly on anything but you, you have two choices. 

You can wait it out, or you can apply a pulsing tension to the leash with your wrist. Do this by flexing your wrist to pull on it, then releasing. Pull, then release. On and on until he gets the message. The idea is to be annoying, so that standing straining on the leash becomes less worth his while. 

The third choice, of course, would be to give in and move forward before your dog gives you the behavior you’re looking for. You don’t want to reward disobedience. If you do, you’ve just taught your dog he will get to move forward if he holds out long enough and strains the leash as much as possible. In other words, you’ve taught him the opposite of what you want him to learn. 

You have to outlast him.

3. High value treats

What counts as high value treats for dogs?

Use anything your dog goes nuts for. 

Many owners use cheese but that’s not food dogs should really be eating. Dog trainers often use sausage meat but that’s highly processed. Same goes for commercially made dog treats. Meat works great and is healthy. But if your dog loves blueberries, they work great as well. 

Your dog’s preferences will likely change over time. The allure of one treat might wear off after a while, so take notice and keep changing it up. It can also work well to have a mix of treats, so that one time he gets something he likes, the next time he gets something he LOVES and the time after he gets his most favorite food ever. It keeps it interesting. 

You want something your dog sees as a delicacy. And something that doesn’t require much chewing. It’s best to put the treats in a treat pouch that you can wear on a belt around your waist, so your hands remain free.

Choke chains and martingale collars

It’s how we did it with our dogs when I was a kid but I don’t recommend choke chains for dogs, or martingale collars for dogs. There are so many other more humane options that work. What are martingale collars for dogs? They’re like half choke chain, half normal collar. They apply a tightening on the dog’s neck but not as extreme as the choking effect of a slip collar for dogs. 

Head harness or head collar for dogs

I don’t recommend a head harness for dogs either — unless they’re problem cases. Consider a gentle leader for dogs that are still misbehaving after spending a good long time trying to teach the skill the gentle way. If you resort to one of these be absolutely certain you’ve put it on the right way and that you know how to use it the right way. Otherwise there is potential to damage your dog’s nose, not to mention make his walk an absolutely miserable experience. 

How much to walk a dog

When your dog is a pup and still growing, you want to keep the walks short. No long jogs on hard concrete. That’s because his bones and joints are still growing, the bone plates not yet formed, and you don’t want to cause injury. In the early days, spend more time playing than walking. 

How much exercise does a dog need everyday? It depends. How often to walk a dog will vary between breeds. Let your dog show you how much he wants. Some days he’ll clearly prefer to rest and other days he’ll be raring to go. Pay attention and be responsive to his needs. 

It also depends whether you have a backyard or a grassy place he can run and romp at home. I live in an apartment with a boxer and — at a bare minimum — we walk for about an hour and a half in the morning and the same at night, with a short walk as a loo break in the middle of the day and last thing at night. For more tips on successful apartment living with large, active dogs, check out these 12 proven strategies I’ve personally used with Shiva. 

In conclusion

Once you master how to walk a dog properly, you will thank yourself every time you leave the house. And every time you pass those owners getting dragged down the street, arms half dislocated by their dogs. It’s worth it. 

If you are experiencing dog behavior problems, it’s worth examining the whole picture of how the dog is managed in the home. When you consider this usually find there are things you can tweak that pay huge dividends.

Check out this article for how to do it: Are you speaking your dog’s language? 

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