Food and toys are not the only way to reward your dog while teaching him to walk on leash without pulling. You can use the environment itself to reward him. I do this a lot when teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash. Come to think of it, one of the main reasons dogs pull on the leash is because something out there in the environment has caught their attention and they’re in a hurry to get to it! So why not let your dog do what he wants (smell something, pull a bit on the leash . . .) provided he does what you want first (walk next to you without pulling)?

You may ask “why should I allow my dog to pull if that’s exactly what I don’t want him to do?” And my answer is “once your dog realizes you allow him to have freedom, he won’t be so desperate for it, because he’ll learn he doesn’t have to pull in order to interact with the environment”.

At first, you may find yourself having to give your dog more freedom than keeping him in heel position, especially if he’s a very strong puller and very keen to explore the environment. Because it’s paramount that he’s not allowed to pull at all while in “heel” position, make sure you have the physical means to not allow him to pull. Use an anti-pull harness such as the Sense-ation harness, or Easy Walk, or Halti harness, or any other anti-pull harness.

Take about three steps with your dog in heel position, then give him a release cue (free, go, or any other that resonates with you) and allow him to do what he wants, including pulling. Then get him back in heel position, take about five steps and allow him to go free again. Very gradually, increase the amount of steps he has to take in heel position before releasing him. It’s much easier to count your own steps than his!

Some keys points to bear in mind:

1- Pair your “heel” cue with a visual cue such as holding the leash short but loose.

2- Pair your release cue with a visual one such as holding the leash by the handle and allowing your dog the full length of it.

3- While in heel position, never ever allow your dog to pull! Not even lightly. Stop walking the second he pulls and start walking again the second he stops pulling. Remember to say your “heel” cue every time you start walking.

4- When you release your dog to do whatever he wants, make sure he’s not already pulling by the time you give him the release cue. This may seem like common sense, but many people make the mistake of giving their dogs freedom when they’re pulling already. So what should you do? Provided you’re on the 5 step criterion, if your dog takes the 5th step with the leash completely loose, that’s the time to say your release cue and allow him freedom to do what he wants. If he’s pulling on the 5th step, stop walking, wait for him to stop pulling, and try to take another 5 steps in “heel” position.

Some people need recipe-type directions, and this is why I mentioned counting steps. Some people are more intuitive and go with the flow. The main thing is to increase, very gradually, the amount of time your dog has to hold the “heel” position before being released from it.

As he becomes an expert ‘heeler’ you may gradually start giving him more leash length, while in “heel” position, until he holds the position no matter how much leeway he has.

– Alexandra Santos –


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