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Oh, how you wish your dog would walk to heel!
He's always pulled on the leash but you didn't think too much about it. That is until you slipped on ice and wrenched your back. Now, not only is the ground treacherous underfoot, but it's as if the dog is trying to pull you over with every step. And if the fear of another fall isn't bad enough, despite his diminutive size a dog with a low center of gravity really hurts a sore back when he pulls. Indeed, it's occurred to you on more than one occasion to wonder how people with really big dogs cope...but there again...they are usually breeds that are easier to train than your little free-spirited pocket rocket.
Walking to heel is a learned skill that every dog, regardless of size, is capable of.
As part of learning to walk to heel, it helps to get inside a dog's mind and understand why he pulls. The majority of dogs pull because of excitement (Hey! Let's get to the park!), although some do pull because they are fearful and want to get back home, or they want to control the pace you're walking at.
Teaching a stubborn dog to heel means resetting those expectations, and realizing that pulling doesn't get him to the park faster but rather slows things up.
To train a stubborn dog, the most important requirements are patience (by the bucket load), time, and consistency. This is so that the dog clearly understands what's expected of him and the consequences should he chose to carry on pulling on the leash.
In addition, you will need these basic supplies:
- A collar and leash
- Training treats
- A treat bag for easy access to the rewards
- A clicker
The Stop and Sit Method
Understand the idea
Here you first teach the dog that when you walk and stop suddenly, he gets a treat if he sits down. Once the dog learns this you then stop walking whenever he starts to surge ahead, so the dog then stops and sits. With the dog watching for opportunities to sit for a reward, he pretty soon by default learns to walk to heel.
Start in a quiet room
The first step is to teach the dog to stop and sit immediately you stop walking. To do this, have a tasty treat to hand. Get the dog's attention on the treat and walk a few steps. Stop. Ignore the dog and wait for him to present you with a sit. Don't tell him what you want, he has to work out that it's 'sit' that gets the treat. He may fool around, walk round you, paw your leg... ignore him. Eventually he will sit, if only to think about what the heck is going on. At this point say "Yes" in an excited voice and give him the reward. Practice.
Go for a short walk
With the dog's newly acquired skill, take him for a short walk. Hold the treat in your hand and after a few steps stop. Wait for the dog to sit, and reward him. Walk another few steps, then stop. When he sits, reward him
Label the action as 'heel'
As the dog cooperates in this stop-start game, while he's walking beside you, label this "heel" in a firm but happy voice. Then stop and when he sits, offer the reward. Start to stretch out the distances you walk before stopping.
Stop for surging
As the dog improves, when you notice him start to surge ahead, immediately stop and wait for him to sit. This halts his forward movement and brings him back under control.
Use the 'heel' command
Now make full use of the 'heel' command by using it on walks. As he gets good at walking to heel, give him occasional rewards while he is walking nicely by your side, in order to reward his great behavior.
The Clicker Training Method
Understand the idea
The clicker uses a distinctive noise to mark the desired behavior (in this case, walking to heel). The dog is also taught to link the click with getting a reward. The idea is that the dog links the action that's clicked with a treat. This is the basis of reward-based training and is a way of encouraging the dog to walk well to heel.
Link click to reward
Scatter a few treats on the ground. As the dog eats each treat, click. Now, offer the dog a small treat and as he takes it, click. Repeat this several times. Then wait until the dog turns away from you and press the clicker. If he turns and looks for a reward, you'll know he is now associating the clicking sound with a reward and you are ready to move onto the next step.
Lure with a treat
Have the dog on a collar and leash in a quiet place with few distractions. Hold a treat in your left hand, just in front of the dog's nose to encourage him to walk forward matching your stride.
Click and reward
Once the dog has taken a few steps forward in the heel position, say "Heel" and quickly click and reward him. Keep repeating this, luring him forward with the treat and clicking when he walks as requested.
Stretch out the rewards
As the dog learns to be attentive, try this training but without a treat in your hand. Command the dog to heel and if he takes a few steps by your side, click and reward. As training progresses, travel further each time before you click and reward.
The Stop and Turn Method
Understand the idea
A dog that fails to walk to heel is usually pulling hard on the leash because he's keen to get to the park. In the dog's mind, pulling is rewarded by getting where he wants to go. The idea behind this method is to teach the dog that pulling only delays arrival, and therefore it's better to walk to heel.
Prepare to go nowhere fast
Chose a time when you're not in a rush. This is because you are going to spend at least 20 minutes going absolutely nowhere as the dog zigzags to-and-fro on the end of the leash.
Stop when the dog pulls
Start on the walk. As soon as the dog pulls on the lead, stop in your tracks. Ask the dog to come to heel. If he does, great! Reward him and start moving forward again. Repeat this each time the dog surges ahead.
If, however, you stop and the dog continues straining on the end of the leash, determined to power you to the park, then a different strategy is required. This time, start walking in the exact opposite direction. Slap your thighs and encourage the dog to follow. As he reaches your heel, say "Heel" and praise him.
Switch and switch again
The dog may take a few steps to your heel and then decide he can speed things up by pulling again. Do exactly what you did before, call the dog, and if he doesn't come to heel, switch direction and walk off. You can expect to-and-fro while staying on the same spot. But eventually, the dog will figure out that when he pulls he gets further from the desired destination, not closer and he'll start to walk to heel.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/30/2017, edited: 01/08/2021