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Despite his somewhat intimidating appearance, you know your Doberman is totally soft at heart. True to their nature, he’s loyal, alert, and intelligent. For the most part, he’s also a pleasure to have. When you’re in the house he’s relatively well behaved. However, when you head out the door for a walk then standards start to slip. He simply will not heel and because he’s pretty big and strong, he’s constantly pulling you across the sidewalk when he sees a dog on the horizon or something he wants to sniff.
Training him to 'heel' is essential for your health as well as his. You worry he may pull you into the road one day and cause a traffic accident. You also worry that nobody will be able to walk him when you aren’t around because he’s simply too much to handle.
Training any dog to heel can be challenging. With Dobermans. it can be increasingly difficult. This is a result of their size and strength. The first thing you need to do is take a number of steps to deter him from pulling. You will then need to use obedience commands to keep him walking calmly by your side. The right incentive will also play an important role. Luckily, Dobermans, like most dogs, have a soft spot for all things edible.
If he’s a puppy, the habit should be relatively new and he should be a fast learner. You could see results in just a week. However, if he’s older with years of poor leash behavior under his collar, then you may need a couple of months. Get this training right though, and you can enjoy those relaxing strolls you first pictured when you brought him home.
Before you can start training, you will need to get your hands on a few bits. Because Dobermans are relatively big and strong, using a body harness is a sensible idea. This will increase your control while reducing strain on his neck.
You will also need a short training leash and a generous supply of tasty treats. Alternatively, you can break his favorite food into small pieces. You can train when you are out on your normal daily walk.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and a positive attitude, then work can begin!
The Heel Method
Secure him to a relatively short leash and then head out the door. Keep him on one side of you and hold onto the leash firmly. When he walks ahead of you, you will need to be ready to react.
As soon as he walks ahead and begins to pull, issue a firm ‘heel’ command. Use a clear, but stern voice. You can use any word or phrase you like. Dobermans can learn hundreds of different commands.
As you give the command, stand still and look at him. He will eventually come to a halt and probably stare back at you confused for a while. Then wait for him to return to your side. You may have to wait a little while the first couple of times.
Once he returns to your side, give him a treat and some verbal praise. You can then start walking again.
For this technique to work, you need to use it every time he is out on the leash. That also means that anybody else that walks him does so too. Once he gets the hang of it, you can then gradually phase out the treats.
The U-Turn Method
Remain calm when you secure him to his leash and then head out the door for a walk as you normally would. In this method, you will show him who is in control when he is on a leash. Also, check he has a body harness on.
As soon as he starts to pull, turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. You don’t need to say anything, remain calm and collected throughout.
Make sure you don’t yank him too hard when you pull him around with you. You need to be firm so he knows you mean business, but you don’t want to cause him any injury.
Now simply follow this technique on every walk. It may mean you spend a while walking back and forth to start with, but he will quickly catch on. You will also need to make sure you are consistent. Each time you let him pull without a consequence will only set back the end result.
Never punish him
Although it may be frustrating, it’s important you don’t punish him. If you terrify him then he may become aggressive. You will then have an even more challenging behavior to tackle.
The Treat Lure Method
Head for the door
Secure him to his leash and then head out for your normal walk. However, make sure you have a pocket full of treats with you, or his favorite food. The more the food smells, the more effective it often is. Many Dobermans love cheese, for example.
Set the lure
As soon as you are out the door, hold a treat out at your waist, or his head height. Make sure he can’t get to it, but let him sniff around and take an interest. This will keep him walking at your side and not pulling.
Once you have walked 20 or so yards, hand over the tasty treat. You can also give him some verbal praise. He will soon start associating walking calmly next to you with some mouth-watering rewards.
Increase the distance
Start walking again, but this time walk 30 yards before you hand over a treat. Again, give him some verbal praise. Continue gradually increasing the distance you walk for each time you head out.
Lose the treats
It may take several weeks, but eventually you will be able to do most of your walk with him walking next to you in the hope of a treat. At this point, it will have become habit to heel and behave on his leash. Therefore, you can gradually cut out the treats.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/31/2018, edited: 01/08/2021