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When you first welcomed your German Shepherd into your home, you envisaged a tough but lovable canine friend to cuddle up with on the sofa. Now you realize he’s totally soft at heart and that his menacing exterior is just that, an exterior. However, you also imagined gentle strolls through the countryside. Unfortunately, walks haven’t turned out to be so relaxing. This is because he pulls you in every which direction whenever you are out the house. This would be bearable if he were most dogs, but because he’s a German Shepherd, he’s big and strong.
Therefore, training him to 'heel' is essential, if only for the health of your shoulder. This training could also prevent him charging across a road, causing an accident. Any accidents could result in hefty vet bills or may even claim his life.
Because of the size and power of German Shepherds, training can sometimes prove challenging. Fortunately, there are a number of effective techniques to stamp out any pulling behavior. Training will consist of asserting your control while on walks. It is important he understands you are pack leader. So, you will need to show him this is the case. You will also need to motivate him throughout training by finding the right tasty treat.
If he’s a puppy he should be a fast learner. This means you could see results in just a week or two. However, if this habit has been years in the making then you may need a while longer. It could take a couple of months to fully get a handle on this behavior. Succeed and you won’t have to worry about him bolting as soon as he sees a dog on the horizon. You can return to those relaxing walks you initially dreamed of.
Before you start training, you will need to gather a few bits. Because of his size and strength, you may want to consider using a body harness. This will reduce strain on his neck and increase your control.
You will then need to get your hands on a relatively short leash. A generous supply of treats or his favorite food broken into small chunks will also be required. Training can take place when you are out on your normal walk.
Once you have all the above, just bring patience and a proactive attitude, then work can begin!
The Stop & Heel Method
Quietly secure him to his leash. You don’t want to get him too worked up. This will just make him harder to control. Once secured, head out for your walk as you normally would.
As soon as he walks ahead or begins to pull, issue a firm ‘heel’ command. You can use any word or phrase you like for this command. Just make sure you give it only once. You want him to respond to your instructions first time, every time.
As you give the command, stand still. He will eventually have to stop and then he will probably turn and look up at you, confused. Wait patiently for him to return to your side. It may take a little while, but he will quickly catch on.
When he does return to your side, give him a quick treat and then begin walking again. You can also shower him in verbal praise. Make sure he returns to the same side each time.
It is important you react like this every time he pulls. Each time he is allowed to pull without consequences will only push back the end result. That also means anyone else that walks him needs to follow the same steps until he stops pulling altogether.
The Treat Lure Method
Secure him to a short training leash and then head out the door for your walk as you normally would. Just make sure you have a pocketful of tasty treats with you.
Hold a tasty treat in your hand at your side, close to his head. Make sure he can smell what is in there. The smellier the food, the more effective this method is. Cheese, for example, often works well.
Walk for approximately 10 feet slowly. Make sure you use the treat to keep him walking firmly next to you. Choose a side and make sure he always walks on the same side. You want to get him in a routine.
If he stays by your side for that 10 feet, hand over a tasty treat. You can also give him some verbal praise. If he doesn’t stay close to your side, try only walking 5 feet to start with. Alternatively, try a more tempting treat.
Increase the distance
You now need to gradually increase the distance you make him walk for each time before handing over a treat. Over time this will get him into a habit of walking closely by your side and not pulling. When you can do a whole walk without him pulling, you can cut out the treats altogether.
The U-Turn Method
Because you will need to pull on the leash for this method, securing him to a body harness is advised. Once he is fitted in the harness, attach his leash and then head out for your walk as you normally would.
Have him walking on one side. Watch him closely; you need to be ready to react as soon as he creeps ahead and pulls.
Once he pulls ahead, turn around and walk swiftly in the other direction. Don’t stop or give him any attention, just head in the complete opposite direction. Pull him around with you as you go. This will show him you are in control of the walk. So if he pulls, he will not be able to go in the direction he wants.
You now need to do this each time he pulls. To start with, it will be frustrating. You may find yourself constantly walking backward and forwards. However, he will quickly catch on and you will be able to walk farther and farther without pulling.
Don’t punish him
It is important that you always turn around and pull him gently. You do not want to do him any harm, nor do you want to scare him. So, keep your cool while being firm but in control at all times.
By James Barra
Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021