Jump to section
You're not new to owning a Rottweiler, but your previous dog was a puller and this time you're determined not to have history repeating itself. With the previous dog you knew what a soft heart he had, how loving and loyal he was. Which made it even more difficult when out on walks that people crossed to the other side of the street when they saw you both coming.
However, you can appreciate why when a 150lb dog was towing you along the street like a water-skier behind a power-boat. It didn't instill much confidence in those around you that he was under control, and with a dog built like the canine equivalent of a heavy-weight boxing champion, deep down you can't blame them for getting out of the way.
This time you're going to do things differently and train the dog to heel. Besides, if you're honest with yourself, you didn't like being shown up by the dog and all that pulling played havoc with your bad back. Yes, this time things are going to be different and training your new Rottweiler to heel is the order of the day.
Rottweilers are large, potentially intimidating dogs that are much misunderstood by the wider general public. Given the dog's imposing size and strength, it's even more important that he is well-behaved and attentive to his owner. One of the basic commands which he needs to master is walking to heel.
A Rottie walking to his owner's heel and watching for cue commands is a pleasure to walk and helps instill confidence in passers-by.
A big part of training a Rottie to heel is to break the link in his mind between pulling and getting somewhere more quickly. This so-called self-rewarding action is a powerful incentive for the dog, but with a little doggie know-how you can re-educate the dog and have him walk along paying attention to you.
To train a Rottweiler to heel you will need:
- Tasty treats: Keep them small so that he doesn't spend more time chewing than training
- A bag or pouch: To keep the treats easily to hand
- A collar and leash: To use during training
- A distraction-free space in which to train
- A clicker
- Plenty of time and patience
The Stop, Sit, Treat Method
Understand the idea
The beauty of this method is you can start teaching it when the Rottie is still a puppy and you don't even have to use a leash! It's also neat because it teaches the dog to problem solve and work out how to get a treat (by sitting down when you stop walking). This places you in control because when the dog starts to surge ahead, you simply stop, so he sits and waits. When taught correctly the dog quickly learns to walk to heel as the best place to watch your movements.
Start training at home
Take the Rottie into a distraction-free area with enough space for you to walk in a straight line for some distance. A large room or yard work well.
Get the dog's attention
Get the dog's attention with a treat so that he is by your side. Then set off walking slowly, keeping the dog's attention so that he follows you.
Stop and wait for the dog to sit
After a few paces stop and ignore the dog. He will be puzzled as to why you've stopped, but he still wants the treat. You will give him the treat but only when he is sitting. However, he has to work this out for himself so don't tell him to sit. The dog will fool around, perhaps nudging you, probably walking in circles around you. Continue to ignore him. After futile attempts to get your attention he'll sit down to have a think. At this point say "Yes" in an excited voice and give him the treat.
Keep repeating the sequence
Get out another treat and let the dog see it. Start walking again. Once again, the Rottie will dog your steps to keep an eye on that tempting morsel. After a few paces, stop and wait for him to sit, then reward him. Most dogs quickly learn that when they follow you and then sit when you stop, they get a treat. They then voluntarily walk to heel as a way of keeping a close eye on you.
How does this help with heeling?
The practical result is that you can now walk with your dog and if he starts to surge ahead, you simply stop. This cues him to sit, and thus brings him back under control. Then when you start out again, most dogs naturally walk to heel in order to monitor that treat bag.
The Going Nowhere Fast Method
Understand why dogs pull
Pulling on the lead (the opposite of walking to heel!) is what's called a 'self-rewarding' action. This is because when a dog pulls to get to the park, in his mind pulling gets him there faster. Once you understand this, you can break the link between pulling and getting where the dog wants to go, by turning and walking in the opposite direction, thus making it take longer. Once the dog perceives that pulling isn't such a great idea after all, he'll start to walk to heel.
Train when you have plenty of time
The drawback of this method is that at first it will take you a long time to go nowhere at all! Thus, this isn't a method to use when the dog needs a good run ahead of being left all day while you go to work. Instead, chose a time when you aren't under time pressure, so you can stick to your guns and keep changing direction.
Set off on a walk
With the Rottie on a collar and leash, set off on a walk. If he starts to surge ahead say "Uh oh" in a disapproving voice, to let him know this behavior is wrong. If he takes no notice and the leash goes taut, stop in your tracks.
Turn the table
With the dog thwarted and no longer moving forward, call the dog to you. Once he arrives at your side, set off walking in the opposite direction (that is, taking the dog farther away from his desired destination).
The dog may now decide to make the best of this new direction and surge ahead again. You simply stop and repeat the previous actions. This leads to a see-saw to-and-fro walk and you won't make much ground. However, the dog will eventually learn that when he doesn't pull and walks to heel he makes forward progress and that pulling stops this.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Use harsh training aids
Harsh training aids such as shock or prong collars have no place in dog training, even for a big strong dog like a Rottie. These devices work by inflicting pain, which is immoral and inhumane.
Do: Use reward-based training methods
Do use positive encouragement to train your dog to walk to heel. This involves giving praise or rewards when you dog behaves well and does what is asked. This encourages him to repeat the action as he understands it was the correct thing to do and he got a reward.
Do: Praise the dog
Never underestimate the power of praising your dog when he's walking to heel. By telling him how clever he is when he's walking to heel, you help him to feel good about doing the right thing and he'll want to repeat it again.
Do: Consider clicker training
Clicker training is a refinement of reward-based training where you use a 'click' to mark the exact moment when the dog acts correctly. The dog has previously been trained to link the click to a reward, and thus he will try to repeat what made the clicker go off as a means of getting a treat.
Don't: Punish or intimidate the dog
Older training methods rely on harsh physical or verbal treatment of the dog in order to show him who's boss. While a firm hand is required, the days of smacking or hitting a dog (even a large one such as a Rottie) are over. Instead, it's acceptable to give a cue that he's done wrong (such as a sharp "No!") but instead rely on regular training using reward-based methods.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/10/2018, edited: 01/08/2021