How to Train Your Dog to Walk Beside You

Medium
3-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to take your dog for a walk and all he does is pull on the leash, circle around you, and do everything besides walk beside you where he belongs. This can lead to your pup not getting the exercise he needs, which at the same time means you aren't getting yours either. Training your dog to walk beside you is one of the easier skills to teach your dog and more importantly, it could save his life.

The only thing that makes this skill challenging for your pup, is that all he wants to do is sniff absolutely everything along the way. He is not likely to be very happy with you keeping him on a leash that prevents him from doing so. However, once he gets used to being by your side, you can both enjoy long, calm, relaxing walks. 

Defining Tasks

In many ways, this is a lot like the "heel" command, but the behavior you want from your pup is not quite as restrictive. Instead of sticking to within a couple of inches of your leg, your pup will have a little more latitude in how much he can move around. While you can give him a little space, you should never let your pup pull on his leash.

Keep in mind that during the time you are training your pup to walk beside you, every walk you take should be considered a training session. At the same time, be sure to make the first few training sessions relatively short until he becomes comfortable walking at your side. Be patient and have plenty of his favorite treats on hand to reward him every time he gets it right. 

Getting Started

In order to train your dog to walk at your side, there are few supplies you need to lay in. Thankfully, other than a few nice days, you don't need much. Here is a short list of things that might come in handy:

  • Collar: A comfortable collar that fits your pup properly.
  • Leash: Use a standard-length leash for these training sessions for maximum control.
  • Treats: Keep a healthy supply handy to reward your pup for doing a good job.
  • A quiet place: Try to pick a quiet place to go for walks as the fewer distractions there are, the faster he will learn.
  • Patience: You need an endless supply of this, you should never yell at your pup for getting things wrong.
  • Time: You need to practice this as often as you can, the more you reinforce the concept the faster he will learn. 

The At My Side Method

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Step
1
Pick a side
If you want your dog to walk by your side, you have to decide which side it will be before you start and stick to it. The left side is traditional, but if you prefer, you can always use the right side.
Step
2
Use a standard leash
For the first stages of training your pup to walk beside you, use a standard-length leash. This will give you more control. Just don't let your pup drag you along and give him a little room to maneuver.
Step
3
Lure him in
Using one of his favorite treats, call your pup to your side using the treat as a lure. When he moves into position, be sure to praise him and give him a treat.
Step
4
Work it on out
Using a healthy supply of treats, keep practicing this, adding in your choice of command. You could use "side" or simply "walkies". In time, it will become second nature for him to step to your side each time you get the leash.
Step
5
Stepping on out
It's now time to go out for the first walk. Grab the leash, give your command, and your pup should step right up. Hook him up and head out for a walk. If he behaves on the walk, give him lots of praise and a treat or two. Keep extending the walks until you can go anywhere with him without the need for any kind of treats.
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The Take Off Method

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Step
1
Taking off
Hook your pup to his leash, call his name, and start walking away briskly without looking back. Your pup should follow you and try to catch up with you on the side you have the leash held. If he does, give him a treat.
Step
2
When he doesn't
If he doesn't come to your side, slow down, call his name, and use a treat to lure him to your side.
Step
3
Move along again
Now that he is in position, start walking again, using your choice of command to bring him to your side.
Step
4
Change directions
Once he seems to be comfortable walking by your side in straight lines, start changing directions, zig-zagging, and making him prove his new skills. This also helps to reinforce the concept that he needs to be by your side at all times.
Step
5
Practice makes perfect
It takes lots of practice to curb your pup's natural desire to wander and sniff at absolutely everything, from the smallest blade of grass to the spot where the last dog to pass by marked his territory.
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The Meet Your Collar Method

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Step
1
Introductions all round
By now, your pup should be used to wearing a collar. If not, spend a few days letting him get used to wearing one before you try to take him for a walk on his leash. Then introduce him to his leash. Clip it on his collar and let him drag it around the house for a little while each day for a few days in a row. Be sure to give him a few treats along the way.
Step
2
Create your cue word
Now it's time for you to choose your command words, try "walkies" or " time for a walk". Give your pup the command each time you attach the leash and give him a treat to reinforce the association between the command and the action.
Step
3
Life on the inside
Now it's time to start walking with him on a leash indoors. This will help him to learn to walk on a leash. Once he is comfortable with this, you can use a treat to lure him to your side. Tap your leg to indicate where you want him, and when he arrives at your side, give him a treat and plenty of praise.
Step
4
Movin' on out
Practice this indoors for a few days and then it's time for you and your pup to take on the outside world. Start out with short walks, and be prepared for him to play up a little at first. It will take him a bit of time to get used to being outside. But, by calling his name and tapping your leg, he should fall back into the routine quickly. Be patient, use lots of praise, and give him lots of treats.
Step
5
Keep working it
Keep practicing with your pup, extending the length of the walks until you can go anywhere for a walk with your pup, knowing he will stay by your side and behave himself. Now go have fun!
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lobo
German Shepherd
6 Months
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Question
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Lobo
German Shepherd
6 Months

We have a back harness, when we go on walks he pulls ahead and quite fast as he gets distracted quite easily. What method would you suggest for training recall and side walking?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gabriela, First, for the heeling on the sidewalk, I would switch to a harness that's front clip, or a no-pull type collar. A back clip harness will actually encourage pulling. Dogs have a natural instinct to pull against something restraining them in that way - like a sleddog pulling a sled. A back clip harness is good for recall and training where pup is working up to off-leash but not helpful with early obedience on leash, like heeling on leash. A front clip harness turns pup's body toward you when they get too far ahead, helping refocus them back on you and not be able to put their weight into pulling you as much. With a front clip harness or no-pull type collar, check out the Turns method for heeling I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel For the recall, check out the article I have linked below. The article starts with methods to motivate pup to want to come to you, then progresses to proofing the come around distractions, using that padded back clip harness and long training leash. The article also includes a section on the Premack Principle which can be practiced when pup is at the point where they are ready for practicing around more distractions and a more advanced Recall. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ If you plan to work up to fully off-leash, advanced work, then check out James Penrith from taketheleaddogtraining on youtube as well. He specializes in high distraction off-leash training, starting with the basics of what I have included above, and working up to distractions. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rodnwy
French Bulldog
1 Year
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Question
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Rodnwy
French Bulldog
1 Year

When we go out for a walk he pulls away on the lead. He desperately wants to go up to things and sniff them and pulls in all different directions to sniff at things. We have tried stopping moving when he pulls; when we do this he stops walking. On command he comes back to us but when we then try and start walking again he goes straight back to pulling on the lead.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jess, I recommend practicing the Turns method from the article I have linked below. I would especially work on the step where as soon as pup starts to move their nose past your leg, you turn directly in front of pup at a ninety degree angle. You have to be fast at this at first for it to work. Often pup will start to learn to hang back a bit and pay better attention to where your body actually is because of the "unpredictable" turns and changes in pace; opposed to right now, pup assumes they know where you are going and doesn't need to pay attention to where you are or stay right with you. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Joey
Pit bull
10 Months
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Joey
Pit bull
10 Months

We adopted Joey only 5 days ago and are having trouble focusing on walks. We are training him to be a psychiatric service dog so he has to focus and stay close. When walking, his focus is everywhere. He will always sit when asked and does not pull the leash, but will not come if called or "close" (walk right beside me) if there is any distraction. Also house-training! I'm not sure how to redirect him outside besides calling him mid-pee/poo and taking him straight outside to finish.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brittny, First, for the walking, check out the Turns method from the article I have linked below. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Check out this heeling video as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo For Come, check out the article I have linked below on teaching Come. Pay special attention to the section on how to use a long training leash to reel pup in, practicing around distractions with that long leash on pup. Start with minimal distractions and slowly add in distractions as you practice and pup is improving. Also, pay attention to the section on using the PreMack Principle, which utilizes the things that distract pup as rewards, so you can actually make those distractions work to your advantage at times. Come: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ For the potty training, I suggest going back to the basics with him for a couple of months and act as if he isn't potty trained at all to stop all accidents from happening so that he will develop a habit of holding it consistently while in the house and wanting to keep your home clean. After a couple of months, if he has been completely accident free, very gradually give him more freedom. I highly recommend crate training pup and temporarily pup should always be either tethered to you with a hands free leash or in the crate while learning, unless you know he has just peed AND pooped and you have eyes on him 100%.. Check out the Crate Training method from the article linked below. Make sure that the crate doesn't have anything absorbent in it - including a soft bed or towel. Check out www.primopads.com if you need a non-absorbent bed for him. Make sure the crate is only big enough for him to turn around, lie down and stand up, and not so big that he can potty in one end and stand in the opposite end to avoid it. Dogs have a natural desire to keep a confined space clean so it needs to be the right size to encourage that natural desire. Use a cleaner that contains enzymes to clean any previous or current accidents - only enzymes will remove the smell and remaining smells encourage the dog to potty in the same location again later. The method I have linked below was written for younger puppies, since your dog is older you can adjust the times and take him potty less frequently. I suggest taking him potty every 2.5- 3 hours when you are home. After 1.5 hours (or less if he has an accident sooner) of freedom out of the crate, return him to the crate while his bladder is filling back up again until it has been 3 hours since his last potty trip. When you have to go off he should be able to hold his bladder in the crate for 5-8 hours - less at first while he is getting used to it and longer once he is accustomed to the crate. Only have him wait that long when you are not home though, take him out about every 3 hours while home. If he hasn't gone poop yet during that half of the day, he needs to be tethered to you or returned to the crate, then taken back outside again in 30-45 minutes if you know he likely needs to go, less frequently if he likely doesn't need to poop. Pooping outside equals more freedom. Less freedom now means more freedom later in life. Crate Training method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside If he is not already used to a crate, expect crying at first. When he cries and you know he doesn't need to go potty yet, ignore the crying. Most dogs will adjust if you are consistent. You can give him a food stuffed hollow chew toy to help him adjust and sprinkle treats into the crate during times of quietness to further encourage quietness. Work on teaching "Quiet" by using the Quiet method from the article linked below. Tell him "Quiet" when he barks and cries. If he gets quiet and stays quiet, you can sprinkle a few pieces of dog food into the crate through the wires calmly, then leave again. Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bear
Sheprador
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bear
Sheprador
6 Months

Bear has absolutely no aggression. She is super sweet, but absolutely manic when she sees people or another dog. She becomes uncontrollable.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, I recommend practicing the Turns method from the article I have linked below somewhere calm like your own backyard. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Second, what type of training tool are you using to walk pup? If you are using a back clip harness I recommend switching to one that clips in the front or something to help with management like a gentle leader or correctly fitted rounded edge prong collar. After pup has learned what Heel means and can do it in a distraction free environment, gradually work up to distractions. You might find the video below helpful after pup has learned heel for helping with the focusing on you. https://youtu.be/6xD0zBqSvXc Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Coco
springador
13 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Coco
springador
13 Months

My dog keeps jumping up on the couch trying to prevent this as this aggravates my wife

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Below are some steps to help with keeping your dog off the couch. 1. Make sure everyone in the house is on the same page, and not letting the dog up onto the couch. Ever. 2.Anytime your dog gets on the furniture, or puts her paws up on the furniture, ask her to get “off”, and lure her off the furniture with a treat or toss a few treats on the ground. You can also reward her with a treat if she happens to jump off. If your dog won’t budge, you may have to help them get down by picking them up or nudging them (you don’t have to push, throw, or shove your dog). 3. Train her to go to her “bed”. Your dog wants to be on the couch to be near you and because it’s super comfortable, so if you aren’t going to let her on the couch, give her a comfortable second option. Put the bed near the couch, and train her to go to it. Start by tossing some treats on the bed or rewarding her for putting her feet on the bed when you point to it. Then move to asking your dog to sit or lay down on the bed, pairing it with “go to bed”. When your dog jumps on the couch, ask her to go to her bed instead. 4. Use a “positive interrupter” to get him off the couch. A positive interrupter is a noise that distracts your dog without scaring or upsetting him. When your dog jumps on the couch, you make a noise, and then when he jumps off, you click and reward. This video by Pam’s Dog Academy does a great job of explaining this concept. 5. Manage your dog when you aren’t home. You don’t want your dog to sneak in and lounge on the couch when you aren’t home, so block off the room, crate your dog, or keep your dog in another room while you aren’t home. 6. Make it impossible for him to get on the couch in the first place. Put chairs on the couch when you aren’t sitting on it, or upside down laundry baskets. There is even something called the Couch Defender that looks like a tunnel that you can put on your couch/chair.

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