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He’s become a staple part of your life. Life without him would feel strange. Over the years, your dog has joined you on numerous family days out and you’re used to seeing his grinning face when you get up in the morning. However, he isn’t entirely perfect. He might be getting older, but that hasn’t meant he’s any easier to walk. Instead of relaxing and strolling down the sidewalk, he pulls you in every which direction as soon as he sees another dog or person of interest. It wouldn’t be so bad, except despite his age, he’s still pretty strong.
Training him to walk beside you will help make the dog walks the peaceful pastime you first envisaged. It could also prevent him injuring you if he pulls you to the ground, or worse, injuring himself if he leaps into the road.
The good news is, training him to walk calmly beside you is definitely achievable. In some ways, you will have your work cut out because he is older and bad habits are harder to break. However, because he’s older, he will also be slightly less energetic and playful, so he will be more inclined to walk calmly. Training will consist of obedience commands to let him know what you expect of him. You will also need to set some boundaries by taking a number of steps to prevent him pulling.
If he’s still fairly receptive, despite his age, then you may see results in just a couple of weeks. If the habit has been many years in the making and he’s stubborn, then you may need a couple of months. Succeed and it will be the shower that wakes you up in the morning, not your dog dragging you across the road.
Before you can begin training, you will need to collect a few things. A short training leash will be required. You may also want to consider using a body harness. This will reduce strain on his neck, while affording you greater control.
You will also need a generous supply of treats. Alternatively, break his favorite food into small pieces. You don’t need to set aside time for training, you can practice as you go for your daily walk.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and a proactive attitude, then work can start!
The Heel Method
Secure him to a leash as you normally would, then head out the door for your walk. Make sure you have a decent supply of treats with you.
Let him walk as usual, but as soon as he uses up all the leash, stand still. He may be strong, but really try and stand your ground.
As you stop, give a ‘heel’ command in a firm voice. Though "heel" is customary, you can use any word or phrase you like, dogs can learn hundreds of different commands. Once you have given the command, wait for him to come back to your side. He may look up at you confused for a while, but he will eventually catch on.
Once he does return to your side, give him a treat as a reward. You can also give him some verbal praise. Really let him know he’s behaved correctly. This will increase the chance of him repeating the behavior again.
Practice this whenever you walk. So, as soon as he walks ahead, stop, give the command, and wait for him to return to your side before you carry on walking. Over time he will gradually learn to just stay by your side the entire time.
The 180 Method
Secure him to a short leash and then head out for your normal walk. You won’t need any treats for this technique, just stamina and patience.
As soon as he walks ahead and uses up the leash, turn around and pull him in the other direction. You don’t need to say anything or be angry, just calmly pull him in the opposite direction.
While you do need him to follow you, you don’t want to hurt him. Fitting him in a body harness will significantly reduce the strain on his neck when you pull him in the opposite direction.
To start with, you may find you are constantly walking backwards and forward, which will be both time-consuming and irritating. However, he will quickly realize that if he wants to walk in the direction he wants, he will have to walk calmly by your side.
Once he starts getting the hang of it, you can give him some verbal praise as he remains calmly by your side. This combination of positive and negative reinforcement will yield results swiftly.
The Treat Lure Method
Secure him to a leash and then head out for you normal walk. However, as soon as you leave the door, hold a treat in your right hand at his head height. You don’t want him to be able to get to the treat, but make sure he knows something tasty is there.
Walk 20 yards
Walk for 20 yards with your hand tempting him. The treat should keep him walking calmly by your side as he tries to get to it. If he loses interest, opt for a food he loves even more.
Once you’ve completed the 20 yards, hand over the treat and give him some verbal praise. The happier he feels, the more likely he will be to repeat the behavior again. If you use a clicker for training, you can also give a click to signal to him that he’s behaved correctly.
Increase the distance
Now start walking, holding a treat at his head height again. However, this time, walk 30 yards before you hand over the treat. Then gradually increase the distance each time. This will steadily break his old habit and get him used to walking by your side.
Lose the treats
Once he gets the hang of it, which may take many weeks or even months, you can slowly phase out the treats. By this point, he will be able to walk at your side calmly the whole time and he will have forgotten his bad habit.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021