By Nick Bulka
It never ceases to amaze me how many people I see being pulled along by their dog while out “walking”. What amazes me more is that most of these people blame their dog for this behavior. If they only realized that the problem is on the other end of the leash.
If your dog pulls on the leash, you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re the “master”. Dogs are smart, and they will take advantage of a situation if you allow them to.
The worst part of this situation is that it only takes a short period of time to teach your dog to heel. Since walking with your dog is something that you’ll be doing every day, from the very beginning, it only makes sense that the “heel” command be among the first that your dog learns.
When your dog obeys the “heel” command, not only does it make it easy on your arms while out on walks, it also helps ensure that Fido is safe and behaved while out in public. It also lets him know that you’re the boss, which is imperative in the human-canine relationship. And in those instances when a cat or other small animal runs out in front of you, it allows you to retain control when your dog wants to follow its instincts to chase the other animal.
For those unfamiliar with basic dog training, the function of the “heel” command is to have your canine companion walk alongside you, rather than in front of you. When a dog heels correctly, the leash remains slack, and Fido matches your pace, not vice-versa.
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself “That sounds great. But I bet it’s a hard thing to teach.” Actually, it’s pretty straightforward, and like most dog training, it usually is taught by combining strong positive reinforcement and short but firm corrections.
Start out by putting your dog on a short leash, and have some small treats available. With the dog by your side, facing in the same direction, hold a treat in your hand. Issue the “heel” command using a firm, yet gentle voice. Proceed to walk forward. If the dog responds by walking along with you, praise him with an enthusiastic “Good Boy” (or Girl), and reward him by giving him the treat. If he doesn’t heel, don’t try to coax him with the treat. Consistency is important, and Fido needs to realize that he’ll get his treat when he displays the correct behavior. Remember to always reward him when the desired action is carried out. If you’re lucky, a few repetitions of this series of actions will be all that’s needed to teach your dog to heel.
With a little patience, this method will work well for many dogs, and will also help you to form a close bond with your pet. However, some dogs are a little difficult, and may be a little harder to train. This does not mean you’ve got a bad dog. It just means you’ll need to work a little harder to get the desired response. In this case, you’ll need to utilize some additional, corrective techniques.
As before, call the animal to your side and position him next to you, again facing the same direction. As you did earlier, voice the “heel” command, and walk forward. The dog will probably not walk with you. Instead, he will likely try to go off on his own. To correct this behavior, apply a firm but short correction on the leash. Never, never, pull your dog. Let the collar return to a slack condition.
Repeat the exercise, and if your dog obeys this time, praise him enthusiatically and reward him with a treat. Fido will quickly learn that to disobey the “heel” command results in a period of discomfort, but walking alongside at your pace gets him a tasty treat and a lot of vocal praise. It may take a few days, but if you are consistent in your training methodology, and reward him accordingly, Fido will soon be responding eagerly to your “heel” commands, and corrections will no longer be required.