Petlvr Mailbag: Modern Methods?

Dear PetLvr Mailbag …

My family is in the market for a puppy and when I went to obedience class with a dog years ago they had me use a 30′ lead and a choker to teach the dog to heel (walk opposite when the dog runs off). Out of concern, is there a more humane way to get this done that you know of? I would appreciate any input.


Out of the Loop

Dear OOTL,

Well, for starters, “heel” and “don’t run off” are two separate behaviors. Heeling is walking by your left leg (or your right leg if you’re left handed) with the dog’s nose even with your leg, and the dog must sit each time you stop. Heeling may be performed on or off leash, but if a leash is used, it’s usually 4′ or 6′.

What you’re talking about is a behavior I call “Be Close,” which is my cue to my dogs that they can wander, but should stay close to me. There is no reason to teach this (or heel, for that matter) using a control collar; it doesn’t help, and actually is likely to make the behavior take longer to learn versus using food or praise rewards.

Start with a good recall. You can teach that from puppyhood just by calling the puppy’s name and giving a treat or attention when it comes toward you. Work up to calling it from across the room, then the other side of the house, then outdoors, etc. Take it slow and remember puppies have short attention spans. When you have a good recall, you can teach “Be Close.”

Keep the 30′ leash, but you don’t need a control collar. A harness or flat nylon collar is fine. Let the dog roam, and as soon as it comes near the end of the leash, call it and then reward it with praise and/or food for coming. Do this every day for a little while, and use a cue (like “be close”) whenever you release the dog to roam on the long leash. After a while, stop putting the leash on, and just give the cue, and call the dog back if it gets farther away than you would like. If you’ve done enough repetition on-leash, and continue to reinforce the distance off-leash, your dog will not wander farther than you’ve set.

For actually heeling, if your dog is a puller, try the Gentle Leader Easy Walk harness. It fastens in front of the chest and when the dog pulls, the harness painlessly turns its body sideways, taking the power out of the pull.

Actually, I could talk about this all day, but why don’t you hear this from the source? Karen Pryor singlehandedly transformed the world of dog training with her book, “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” and her subsequent works on clicker training. Even if you don’t want to do clicker training, “Don’t Shoot the Dog” is a great read– it actually isn’t about clicker training at all, because the clicker was a technique she didn’t use until later. It’s just a book on human and animal behavior that will change your whole outlook on punishment as a behavioral concept. It’s something like $14 at Barnes and Noble, and well worth the investment.

Victoria Stillwell on Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” is also actually really competent. Might be worth picking up the DVD if you’re more of a watcher than a reader.



If you have a pet related question that you would like Jelena Woehr to answer here in our “PetLvr Mailbag” series … send your question to jelena (at) PetLvr (dot) com

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