dog training, dog behavior, dog health

Dog Training:  Do You Go for a Walk or a Drag?

Taking a small puppy for a walk is a stop and go experience.  They must smell everything, mark everything and will come to a dead stop when they see something they don't understand.  It's best to use a harness for your dog walks rather than to constantly be pulling on the pup's small neck or choking him with a slip collar.

As the dog grows, your choice is to teach the pooch to walk correctly with him or to allow the animal to pull him this way and that.   With small dogs, the worst that happens is that you may be wrapped in the leash again and again as the dog runs around you - but with large breeds you may have a real problem.

The unfortunate result of lack of owner discipline in the leash area is that your dog may be deprived of the pleasure of taking a walk with you.  If every stroll is a contest or a constant frustration, it's not a pleasure for the owner or the animal.

There is a simple method to walk-train your pet.  It works without harsh discipline or constant jerking on the leash and it works quickly for one simple reason - your dog wants to please you and stay with you.  The only downside of this method is that you will look a bit foolish when doing it correctly.  That's a small price to pay for years of pleasant walks with your companion.

Use a slip collar (also referred to as a choke collar) or in the beginning use a snugly fitted halter on smaller animals.  Attach a lead that is 10-15 feet in length.  The first phase of this training can be done in your back yard if you wish but it is best to use a walking route that is not well known to your pet.

With the long lead attached, start walking at a normal pace.  Very quickly an untrained dog will go off to the left or right - or will forge ahead of you.  The moment he does this, make an abrupt turn yourself and walk in the opposite direction with a soft tug on the lead.  It is important to make your move before the animal reaches the end of the leash and is pulling on it.  As you turn, say his name once with a gentle tug.  Don't stop - just keep walking in the opposite direction.

Your pet will run to catch up and the moment he is at your side say the word "heel" sharply in a normal voice.  When he remains at your side for a moment, follow the command "heel" with a "good boy" in your "you're a good dog" voice.  Continue this convoluted walking pattern consistently while your dog is on the leash.  Each time he goes off to the left, you immediately turn and go to the right.  If he goes right, you turn left.

Timing is critical in order for your dog to understand what you want him to do.  Your turns must be made before he reaches the end of the lead and is pulling and you only use the "heel" command when he is right at your side.  No negative commands should be used - only positive reinforcement is necessary.  Most animals will very quickly realize what you are doing.  They figure out that unless they are close to you, they won't know where you are going.

After a few sessions, you might also include the "uh uh" sharply when your dog begins to move away from you.  This sound is preferable to "no" and reinforces the heel command.  It will pull the canine's attention from "that interesting thing over there" and redirect his focus back to you, his leader.

These should be short walks and done a couple times a day if at all possible.  With just a few sessions you will see a great improvement in behavior and reminders to "heel" with just a gentle tug of the leash will soon be enough to keep the dog at your side and result in enjoyable outings for both owner and pet.

There are few animals that do not respond quickly to this training method and they are likely to be high activity, easily distracted breeds.  For this dog, there are harness systems available that limit lunging and pulling behavior.  The pleasure and interest provided in walks is something dogs universally take pleasure.  Training your dog the heel command in a positive way makes going for a walk a pleasure for you both.