Four super exercises to reward your dog for walking with you and paying attention while moving!
Walking to heel is a difficult behaviour for puppies to learn and that's why we've been teaching it so progressively.
As it is so complex for the dog to learn it's also a behaviour where the dog needs a certain level of prior training and maturity to be successful. A degree of impulse control in particular is needed (Sit-stay training Exercise 5.3 develops this) and also understanding that the behaviour should be continued until the release cue is given (introduced in Exercise 6.1). I hope you’re starting to get a feel for how all the exercises feed into one another by now!
When folks enrol for a puppy course the first thing I do is send them some general instructions for helping their dog not to pull on the lead and with a very young puppy up until they're about five months old all you can really hope for is that they learn that they can’t go forward when the lead is tight. If you stick to this simple rule you won’t go far wrong.
Now we have some training under our belt though we can start to up the challenge a little with our walking to heel behaviour and this week we’re going to add the verbal ‘Heel’ cue. It’s important that when we do this we set the dog up to succeed and help the dog understand that the walk nicely behaviour has a beginning and an end and we need to be consistent with this to get the results we want.
To attempt this exercise you should have already worked through the other Exercises in Section 2.
Our sequence of behaviour for this exercise is:
It’s also important to realise that how you hold the lead does make a big difference. If you remember back to Exercise 2.1 we used the term ‘the broken arm method’ so called because we only hold the lead in the hand furthest away from the dog and we imagine that we couldn’t bear to have any pressure on that arm at all so we maintain a loose lead at all times. If you get into the bad habit of having the hand nearest the dog trying to keep the dog in position by applying tension on the lead you will easily create a pulling dog unfortunately.
So, keep it simple – if your dog is on your left, hold the lead in your right hand - arm bent at the elbow and vice versa if the dog is on your right – the short video below shows this way of setting up and the exercise itself of adding the cue word ‘Heel’.
Practice with food on the nose for a week before gradually going for more steps and reducing the amount of food used. Teaching this carefully and properly is the key to success!
I love this exercise for so many reasons, not least because it’s something that you can easily do at home in the warm!
It’s called “Heel, 1, 2, 3, Treat!” and is exactly what it says on the tin.
This exercise builds directly on Exercise 2.5 we did last week where we introduced the verbal cue “Heel” in our loose lead walking practice.
The exercise is really simple and in it you take three steps and count out loud to your dog as you do so and then say ‘Treat’ as you stop and ask the dog to sit.
The first behaviour I use in this exercise is always a Sit as it really helps to develop an Automatic Sit when you stop moving but as you progress you can practice any behaviour at the end, it could be a Down, a Spin, whatever.
This exercise is wonderful to get your dog working in a rhythmic pattern of behaviour so it becomes very predictable for the dog. He/she knows what to expect next so this is a great exercise for any sort of building focus, attention and improving lead behaviour.
As we move on from Exercise 2.5 this exercise very easily allows us to start extending the duration of the 'Heel' behaviour before we finally release the dog with our release cue at the end.
Practice in an easy location indoors to start off with and then progress gradually to the garden, outside your front door and on your driveway before moving to more challenging environments.
Keep in Mind
It takes lots of practice to obtain good lead walking skills, so commit to not moving forward if your dog is pulling and practice, practice, practice! Don’t worry about your dog not getting his daily walk for exercise. You will find that you will be taking just as many steps teaching him how to move and turn with you as you would going around the block. You will also get the extra bonus of your dog getting lots of mental exercise during your training and your dog will be much more tired as a consequence.
Problem Solving: My dog does fine in the house or the garden, but once we get off my property he pulls in front.
Many dogs lose their minds the second they walk into the big wide world - and unfortunately when your dog is that aroused, not much learning can take place. This is an issue of the behaviour not being strong enough before exposing the dog a distracting environment.
Rather than trying to go for a walk after such great success in the garden, commit to training this exercise just outside the front door. Go back to standing with your dog on-lead and reinforcing for Eye Contact. Don’t worry about going for the walk, just go back to building the foundation of being able to pay attention to you in that one spot.
Once you are getting more focus from your dog, take a break, then come back to that spot and train again. Raise your criteria slowly. If you train as though he has never done this exercise before and train him well before moving from that spot you should see marked progress!