2. Find Heel Position & Walk Nicely


Exercise 2.1 - Teach a Hand Target

In this first exercise of Section 2 we take a look at how we want the dog to walk on a lead and highlight the most common mistakes people make which results in the dog learning to pull hard on the lead.

 

Dogs have a strong natural instinct to pull against anything restraining them, it’s called an opposition reflex and it allows them to free themselves if they get caught up in something like brambles for example.  This is one factor that helps explain why dogs learn to pull so readily but really it is poor handling technique and there are two things most people do:

  • Let the dog walk out in front and hold the lead in a way that keeps tension on the lead allowing the dog to pull the handler forwards.  
  • Follow the dog on this tight lead and let the dog dictate the pace and direction of the walk.

Together with the opposition reflex this almost guarantees the dog will learn to pull hard on the lead and once the dog gets bigger, stronger and more independent this will become a difficult issue.

 

Instead, we want to teach our dogs how to walk nicely on a completely loose lead and let us walk at a comfortable pace and in any direction we choose.  

 

What pups learn first they tend to learn best so once the habit of pulling becomes established it can be very challenging to correct later on so follow Section 2 carefully which explains step-by-step in a series of progressive exercises how to use the ‘Broken Arm’ technique to teach your dog to walk perfectly!

 

Note: if you have an older rescue dog this technique is still appropriate but just be aware that how a dog behaves on the lead is often a reflection of their emotional and mental state as well.  Dogs that are nervous of their environment or over excited will often pull as a consequence and in these cases much patience and gentle exposure to the outside world is needed so they can relax and feel safe.  Exercise 1.1 is particularly useful in this context – you can stop and practice the ‘Up and Down Game’ for a while to regain the dogs attention and sniffing for treats with ‘Find It’ is itself rewarding and relaxing as the dog gets to use its nose – sniffing is very calming.

 

The very first step in the process shown in the second half of the video below is to teach the dog to move towards our open hand.  Trainers call this hand targeting.  It’s very simple, we’re teaching the dog to touch his/her nose to our open hand.

  • Hold a treat under your thumb and present your hand in front of your dogs nose, when his nose touches your hand let him eat the treat and then toss another treat on the floor to reset.
  • Practice on both sides and once you’ve done 10 or so repetitions just present your open hand without the treat and when your dog moves towards your hand and touches it reward with a treat delivered by the other hand.
  • Practice three times a day for 2-3 days before moving on to Exercise 2.2

Note: Exercises in Section 2 are possibly the most valuable in the whole foundation course judging by the amount of enquiries I receive asking for help with pulling on the lead!  Having said that, do realise that all the sections of this course work together to help create the skills we want our pups to learn.  For example, to walk nicely we need the positional awareness taught in section 2 but we also need the attention from section 1, the self control taught by the stay exercises and Sit and Down on cue.

 

This is why this course is structured as it is.  It is split into 8 logical sections and within each section there are the progressive exercises and I am introducing the exercises from different sections to you in the order I have found over the years to be most effective.  At a any one time we will be working on exercises from 3-5 sections during a given week as we bring the various elements and building blocks together into more complex behaviours and skills as the course progresses.

 

It is very tempting, but a mistake therefore to say ‘ah, the issue I have is my dog pulls on the lead so I’ll watch out for Section 2 exercises and do those ones’ or to jump into the course at different points.