Walking nicely on leash is not the same thing as heeling. Heeling is much more
precise and demanding, and—while an interesting behavior to train—is rarely
employed by pet owners on walks. The point of the walk, in fact, is to give the
dog an opportunity to check out smells, a great pleasure for dogs, and this is
impossible if he’s heeling. So walking on leash is a compromise both the owner
and dog can live with. It allows the dog some freedom but not so much that he
is all over the place (meaning switching sides) or pulling, which makes the walk
unpleasant for the owner.
WALKING ON LEASH EXERCISES
Walking on Leash I
1. If you have a toy-crazy dog, use a toy for this exercise. If he’s toy-interested,
buy a new toy and don’t let him see it until you do the exercise. If he’s
quite unmotivated by toys, use a pile of tasty treats. Dinner is also fine
if he’s keen for it.
2. In a quiet room in your house, put your dog on leash (I like a four-foot
leash, but six is fine) and tie him to something so he can see what
3. Show him the toy or handful of treats, then walk about ten feet away
and put it on the floor.
4. Go back to your dog, take the leash, and start walking verrrrry slowly
toward the prize. Hold the end of the leash against your body to keep
the length from changing due to arm movements.
5. Your dog will pull the leash tight toward the prize. This makes you start
over. Say “Too bad” and return to the starting position.
6. Wait until he gives up straining, and then start slowly walking again.
He’ll pull again. Say “Too bad.”
7. Repeat until your dog can make it all the way to the prize without
tightening the leash at all, then do a two-second Leave It and pick up
the toy or treat and let him have it (don’t let him grab it from the
Push on five in a row without one tightening. This exercise will take
many repetitions for most dogs. This is one of those characterbuilding parts of training that I mentioned earlier, so make sure
you’re in the right frame of mind to plod away at it.
1. Repeat Walking on Leash I with a brand-new prize.
2. Be superstrict: if in doubt about whether your dog has tightened the
leash, start over—he’ll actually learn faster if the standard is tough. I
have often told my students to be “thought police”—to say “Too bad”
and start over if the dog is even thinking about tightening the leash.
Push on five in a row without one tightening.
1. Repeat Walking on Leash I with yet another new prize and in a different
2. In spite of these changes, you might see your dog catch on faster—after
just two or three mistakes, he might start consistently doing this right.
Keep track of how many tries it takes before he succeeds at five in a row.
Practice until your dog does five in a row correctly without any
warm-up errors (in other words, until you can put a zero in the
WALKING ON LEASH OUTDOORS
Training your dog to walk on leash outdoors without pulling is much more
difficult than the indoor exercises for one reason: outdoors, you don’t have
control of the rewards. Whereas indoors you can instantly stop and start progress toward the reward to make your point, outdoors there are sights and smells
in all directions, which your dog can “collect” for naughty behavior. For this
reason, I’m a fan of employing equipment to give you relief from pulling outside, to supplement the foundation exercises you’ve just done.
Historically, dog trainers have gravitated toward pain to teach dogs not to
pull. An array of special collars that choke, shock, and dig into the dog’s neck
exist, and their principal market is exasperated dog owners with pulling dogs.
Although I used to use such collars, I no longer do because I am not comfortable with hurting dogs and because evidence has mounted that these collars are
dangerous, even if used as directed.
Luckily, as dog training has gained in sophistication in the last two
decades, much gentler anti-pull equipment has emerged. The two main categories of humane antipulling gear are:
● Halters that the dog wears on his head, like a horse
● Body harnesses that attach at the front of the dog’s chest
Each type comes in a variety of brand names, many of which are available
at pet supply stores. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each type
There is some variation among brands. Browse online to see what each
product looks like on a dog. Then read the specs table above and go to a supply
store to see the products in person. Try some on, if they’ll let you. Purchase the
one you like best and give it a whirl. If you don’t love it, exchange it.
Both head halters and body harnesses can be ornery to fit the first time,
but luckily, you only have to adjust the buckles to your dog once. If you take a
training class or get a private lesson or two, the trainer should be able to help
you fit the device. Fit matters to get the full antipull effect.
Never leave a head halter on a dog when he’s not on a walk. Also, neither
device is a substitute for a flat collar, which your dog should wear all the time
so he’s never without ID tags.
Maintaining and Improving
In this section are instructions for taking the behaviors you’ve trained to
the next level: teaching the dog to discriminate verbal cues—which is
fascinating but fiendishly difficult—getting key behaviors reliable in different contexts—which is more difficult for dogs than most people
think—and making sure you don’t lose what you’ve achieved, meaning
maintaining the training.
● Mixing It Up
Shopping for Verbals
● Taking It on the Road
Transferring Training (New Trainers?)
Training in New Locations
Training with Distractions
● Maintenance of Training
If you complete this section, you’ll reap a number of benefits:
● You will get your most profound firsthand glimpse into two idiosyncrasies about how dogs learn:
1) Even a fairly well-trained, motivated dog is guessing about
what the correct behavior is. Verbal discrimination training
will bring this home.
2) Dogs do not generalize very well. If you change something—a
new location, or a new person issuing cues, for instance—it
can wreak havoc with trained behaviors.
● You will have quality control and more for less: robust behavior
with fewer rewards.