7 Tips to Teach a Dog to Heel

Many of you know what it’s like. It’s a beautiful spring day (you’ll have to use your imagination!) The birds are singing, children are playing, people are out for a jog. You decide to enjoy the nice weather like everyone else, and why not bring along your lovable pup! So you go to grab his leash to get ready to head out for a walk.
But as soon as you pick up the leash, your dog knows. He starts to race around the house and jump on you. You struggle to clip the leash on, then once attached, he dashes for the door, nearly throwing you off your feet in the process. Out you go, desperately trying to keep on with your eager dog. He chases a squirrel, drags you across the street to say hello to a friend, and has a new smell to sniff nearly every 2 feet. Suddenly your leisurely walk on a beautiful day is not what you had hoped for.

And you’re not the only one who isn’t enjoying such a walk. Believe it or not, your dog wants structure. Rather than feeling the need to sniff every smell, pee on every tree, evaluate every dog, and protect you from this crazy, over stimulating world, he wants to enjoy himself! So it’s up to you to show him how to do that.

As a dog walker, I know what it’s like to walk such a dog. But I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make our walks much more enjoyable, for both me and the pup. So before you head off to the local pet store to try yet another “no-pull” apparatus, why don’t you try some of these tips first:

Start Calm: The way you start your walk can make a huge difference. Don’t put his leash on or walk outside until he’s sitting quietly. Be patient; if he doesn’t sit immediately, walk away until he calms down. It might take what seems like eternity to actually leave the house, but eventually he’ll learn that he goes nowhere unless he’s calm.

Loose Leash: You always want a loose leash. Resistance will naturally make him pull. Think if someone was facing you, put there hands on your shoulders, and gently pushed. You’re automatically going to push back, right? Same goes with a dog. You pull, he’ll pull. So make sure that leash is loose.

Change Directions: Change directions frequently to teach your dog he should always be paying attention to you. Walk ten steps, then say your dog’s name and turn around. Walk another ten feet and then do it again. Make it sporadic and spontaneous. And remember to always tell your dog you’re changing directions to give him a chance to follow you.

Praise Your Dog: Dogs love to be talked to. But we tend to only talk to our dogs when he’s doing something wrong. If he’s walking nicely on the leash, tell him! Let him know that you’re happy that he’s by your side. And better yet, if you see a distraction up ahead, talk to your dog to direct his attention to you. It will give you better control as you approach the distraction.

Stop if He Pulls: On a walk, your dog clearly wants to keep going. So if he gets too far ahead, simply stop. Then wait for him to turn around, and begin your walk again. Be patient and consistent; it’ll probably take you a long time to get even 20 feet, but once he learns that you won’t move unless he’s by your side, he’ll stop pulling.

You Decide When to Stop: Remember, dogs are gamblers. If they win once, they’ll try again. So if you allow your pup to say hello to another dog, or let your dog stop to sniff a mailbox, he’ll try to do it every time. So teach your dog that those are rewards for good behavior, not something he can do every time. If he’s been walking very nicely by your side for 5 minutes, tell him good boy and then allow him to sniff a tree for a couple minutes, or say hello to a dog. Then you decide when he’s finished, and start your walk again.

Bring Treats: There’s nothing wrong with having a pocket full of treats when you go for a walk! Use them to reward him when he’s walking nicely by your side. Or if you see a distraction up ahead, say your dog’s name, if he looks at you, give him a treat. Continue to do this while you walk past the distraction. He’ll soon learn to look at you rather than a distraction so he can get a tasty treat.

Remember, every dog is different. Some of these tips may work for your dog, and others may not. But be patient in trying each one. In no time, you’ll be able to enjoy those nice spring days (if we ever get any!) with your pup, and you two will have a much better relationship.

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