I was tempted to write another 'teach your dog to walk with you' article, but really I think what is needed is to flesh this one out a little further. So what I had to say two years ago and some. I love being in a state of constant learning. Challenging old ideas and learning not just new but better methods has been very exciting for me.
So as it is we are likely to call this 'heeling' and/or 'leash manners', it is both and not at all, at the same time. We have been getting more and more into the Force-Free & Higgins Methods of dog training, and frankly it is a direction I have been pointed in for years and didn't realize it.
As a side note: Brad Higgins really doesn't like using the words we have assigned to conventional tasks and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this about it. Those old commands come with a lot of baggage and that baggage can be hard to leave behind. I mean after all the use of 'heel' and other commands has just as much been ingrained into our minds and more importantly how we employ it.
Instead of deleting "Stop your dog from pulling!" despite reeking of disciplinarian style obedience (which wasn't intended and rather unfortunate). I'm keeping it around as a bookend to a past life and way of doing things versus disavowing what I wrote. Rather, I hope to build on it since I have learned so much more in how to put these things together.
I think we can all agree having a dog that knows how to walk nicely with you is right up there with having a dog with a bullet proof recall. It can save your dog's life and on the lighter end of the scale make walking with your dog so much more pleasant.
Allow me to digress a little - over the years we have been using more 'classical conditioning' methods vs old school dog training, also known as 'operant conditioning', as outlined in 'Super Socialization' I recently posted. With Ila we have pushed all the way into this and have achieved some really nice results, really quickly and without any pressure.
One of the best ways to start a dog walking with you, is without a leash at all - did I just hear your mind get blown? Yeah. Start without a leash, just high value treats and a clicker if you like. Find a quiet distraction free environment, so you can be the most interesting thing around. Begin by calmly walking away from the pup and into as wide of a counter clockwise circle the area will reasonably allow for. If you are planning to have your dog "heel" on your left. You may need to pat your thigh a time or two initially, but if you can resist your urge to make noise, call to the dog, etc. He'll figure this game out in a jiffy. Before pup gets to you, wedge a small treat right into the crook of your index and middle finger nice and tight. Keep your hand flat, and palm facing rearward. Pup should come to investigate, when he touches your hand, say yes, or click, then let him take the treat. Keep walking as if nothing happened. Reload your finger pocket, and put your hand back down facing back. He may have wandered off a bit in these steps, but he'll be back to see if there is anything good in your finger notch soon enough... By keeping the pup inside your imaginary circle, you are able to use your body to help block him in a bit, and keep him focused more on you. Be sure to be generous with loading your finger notch and rewarding him for being right there at your side. This is a wonderful game, and soon your pup is likely to come running to your side if he sees your hand held low facing back.
When pup has really gotten the gist of this fantastic walking game, you can take more steps and begin to use fewer treats by shaking it up a bit. Pop, step. Pop, step. Pop, step. Walk for a few steps. Pop. Walk a step. Pop and so on.
Before you ready start weaning him off the goodies. You will want to work in changes of direction. E.g. walk a figure 8, reverse it. Walk squares, etc. You can evolve this game up to whatever level you would like. For example, I used to take Ila to the elementary school next door and use the painted lines on their outdoor multipurpose courts. I'm sure we looked crazy, but she loved the game. For her it was just treats and playing with me. How wonderful is that? So we now have a dog that walks beside us without a leash, but we really aren't ready to go prime time with this until we add in, you guessed it, the leash - but also a 'start' and 'end' queue.
So we have done all of this without the use of any collar of any kind: prong/pinch, e-zapper, or choke. No ridiculous harnesses or any of that nonsense. I'm also hoping you have eased up on the use of the clicker by now, and have transitioned more to your verbal marker, 'yes' in my case - it just makes it some much easier, because you are going to have your hands full of leash management! Yes, this leash stuff is going to get interesting, but it'll be so worth it.
4A) Teach your dog straight line leash pressure (SLLP). Start by having your dog wearing a fairly wide (minimum 1" wide) flat collar and you will have a 4'-6' long 1" wide leather lead clipped to the collar. The leash is to be parallel to the ground and as close to 90-degrees from the dog's neck as possible. With the dog standing by your side, gently nag the lead - just enough pressure to get Fido to take a step on his own with the pressure you introduced. Do not pull the dog in any way! Just a gentle 'nag'. Let him choose to step at your suggestion. With that first step, mark it, 'yes' and reward! Do this from a few different positions. This is super basic, but your dog will earn this quickly. You may choose to start your walking sessions with a few of these.
4B) This step is really just a proofing step as your dog should be tracking you pretty darn good if you did well with the first three steps, and taught your dog what leash pressure means in 4A. Start walking with your dog, leash loose or even slightly dragging the ground. After several steps turn sharply, he should be right where he knows to be. Vary your pace, and do turns - keep it up beat and a game. See this was an easy step.
4C) Teach your dog to follow your left leg. Once you have done this, you'll never not want to... Up until now, pup has just learned that following you is fun, and pays the bills. But now we are dialing in a level of fidelity that will make it even easier to manage him around other dogs, people, crowded places, and so forth. With pup standing by your left side and both of your feet in line, in a comfortable neutral standing position. Have the leash short, but loose when you step off with your right foot, it's okay to be a bit exaggerated at first. If pup steps with your right foot, simply give him a touch of rear SLLP (4A) he should stop immediately with this. Then as you step with the with the left leg (for the first time say 'let's go'), he is likely to follow right along, if so mark it, 'yes' and reward! If not give him some gentle SLLP when you step, when he follows on his own. Mark it, 'yes' and reward! Walk around like the robot child of Frankenstein, take big slow deliberate steps. Be sure to step off with your right foot, and return to standing periodically, then step left. Shake it up a bit and when you stop on your left, be prepared to apply SLLP to keep him from fording ahead. Always mark, and reward for moving or stopping with your left foot movement. Odds are Fido will get this really quickly if you take the time to look foolish stepping around like a crazy person.
4D) Turning left. So now your dog is tracking close to you, and stopping when the left leg is stopped and walking when your left leg is in motion. Turning to the right is super easy, but turning left puts you into the dog... let's avoid that. One if you did the circle method, odds are he tracks you well, if not this will help dial it in. Walk normally and stop walking with your left foot down. At first you will need to exaggerate the movement of your right leg. Take a high-kneed marching step with your right, and cross it to your left swinging it in front of the dog, then walk. As you practice this you can become more natural with your walking at the speed your dog identifies what is going on... Don't worry, looking a bit foolish is a small price to pay for creating a masterful walking/running companion!
4E) The release word! This is great for letting your dog know he can go potty on leash, or go tearing free at a place and time you have determined it was safe to do so. I use 'all done' as taught HERE. Your dog has a start and stop queue - how sweet is that!?
4F) Practice: Yep, go walk your dog! Your dogs knows where to be, and if he gets a little bit out of place you have a gentle tool (SLLP) to help him get into place. He will monitor and pace your left leg, walking or running. Turning left or right. The more you play this game with him the better he will be.
There is no punishment in this method - period. The dog has chosen to walk with you, and has learned that being in 'heel' position works really well for him. When you get to the advanced stage where you are using the leash it is never punitive, it only is used to gently deny him the self-reward of walking when the right foot starts.
If you didn't use the free shaping method I detailed above, you will want to use the Higgins Leader walk detailed below. This method can be used in tandem with free shaping for a dog who has learned to pull.
Your dog does need confidence walking on leash in order to employ this method. So if she is pulling hard at the leash, she is ready. The dog controls the 'pressure' it takes on. The dog really does all of the teaching it needs vs you pressuring the dog into position. Now that Ila's confidence on the leash has made her a bit of a nuisance, her 'leash work & heeling' has moved onto the phase of using Brad Higgins' 'The Walk' method and with really good success at that. So get ready to add another layer of teamwork and trust:
Kat from StandingStone Kennels uses essentially the same method, and she explains the use of the method a little more and maybe a little better. You will see she uses an EasyLead which in comparison to the light line Brad uses, I feel, is slightly less effective. Make your own mind up:
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fourty some years later this is what you get.