Heel & Loose Leash Walking

Walks with Loki have improved so much since learning Heel that I decided to write up some training tips based on our experience.

The idea of heel is to keep your dog immediately to your left (or right) side when you walk, and more importantly, to keep your dog's attention on you. I used to think that this was too restrictive - that a dog's walk shouldn't be so strict. But having tried walks letting Loki sniff and do whatever he wants to the length of our four foot leash and having tried walks in a heel, I have to say I much prefer heel. Loki is so much better behaved and I have so much more control.

I keep Loki on my left side on a very short leash - short, but loose. Clicker in my left hand along with the leash and treat bag on my right. Some training texts would say that I should give treats with my left hand, since the dog is on my left side, but I am so much clumsier using my left-hand.

I usually start the walk with just his name and treat him for paying attention to me. Then I say "Let's Go" (a command that Loki knows) and walk forward. If he's doing well (looking straight ahead or at me and walking forward), then I will click & treat or say "good boy". In the beginning you want to give more treats, but you can transition to less treats and more verbal praise. I think it really helps to give feedback literally every two to three steps. Furthermore, I say "Eh" as negative feedback whenever Loki is doing anything that he's not supposed to be doing (pulling, lagging behind, sniffing the ground, paying attention to something other than me). I think that this part is key and too many trainers fail to mention it. Trainers don't like to ever mention anything negative. The instructor of my puppy class never talked about using a verbal correction in her teaching sessions, but I noticed that she used it when working with a dog. I find the combination of both positive and negative feedback very effective.

Now, I am at the stage where the frequency of my positive feedback varies between every 3 steps to every 50 steps. If we're in a high distraction zone (kids around), I will say Loki's name and treat just for his attention and provide either treats or verbal praise every 2-3 steps. If we're in a low distraction zone, then I can drag it out to 50 steps.

If he is pulling or getting ahead of me, I use the verbal correction, "Eh," and then make a 180 turn into Loki and walk in the opposite direction. Turning into your dog works really well for me. Dogs understand body language so much more than our spoken sounds. If your dog is pulling to be out front, then the dog will have to pass you to be out front again. The moment that he is in the correct position, click & treat, so that your dog knows what position is acceptable and what is not. If he pulls out front again, then make another 180 turn into your dog.

The opposite problem is lagging behind. This tends to be Loki's problem more so than pulling ahead. To correct this, I usually give Loki one or two chances to respond to "Let's Go" before I tug at the leash. Perhaps, he has learned that I give him these chances, so he tends to take advantage and lag behind. I think I will try giving the command "Let's Go", and if he doesn't respond, then give him a verbal correction. Then by the second "Let's Go", I tug at the leash. We'll see. We're still working on this one.

About every ten minutes, I stop and let Loki sniff around for fun. I know that sniffing is what dogs love to do and I'm not about to deprive him of that joy. But sniffing times are separate from walking times. I just stand still, relax, and say "At ease". Now, I'm not sure if he knows what that means yet, but I try to make my body language very relaxed. That way, he can differentiate me standing still for him to sniff (very relaxed) from me standing still at a red light (still alert).

Honestly, I never thought that Loki could be so well-behaved on a walk until I saw it with my own eyes when the instructor of our Puppy Class demonstrated Heel with him.

To sum up what really helped me:
  • Short leash
  • Constant feedback, both positive and negative
  • Use of body language
To correct for pulling behavior, you should make a U-turn and walk in the opposite direction.
There are 2 types of U-turns: away from your dog and into your dog. If your dog is just slightly getting ahead of you, you should turn into your dog 180 degrees. This way, you are cutting your dog off. However, if your dog is too far ahead of you, then you should turn away from your dog 180 degrees. When your dog is too far ahead of you, if you tried to turn into your dog, you'd just turn into the leash.


Halbarad said...

Thanks for this post, it looks like it might work for teaching my puppy how to walk properly without constantly tugging. Very helpful! And Loki is just adorable :)

Shareen said...

I have a 4 month old male Shiba and he is a handful to walk! We live in a city, so everything is a huge distraction to him - construction, tourists ("ohh what a cute dog!"), kids, etc. I will definatly keep your training tips in mind next time we set out. Thanks again!

Noodle said...

Thanks the tips! For some reason, we never taught Kozi heel, either. And the u-turn INTO the dog was something we never did. I'll have to try that. When you make a u-turn, how long do you keep that course? Do you ONLY turn around if he is trying to pull ahead? For example, Kozi pretty much has his spot that he will go in. If I turn around, we'll never get to that spot! LOL. Also, there have been times where I pretty much ended staying in the same spot because I was doing so many u-turns.

Vi said...

Training takes lots of patience. You don't have to only u-turn when the dog is doing something wrong. I'd say, after 5-10 steps, you can resume the correct direction. But, you might end up never getting to where you want to go. So you just have to be patient and do the best you can under the circumstances.

The point of using treats is to reward the dog for doing something right. So hopefully you won't be doing u-turns all day long. As soon as the dog is doing something right, you reward. This can be a matter of just a few seconds of good behavior. You don't need to wait for 5 minutes of good walking before you treat.

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