Heel work also known as lead walking is probably one of the most common training task at hand most dog owners face. For some breed of dog it's even harder than others but any breed can be a challenge if pulling has been learned and over time been reinforced even if accidental.

We recently had a beautiful schnauzer boarding here with us whilst training. His owner requested that he wants his dog to be able to walk on a collar with a loose leash next to him, not a harness or any other tools just his collar. And man this dog could pull! So I thought to share with you what we did with this boy and today he can walk on a collar with or without a lead in position with a loose leash. Remember that lead training will take anything from a few days to a few weeks depending on the dog and time spent on training.

A lead is a tool and tools are great but only if used right and if those tools fail us which at some point it will we need to be able to still continue with the behaviour or at least a good replacement there off.

The most common problem are dogs being jerked and pulled around by us as owners to try and control the beast on the other end of the lead. When in fact that same behaviour that we are trying to change gets worse and anxiety increases on both ends of the lead.

Instead we need to work on what we want and not focus on what we don't want.

So what do we want?

Loose leash walking...

Our criteria would be position. Position means where we want the dog to walk. For most people this is on the left beside them although I believe as long as there is no tension in the lead and the dog is walking forward with you that it's acceptable. For the sake of this news letter we will focus on the position being left beside the owner.

Seeing that we try to implement positive reinforcement as far and much as possible we understand that training a dog depends on reinforcement. We will be using treats for reinforcement. Remember not only is it reinforcement but you are also telling the dog that you like what he is doing now so you could also add the clicker box to this training to be more accurate in timing but it's not a must. For walking you might find that normal dry biscuits might not work as reinforcement, so you could try bite size treats of cheese, biltong, sausage, steak, canned dog food or anything else your dog will work for. For the following steps 1-4 your dog will not be attached to a lead until we reach step 5. Work in an area that is enclosed for safety purposes.

Step: 1 Position

Position your hand with the desired treat next to your left leg with your dogs nose touching your hand. Do not use your right hand, because you are working on position and you do not want your dog leaning in front of you to get to the treat. Walk forward and click and treat for only 1-2 steps at first. So if your dog can stay next to you for 3 steps c/t him at 1 step. If he can stay next to you for 5 steps, c/t him at 3 steps.

Step: 2 Duration or distance

Slowly start to increase when you will click and treat your dog for walking next to you. Say from 3 steps to 7 steps and from 7 to 10 steps etc.

Step: 3 Put the Behaviour on Cue

As you start walking say forward or what ever cue you would like to use. Now to start off in step 1, you did not have a cue but you used your body to coax your dog to walk forward with you. Now just before you start walking say forward and give your first step. If your dog gives the step forward c/t him for that and then again increase in duration or distance.

Step: 4 Testing the Cue

In step 3 you replaced the body signal to walk forward with the verbal cue. So your criteria in step 3 was to establish the cue with the behaviour. In step 4 you will now test your cue. Do not move, instead say forward and once your dog gives the first step, you start walking on the second step. This way you know that your dog is not giving the behaviour off your body language but the actual verbal cue.

Step: 5 Attach the lead

Attach the lead to your waist with a waist belt so that you have both hands free. This way you will not be pulling on the lead. Repeat steps 1-2 with the lead but this time around by making use of the verbal cue.

Side Notes:

Be sure to have your dogs attention and keep his attention. Get his attention back to you as you see he might swerve off to the left or go forward. Keep him with you by talking to him whilst walking at a nice fast walk pace and encourage him for good behaviour. If he does wonder off, stand still and call him to you, but do this if he only moves a step in the other direction so that you don't loose his attention completely. When moving forward again you will reinforce a step or two earlier so that you set your dog up for success. You can also ask him to get back into the heel position and putting it on cue by saying back as he does the behaviour. Start walking only when he is in the right position.

As time passes you will be able to use less and less treats and only reinforce variable to strengthen the behaviour.

This is not the only way to train loose leash walking, it's just another way of approaching it.

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