Another great cue to teach your dog is the 'heel' or 'close' cue. Walking well on a leash and walking right next to you are separate leash manner skills. A dog’s walking pace is naturally faster than a person’s, so be aware of how difficult it is for some dogs to modify their pace to suit yours.
Try starting this exercise beside a wall in your home so that your dog is between you and the wall. This will make it easier for your dog to stay close to you.
- Teach your dog to follow a piece of food that you have in your hand. If your dog is not food motivated, use a toy instead.
- Show the food to your dog and then put it in your left or right hand. Hold your hand against the left or right side of your body (whichever is more comfortable) so your dog learns to follow the food in your hand.
- Move forward and encourage her to follow the food, which now acts as a lure.
- Walk for about ten steps and then stop. Praise your dog and reward her with the food. If you want her to sit at this time, either give her the cue word or move into her body while saying, 'stop.' That will teach her to stop and sit at the same time.
- Repeat this exercise several times gradually increasing the number of steps you take.
- Your goal is to show your dog that walking next to you brings good things.
- Repeat this technique until your dog is responding well. Say your dog’s name followed by the cue 'heel' and move off with your hand tapping your side to encourage her to follow.
- Once you have compliance, begin using food intermittently while still praising her. If your dog walks ahead of you, reverse direction and repeat the cue, tapping your thigh again. Praise her warmly.
- Vary the routine by turning left and right or doing a figure eight, saying 'heel' as you turn. The sit when you stop should now be automatic.
- Make sure your dog has mastered heeling indoors before trying it out on the street, where there are many more distractions and it is harder for her to concentrate.
- You should not ask your dog to heel all the time when on a walk, but do reinforce it for practice.
Problem: My dog is pulling on the leash and will not heel.
Solution: Heeling requires a considerable amount of impulse control, especially when a dog is excited to be out on a walk. Reinforce the cue indoors again before taking it outside and build up from walking on a quiet street in your neighborhood to other areas such as parks where there will naturally be more distractions.
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