Heel Training: Training Your Dog to Walk Nicely on a Leash


dog sitting in front of a letter board sign while wearing glasses

labrador dog sitting in front of a letter board sign


Walking your dog on leash at a heel does not have to be a constant battle.  In fact, with a few simple steps you can teach your dog to stop pulling on the leash and walk nicely at a heel.  Teaching your dog to heel while on the leash will help eliminate the tension of them walking ahead of you. We have found some pointers effective for teaching our dogs to walk on leash without pulling and would like to share them!

Are you walking the dog, or is the dog walking you? For many, this is the hardest nut to crack.  Luckily, there are many training tools that can help you master the walk. The process is very long, and may even take up to a year! With consistency & persistence, even the most distracted pups can learn to move with you. Please note, we are not professionals in any way and we highly recommend that you work with a professional about your particular issues.  We are sharing our experience but this may not work for everyone. 

How do you know if your dog is walking nicely on leash?

Dogs are curious creatures – they love to sniff, they love to look at birds, and they love distractions.  Each time they get sidetracked, they are signaling that you no longer have their attention.  While on walks, you ought to be seen as the your dog’s role model.  Your dog can do their business, sniff a thing or two, but they don’t need to stop and sniff every few minutes.  You (the human) have places to go! Places to be! On the ideal walk, your pup remains focused on you as much as possible.  They walk by your side (on a flat!), and look to you for guidance whenever they hear a loud noise, see a distraction ect. A great goal to work towards is to be able to achieve this all with a handsfree leash!

Choose your training tool for leash training your dog

We tried a few training tools before we found the best one for our needs.  Our tool of choice ended up being the gentle leader which has now transitioned into the martingale collar.  This allowed Calvin to know when he had walked too far without putting any strain on his neck or hurting him.  Please investigate pain free training tools available to decide which you think would be best for your needs.  It is important to note that training tools are just TOOLS, they must be used with some sort of positive reinforcement to ensure that your dog understands what behavior you want from them.  With the gentle leader, the first “correction” we used was just stopping in our tracks every time Calvin got ahead.  Sometimes, we would pull the leash just one quick time (be gentle, don’t hurt!). Now, we use the word “nu uh” to let Calvin know when he has walked too far and he corrects himself.  Be sure to praise your pup when they do the right thing – treats can work great, but for us, Calvin responds a lot better to praise and “yes” to know when he has done something great. Treats actually make him more excited and likely to pull ahead after he has popped one in his mouth.  Lucky for us that keeps the weight off since praise is enough for him.

Practice, practice, practice

There’s no trick – new behaviors take a LONG time to learn especially if your dog has been wired to behave a certain way.  It’ll take a lot of practice to rewire them to walk the way you’d like.  This means endless hours, maybe some tears, and potentially a lot of frustration.  If you are aiming for the ideal walk, you may be looking into almost a year of practice.  Even though Calvin now knows what we expect of him during walks, there are times where we need to remind him that he has gone “too far.” We expect this process to continue for at least a year before he is near-perfect in all situations.

Don’t allow failure

This is the hardest part because it can take FOREVER to get places.  When we committed to fixing Calvin’s walking on leash we began with very short walks to ensure that he didn’t fail.  It once took us a whole hour to walk a few blocks.  Every time that you allow your dog to step in front of you, you are reinforcing that they are allowed to do so.

Don’t let your dog pull on the leash: Walking is non-negotiable

We followed the non-negotiable mentality on the walk.  It was all or nothing and Calvin could not make the decisions on his walks.  To go on a walk, he was expected to walk by our side and check in with us.  After TWO MONTHS of our non-negotiable attitude towards walk and support from our trainers, we have a dog that walks on our side on a flat collar and self corrects if he walks too far ahead.

Start transitioning away from the training tool

Once your dog understands how to walk using the training tool, start transitioning to a martingale collar.  This collar will tighten itself as the dog gets ahead letting him know he has gone too far.  If your dog is having a bad day, stick to the gentle leader so they can have a successful walk.

Pre-empt exciting situations and set your dog up for success

We have transitioned 85% of the time to the martingale/flat collar and the other 15% we use the gentle leader.  The gentle leader is kept for exciting situations such as the beach, waterfront walks, the airport, or if Calvin is having an off day.  As a rule, he has stopped pulling but will sometimes forget if he is in a very stimulating environment.  To not undo any training, if we pre-empt an exciting walk, we use the gentle leader.  Even though we will start with the gentle leader, if he is being calm in the exciting situation, we finish the walk on the flat collar.

Persistence & Patience,
Your Pal Cal

calvin the dog sitting in front of a felt letter board sign

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