When to Ask Your Dog to Heel — and When to Let Him Explore
While it’s important to allow your dog some freedom on his walks, it’s also important to impose some structure. Don’t allow walks to become a free-for-all where your dog jerks and tugs you along like a balloon on a string. For dogs who need extra guidance during walks, management tools like front clip harnesses and head halterscan help decrease pulling behavior and provide increased control in a gentle fashion.
No matter what walking tool you use, don’t let your dog drag you along behind him. It’s important that you teach him that only a loose leash, never a tight leash, earns forward movement.
While a loose leash allows your dog to make the most of his walks, it is crucial that he also learn to heel on command. A reliable heel makes it easier for you and your dog to navigate in smaller spaces, like the veterinarian’s waiting room, and it gives you more control over your dog in crowded or high-distraction areas.
Teaching your dog to heel also provides a measure of safety, both for him and for anyone you may encounter on your walks. Ask your dog to heel when you pass another person or dog or encounter a jogger, biker, skateboarder or stroller. Having your dog close to you in this situation allows you to manage interactions and move him away, particularly if he is uncertain, fearful or reactive.
In most cases, you can direct your dog from a loose leash walk into a heel in response to specific distractions or challenges, such as crossing the street or passing another walker. Once the distraction has passed, rewardyour dog by releasing him to walk on the loose leash again. Additionally, it’s possible to increase your dog’s natural desire to be near you during the loose leash walk by paying attention to and rewarding him when he naturally draws near or checks in with eye contact.
Walk your way to a better outing with your pup by doing what works for you both and interchangeably moving from the loose leash to heel as desired for practice or as needed for the situation. Happy tails and trails to you on your walking journeys together!