This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page Eleven
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Walking the Dog

♪ ♫ Walking the dog
Just a-walking the dog
If you don't know how to do it
I'll show you how to walk the dog ♪ ♫

Lyric from the song: Walking the Dog, by Rufus Thomas

This page has to do with the science of walking your dog.

Assessing Your Need to Worry About How to Walk Your Dog

When I speak here of walking your dog, I am referring to the act of keeping the animal safe and under control as you travel on foot together through public places, as opposed to the simple act of taking him out to relieve himself.

Walking your dog can range from being the easiest thing to being the most difficult thing you ever teach the animal, depending on what you mean when you talk about walking him.

Walking Around with a Dog Hooked to the End of Your Leash

If you have a little dog or a larger dog who is of a cooperative nature, what is there to say about walking him? Just make sure that you have the right kind of halter or collar, and a lead that is appropriate to your purpose. After that, all you have to do is to connect one to the other and then, walk - and that's it. What is there to know?

If your dog is small enough, you'll have no problem moving him around as necessary, and if he is large and, in general, on the same page that you are, then, other than the dog, all you need is a collar, a leash, and a comfortable pair of shoes.

Dealing With a Dog that Pulls Against the Lead

There are few things in all of dogdom that are more exasperating than a determined animal who pulls against the lead. It can wear out a human in a hurry, and it can doom a powerful dog to a highly restricted, walkless life, locked forever in the backyard.

The average canine's capacity for exercise so far exceeds the exercise capacity of the typical human that many dogs experience a good measure of frustration during their daily walks, because they would much rather be loping along than strolling.

To compensate for the fact that a slow walk is so physically unsatisfying, many dogs will begin to pull against the lead, thereby, dragging their humans along behind them, in much the same way that a horse or mule might pull along a trailing wagon. From the dog's point of view, that accomplishes a couple things. It lets him go faster and it transforms the event into a more physically challenging experience, since he is now dragging a heavy object with a sore arm along behind him.

Pulling makes a walk around the block more fun for many dogs, but it altogether spoils the experience for any human sort being drug along behind. A dog that pulls is destined for a life of little exercise, shut behind closed gates, which is an especially sad thing if you take into account that it is the dog's love of exercise that makes him begin pulling against the lead in the first place.

If Your Dog Begins to Pull Against the Lead

If you remember the golden rule of dog training, you'll realize that the very first time that your dog begins to pull against the lead, you must somehow make him stop. If you cannot somehow immediately achieve that, then, you must bring the walk to a sudden conclusion, because the more time your dog spends pulling, the more difficult it will be for you to get him to stop, and the closer your dog will be to forming a habit that will spoil your every outing together for the entirety of his lifespan.

After bringing the walk to an abrupt halt, your next move should be to get your dog properly fitted with a prong collar.

As long as your dog is wearing a prong collar, which is also called a pinch collar, your pulling problem should be solved. However, your dog's proclivity for pulling is likely to reemerge when that special collar is removed, and it could be that the pinch collar cannot be employed with your dog for some reason in any case. If so, then, you may need to use a do this - not that, procedure on your pulling canine.

The prong collar can be a bit tricky. First, you need to learn how to assemble the device, and you have to make sure that you get it properly fitted and up high on the right part of your dog's neck. You also have to learn how to pop the lead, so the device will produce the desired pinching effect. But you'll quickly get the hang of it, and a prong collar, will take you a long way toward solving your pulling problem.

The Vocal Do This - Not That, Procedure in Review

Remember, the idea of a do this - not that, procedure is to reinforce your dog's desirable behavior by calling him a good dog, using your gladdening voice, for as long as he is doing what he should. In this case, that means that as long as your dog is not pulling, you will praise him in the appropriate tone of voice.

However, the instant that your dog begins to do the wrong thing, by pulling against the lead, you should immediately switch over and begin punishing him by telling him no, using your unsettling voice.

Combining the Two

For maximum effect, you can combine your verbal do this - not that, procedure with popping the lead.

As long as your prone-to-pull dog is not pulling, you should tell him he is a good dog, and reward him with other words of encouragement using your gladdening voice. However, the instant he starts to pull ahead, you should switch over to your unsettling voice and exclaim no just an instant before you pop the lead.

The instant that he falls back and stops pulling, as he is sure to do in response to your punishing pop, switch back to your gladdening voice and act as though your are so pleased by his brilliant decision to stop pulling that you can barely contain you delight. Not with the smugness of one who has prevailed against an advesary, but with the warmth of one who admires a clever companion who just made a very sound decision.

You should always exclaim no just before you pop the lead, just the same as you would an instant before you apply a nose chuck, or dispense spray mist.

Your Dog Will Quickly Come Around

Your dog should soon abandon pulling altogether. However, in the meantime, you should make it a point to never engage in a walk-around-the-block tug-of-war. The more you do that the more your dog will learn to love it and the more he will believe that that is how he is supposed to comport himself on a walk. Therefore, rather than struggle against him, it is always better to employ a prong collar, and then, combine lead popping with the use of your unsettling voice. That way your procedure will yield get results, as opposed to your arms slowly developing great muscle tone.

However, you may find that the old habit reemerges when you walk your dog wearing some other kind of collar. If that happens, just switch back to the prong collar for a few more weeks or months before you again attempt to switch over to a different variety of collar.

Before long, you should find that you are able to control your dog's pulling with your voice alone, and the day should eventually come when no pulling-related corrections of any sort will ever be necessary.

The Process of Walking in the Heel Position

Walking your dog on command in the Heel position is actually a four step process:

  1. For reasons having to do with practicality more than anything else, it is customary to begin the sequence of walking a dog at Heel by commanding the animal to Come to you.
  2. After your dog has obeyed your command to Come, he will, then, be seated a few feet away, facing you.

  3. Next, issue your first command for your dog to Heel.
  4. Your dog will respond to your first command to Heel by rising to his feet, and circling around behind you in a clockwise motion, so that he will end up sitting close by you left side, facing the same direction as you.

  5. With your dog now sitting by your left side, you should once again issue the command to Heel, just an instant before you begin walking, by stepping forward with your left foot first.
  6. Your dog will respond by rising to his feet, and walking close by your side for as long as you walk, always keeping his nose aligned with the plumb line of the left side of your body.

  7. When you stop walking.
  8. When you stop walking, your dog should immediately stop, sit down next to you, and remain seated until he receives further instructions.

Teaching Your Dog to Walk in the Heel Position

Teaching your dog to Heel properly is a complex undertaking, simply because there are so many components that need to be executed so exactly. Especially if your goal is to enter your dog in obedience competitions. In that instance, the various components of the heel maneuver must be executed in a precise manner, indeed.

Obviously, the first step of walking your dog at Heel is to command the animal to come to you.

Teaching your dog to respond to the second step of the procedure (see the four-step process in the previous section) is very much like the method you used to teach your dog to Come to you on command. You simply need to fasten a length of cord to your dog's collar. Then, with the animal in the requisite face-to-face sitting posture, command him to Heel, just an instant before you use the cord to tug him around you in a clockwise direction, before bringing him along next to you on your left side. All the while, as you are tugging your dog around into position your should reassure him that he is doing the right thing by calling him a good dog in your gladdening voice.

Once you have your dog around on your left side, immediately command him to Sit and wait for compliance before rewarding him handsomely for a job well done.

Always make it a point to command your dog to Sit the instant that he gets into position on your left side. Once you reach the point that you know that your dog definitely knows that he is supposed to sit after wheeling around to your left side, you should begin to slowly fade out your command to sit using fading procedure #2, in which you gradually eliminate the command by speaking the words more and more softly over a period of several weeks until they become altogether inaudible. If you do that, you will find that your dog will soon sit on his own accord as soon as he arrives in position. Should he fail to do so - remind him.

If you say the words and run through that sequence of events enough times, and you succeed in making the process sufficiently rewarding for your dog, he will eventually begin to respond to your command to Heel by abandoning the face-to-face posture, getting up on his own accord, and circling around before coming to rest in a stting posture at your left side.

Teaching a Heeling Dog to Get Up and Get Going

There are two components to the third step of walking your dog at Heel. It is easy enough to teach your dog the first part of the third step, because it consists simply of getting the animal to stand up and walk with you at the right moment.

Fortunately, if you call his name and tell your dog to Heel in a commanding tone of voice and then, take an exaggerated step forward as you set off on a brisk walk, he will just naturally tend to get up and walk with you. He won't know what Heel means at that point, but just the circumstance and the context within which you say the words should be enough to make him get up and walk with you. That scenario is all but certain to take place the first time you give it a try.

All you have to do from there is to tell him that he is a good dog as you continue walking, and that should be enough to teach your dog to get up and walk with you when he hears you give the second command to Heel.

But now, the second part of the third step, the part where you teach your dog to walk with his nose aligned with the plumb line of your body, well, that takes a bit of finesse.

Teaching a Heeling Dog to Keep His Nose On the Plumb Line

Imagine someone looking at you from the side as they visualize an imaginary line drawn from the center of your shoulder, straight down through the center of your hip and on down into the ground, so that even as you walk forward, that imaginary line always extends vertically, straight up and down. That is what we call the plumb line

When commanded to Heel, a well trained dog will always position his head so that it is directly within the plumb line of his handler's body. Not and inch ahead and not and inch behind.

Here is the rule for teaching your dog to heel: Every instant that your dog is at heel, he should either be in position or he should be punished. Although, as always, we are using the word "punishment" to denote only a mildly unpleasant experience.

The thing you have to remember is this. When it comes to keeping his nose on the plumb line, your dog is only learning to do it right while he is doing it right. The entire time that he is doing it wrong, he is learning to do it wrong. Therefore, every instant that your dog spends walking with his nose a bit too far forward or a bit too far back is time spent learning to do something that is incompatible with the thing that you are trying to teach him.

That means that from the time that you command your dog to Heel until you give him the release, you must strive to keep the animal in perfect position for as much of the time as possible.

In many ways, it is best to begin teaching your dog to Heel on the plumb line soon after he ready to leave his mother. Really, if the animal is physically capable of keeping up in an effortless fashion and his attention span has developed enough to let him focus properly, then, you can, indeed, begin teaching him to heel when he is that young, providing that you take care to work with him in an age appropriate way.

The big advantage to working with pups that young is that they are so small that you can easily keep them in the proper position just by changing your own pace. With an adult dog, of course, the animal must adjust his pace to yours, but when you are teaching a tiny pup how it is done, it is just the opposite.

The way it works with a little pup is that you command him to Heel, then, you adjust your pace so that his nose is always on your plumb line. You speed up or slow down as necessary to keep him in the sweet spot.

At first thought it may seem that your dog is not going to learn anything from being in the proper position if you have to achieve that artificially, by speeding up or slowing down your own pace, but the fact is that - he will.

The more time your dog spends in the sweet spot of the plumb line, the more he will come to believe that after he hears the command to Heel, that the sweet spot is just exactly where he is supposed to be. But of course, at that age, when his cognitive abilities are still so limited, you have to repeat the word heel often enough for the little guy to have a chance to associate that word with being in that position.

Spending time in the sweet spot during his critical stage of development will cause your dog to develop a powerful propensity to master that skill in adulthood. Therefore, even if you have to make the adjustments to keep that tiny pup in position, it is likely to pay dividends in the form of a flawless performance when he grows up.

It is just in the nature of the beast. The more time your dog spends doing things a certain way the more he will come to believe that that is how those things should be done. Therefore, the more your dog spends in the plumb line, especially during his critical stage, the more likely he is to be true to form in adulthood, when you command him into the heel position.

Using Reward and Punishment to Keep Your Dog in Position

Beyond simply keeping your dog in the sweet spot as much as possible by adjusting your own position, the single best thing that you can do is to have your dog fitted with a prong collar. Then, when he is in proper position, you can reinforce him by telling tell him that he is a good dog in your gladdening voice as you allow the collar to go slack.

You should, then, alternate that with popping the lead as you tell your dog no using your unsettling voice.

You should never use a halti or any other kind of collar that draws your dogs head over to the side for the purpose of keeping your dog from surging forward, because over time, using those collars in that way can cause neck injuries.

Teaching Your Dog to Walk Off-Lead In the Heel Position

There really is nothing to teaching your dog to walk perfectly off-lead in the heel position beyond what is required to teach him to walk properly on-lead. Just keep working with the animal with the lead attached. At some point, after a period of some months, you will notice that the lead is slack at all times, which is a pretty good indication that the device has become altogether superfluous.

At that point, at least from a practical standpoint, you should be able to command your dog into position and get a perfect response without involving the lead at all.

Walking Belligerent Dogs in Public Places

Should people be permitted to keep belligerent dogs? That's a good question. Should people be allowed to take belligerent dogs out in public? That is extremely questionable? However, one thing is very clear. If you are going to take an aggressive dog to a public place, it is absolutely essential that the animal be fitted with one of the dominant dog collars that have been designed especially for controlling bellicose canines.

With the dominant collar, your large, aggressive dog will be better controlled. The community will be safer, and your stress level will be greatly reduced.

This marks the end of the command training section of the advanced workshop

Go to the command training index

This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network