Heeling


In my discussions with dog trainers, I've been hearing basically two schools of thought on the subject of heeling. The first is the yank the leash firm NO! correction approach. The second is the "politically correct positive reinforcement don't hurt their self-esteem" method that very often uses treats as motivation. Both methods seem to have their pros and cons. Which one would you suggest?


There is a third school: the "negative environmental reinforcement" school. Basically, the environment causes the negative consequences of not heeling, not the owner. The dog learns that the only comfortable place to walk is right next to the owner and it must pay attention. The idea is to walk and ignore the dog, forcing the dog to focus on you, not the other way round. Most people just want a dog not to pull or drag behind. If the dog learns that it is uncomfortable to walk anywhere else than next to the owner (and any negative reinforcement comes from external sources), then that is where it walks.

The idea is simple. Place one end of the leash in your right hand (assuming a left-side heel) and with your other, give the dog some slack (depending on how well it's doing, how young it is, etc.) by holding the leash against your left leg with the palm of your hand, part-way down the leash. This keeps YOU from yanking the leash. Then just start walking. If the dog drags behind, don't slow down. Force the dog to keep up with you. If it doesn't, it's awfully uncomfortable walking slow back there. If it speeds ahead or off in another direction, then do a 180 degree turn (or any other angle you prefer) and continue to walk in the other direction. You look awfully stupid doing this and in the early stages, you never seem to get anywhere other than 50 feet in each direction. Neighbors will laugh, point, and stare initially but after a week or two, they'll all wonder in amazement at a dog that walks nicely next to you.

No negative reinforcement from you, no praise necessary (though you can to some degree) - it's just you walking. The dog must pay attention to you because you could change direction at any time. Get the dog to focus on you and you won't have the dragging/pulling/wandering off problems. This isn't a perfect obedience heel but it works wonders for most people. Negative reinforcement from you (leash popping and "NO!") and the dog begins to resent walks with you. Too much postive reinforcement and the dog begins to expect it in order for it to "perform" the heel. As I said, most people just want a dog that walks next to them.

Just another school of thought.

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