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Eventually your dogs will learn that only a loose leash gets them where they want to go. In order for the loose leash training to work, everyone who walks the dog must be consistent that pulling on the leash always stops the walk. No matter what the situation, whether going into doggy daycare or going on a morning walk, your dog should only make forward progress if there’s slack in the leash. For the practiced pullers, start walks in low distraction areas, such as inside your house, or in your back or front yard. Once your dog is walking on a loose leash in these familiar spaces, gradually increase the distractions by taking your dog on a walk around the block.
Once your dogs have mastered the loose leash walk, it's time to work on heeling. In the heel position, your dog’s shoulder should be aligned with your leg. Use a clicker or a word to mark when your dog is in the right position; follow up with a tasty treat. Deliver the treat right next to your leg in the area you want the dog walking. Mark and reward the behavior frequently to help your dog understand the concept of staying by your side. It’s not unusual to treat every couple of steps when first training.
If your dog walks out in front of you, do something exciting, such as calling his name and turning in the other direction. As soon as he catches up with you and is in heel position, mark and reward. You may need to use a temporary food lure by your side to get your dog to target your leg area. The lure can then be faded by holding your empty hand as though it still has a treat in it as you continue to mark and reward your dog for proper position.
When your dog is staying reliably in position, add in the word “heel” just as he starts to walk by your side. Practice in low-distraction areas, such as in your home, before taking your dog outside. Teach your dog a release word, such as “free dog,” to let him know he can walk out in front of you again. Over time, randomly vary the amount of steps your dog takes in the heeling position before he is rewarded and released.
Work with your dogs on alternating between walking on a loose leash and heeling until they can each readily perform both. Once both dogs have mastered these behaviors, it’s time to bring them together. Practice loose leash walking and heeling together in a low-distraction area. If one dog is distracted, go back to training and walking them separately. If needed, add the partner dog more gradually by having someone else walk one dog parallel to the dog you are walking but some distance away. As both dogs remain successful in their loose leash walking and heeling, they can gradually be brought closer until they are under control with only one person holding both leashes.
A loose leash can be used for most of the walk to allow both dogs to sniff and explore. The heel should be used when a significant distraction is present, such as an approaching dog or a street crossing. Mix loose leash walking and heeling throughout your walks until it becomes second nature for your dogs.
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