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  • Writer's pictureMatt Erlenbsch

Leash walking by Lilith Erlenbusch

Discover the art and pleasure of polite leash walking

Learning to walk on a leash, without pulling, is a difficult skill for a dog to learn. It’s important to start practicing early with the right equipment and plenty of patience. A harness and a long lead is the best equipment to start with. To find the right harness for your dog and adventure please read the blog article here:

Around here in Tahoe we are blessed to have plenty opportunities to let our dogs run off-leash. Therefore many dog owners choose to not put the effort into the training. Practicing leash walks regularly has many positive effects on your dog and his relationship to you. The positive effects in teaching your dog to heel are:

  • Creating a positive bond in the midst of distractions

  • Improving your dogs impulse control and therefore his capacity to come back when called

  • Flexibility to bring your dog to social events and therefore more socialization opportunities

  • Comfort for anxious dogs

You might be surprised by all those positive side effects of a solid HEEL from your dog. While practicing the cue HEEL you yourself can learn a lot about dog training. See more the detailed description on how to teach your dog a HEEL below. A solid HEEL is achieved if your dog walks beside you, or a little behind you and pays attention to your directional changes. This is the perfect situation!

A good leash walk requires your dog to focus on you and keep you in his eye side at all times. This implicates that he needs to divide his attention between you and the rest of the surrounding. Already the first step to more impulse control. An essential behavior to teach your dog is therefore to check in with you, to look at you while walking. This behavior is especially important when your dog is off-leash and when distractions could trigger your dog to run towards them. Do you see here the connection of eye contact and recall?

On leash it is easy to work on this behavior. If your dog has learned to check in with you and walk at your side you will have much more control because you are more connected. Walking on leash you can then practice, not greeting other dogs, or people, which is very important and often overlooked. Without leash, you will likely always fail since your dog will decide according to his impulse. That is either interest in greeting or avoiding greeting.

If a dog is uncomfortable or anxious then it is more likely that your dog either avoids greetings or become reactive. A learned behavior brings comfort and practiced in an uncomfortable situation helps to reduce the unpleasant perception. For example: If you are in a social situation and you feel insecure and If a person asks you a question about something you know really well, then probability Is high that this will make you feel instantly good. Same with dogs.

Below you find a step by step exercise on how to teach your puppy/dog a solid HEEL

Puppy Stage

The first stage of practicing leash walks can start early, during the first couple of months that your puppy spends time with you. Some puppies are sensitive to leashes and will not walk with them. The easiest way to reduce this is through slow introduction and lots of play while leashed. Have the leash loose and do not pull.

Leash Walking Level 1

Your puppy does not know yet how to walk on leash and you should not expect any kind of leash manners. Every puppy is different! Some will stay at your side and dislike the pulling. But others are very driven by their impulses or anxiousness and these puppies seem to pull the most. Simply start by rewarding good leash manners. When your puppy chews on the leash just wait for the moment that he stops, say YES and reward.

Practice these rules while walking on leash with your puppy in the early stage.

  1. Don’t let them pull you!

  2. Stop walking and wait until they either look at you, move towards you or when they loosen the leash. Mark these behaviors with the clicker or YES, and continue walking

  3. Mark and Reinforce the behavior you want them to do, like walking beside you, looking at you. Reinforce frequently in the beginning

  4. Practice changing directions and reward your puppy to follow you.

Key to success

  • don’t be in a hurry when you practice leash. It’s not about the distance you walk but all about the quality.

  • don’t be frustrated!

  • walk in the middle of the street rather than at the side where your puppy finds so many interesting things to smell.

If your puppy has accepted the leash and is walking with you then you can introduce a cue for the behavior. Use one word like HEEL, HERE or whatever you like. But try to not talk in a sentence.

Leash Walking Level 2

Your dog knows the basic rules of walking on leash and is introduced to the three communication tools

Say YES - when your dog walks beside you

(meaning you are doing the right behavior, keep doing this and you get a reward)

Say EH.EH - when your dog starts moving ahead

(meaning this is not right, correct yourself and you can earn a reward)

If your dog pulls - STOP WALKING

(meaning - this is the wrong behavior and we do not walk when you pull)

  • Introduce the cue HEEL and start walking with your dog, mark verbally with YES when your dog is walking beside you.

  • Also mark/YES and treat when your dog looks at you while you walk.

  • If your dog starts going in front of you, or even starts pulling into one directions give him a chance to correct himself and use the eh, eh - but you should keep walking

  • If you see that your dog slows down or stops pulling then mark/YES and treat.

  • If he keeps pulling you must then stop walking - don’t move and wait until the tension on leash losses or until your dog sits.

  • then you can mark/YES the good behavior and continue going. Don’t reinforce this behavior with a treat. The continued walk is a reward in itself.


  • mark and reward frequently especially in the beginning

  • have him on the side of your treat hand. This makes rewarding and walking easier.

  • mark and reward him looking at you

> Work on the “Heel” every day for about 20min, 10 min each.

> Work in an environment with little distractions, in front of your house on the street.

> Make sure to walk in the middle of the street to avoid your dog be distracted by all the smell

Leash Guidelines

a tight leash is uncomfortable, limits mobility and can induce a sense of feeling trapped, and transmits owner anxiety too. Make sure that you keep the leash loose during greetings.

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