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Mastering the Walk [Part 1]: Polite Leash Walking vs Heeling

Dogs Walking On-leash | Vanillapup

Is your dog walking you instead of you walking him? Training your dog polite leash walking and heel walking will help to solve this problem! Written by professional dog trainer Barbara Wright.

Ever found yourself out with your dog feeling like he is walking you instead of you walking him?

Does he act like an out of control toddler, having to sniff everything, with you in tow? Or worse, is he pulling you to wherever he pleases to go, especially when he sees other animals?

Many dog owners have these problems! Teaching your dog to walk on leash without pulling can be one of the most difficult and frustrating things you have to do as a dog owner.

Most dogs are extremely excited when they leave the house, which makes it even more difficult for him to control himself and cooperate with you.

This training series gives you some valuable tips on how to prepare your dog to heel and become a polite walker on-leash!

Before we dive into that, I need to point out the difference between “polite leash walking” and “heel walking”, for you to better understand their purposes.

Polite leash walking vs heel walking

Polite leash walking

Polite Leash Walking Example 1 | Vanillapup

The dog walks on one side of the handler, without ever crossing to the other side, at any speed required to leave the leash loose at all times. The dog sporadically looks at the owner to check in, but he is mostly just relaxed and exploring the world.

Heel walking

Dog Walking to Heel

Heel walking is a bit more like ballroom dancing. The dog is close to the handler’s knee – 10-20cm, traditionally on the left-hand side. His shoulder matches the position of the handler’s leg.

With each step, he moves along with the handler, never going ahead. He also regularly checks in by looking towards the handler’s face. Wasn’t I right to say it’s just like ballroom dancing?

Heel walking requires a constant togetherness between the handler and the dog. It is a command like “sit” and “down” that we teach our dogs.

It is fun for dogs to learn behaviours like ‘heel’ if they are taught with a positive approach. However, heel walking prevents them from exploring and sniffing. Plus, it is very tiring for both parties to walk with this intensity for long periods of time.

Most importantly, the heel behaviour doesn’t require a leash to be involved. If you ask your trained dog to heel while he is off-leash (for example in the dog park or in your house), you would expect him to come to your side and walk at heel position, until released.

Dogs Walking Outside

For most of us, our dog mastering polite leash walking is the ultimate dream. The heel command is very useful for short periods of time while walking through a crowd, walking past another dog, or in any situation when you require complete control of your dog.

Unfortunately, many obedience classes and trainers spend most of the time training the dog to heel, often in an environment without distractions, which is useless if you are trying to prepare your dog for outings in the real world.

Don’t miss the next parts of our “Mastering the Walk” series:

Part 2: How to teach your dog polite leash walking

Part 3: How to teach your dog to heel

Subscribe to be updated when the next part is published.


Photo credit: tofutti break via DIYlovin / CC BY-NC-SA

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Barbara Wright
Founder at Positive Puppies
Barbara Wright is the founder of Positive Puppies, Sydney's premier dog training, walking, and boarding company. She is an honours graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers at San Francisco SPCA with Jean Donaldson.

Barbara is a mother of five - two children, a Border Collie called Ace and two free-flying Cockatiels.
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