On a morning walk do you take your dog or is it the other way round? The later scene is quite common on Indian streets and parks, where the owners are constantly dragged by their dogs, irrespective of breed. It’s an amusing sight to watch the master being pulled all over the road by the dog and master trying to hold on to the leash often with both hands and a tense, scared face. A morning walk with such a dog is specially a tense moment for elderly owners. Often they are pulled down flat on the hard road and have to bear the pain of a broken wrist.
On the other end are the dogs which refuse to budge. They cling to the road like a lizard and refuse to walk or remain behind and need to be constantly pulled. Sometimes these dogs are virtually dragged by the master. These are the shy dogs, always scared of new smells, places and sounds.
Firstly both types of dogs need to be trained for the command Heel. That is to walk on the left side of the master on a lose leash and the muzzle of the dog remains in line with the master’s knee. As you walk such a dog, the other owners look at your dog with and awe and wish their pooch could also walk like that!
Well if you want and have the energy and patience you can also teach your dog to Hell, irrespective of his age. However, it is always easy to teach a four month old puppy to heel than a four year old matured dog. But teaching an adult is not impossible though.
The equipment required is a single action choke collar and a nylon webbed leash with a right type of swivel hook at one end. Putting on the choke collar in the right way matters a lot to train a dog to heel. It is expected that as you walk, your dog should walk on your left. It is better to know a fact or two about the choke collars, before proceeding further. If used properly, choke collars are one of the safest equipments to teach a dog to heel. The choke collar must fit properly. A tight collar will be difficult to put on and take off, while if it is too lose it might accidentally slip off the neck, jeopardizing the training. An easy way is to measure the circumference of your dog’s neck and add three inches to that and buy accordingly.
A choke collar is usually made of chrome plated steel link chain with rings at each end. The chain links are suitably rounded for a smooth functioning. To make it usable, drop the chain through one of the rings. This way a guillotine like loop is formed. The ring on which the leash has to be connected is the ‘live ring’. Whereas the other ring through which you just passed the chain is the ‘dead ring’. To put on the collar correctly the ‘live ring’ should be on top of the neck more towards the right side of the dog. This way a slight pull on the leash tightens the collar around dog’s neck and the moment strain on the leash is taken off, the collar becomes lose.
During training sessions, dog learns quickly that tightening of leash means a correction and a lose leash means a reward. Thus soon he learns to enjoy a lose leash. Since dog’s retaining capacity is limited, a constant practice is required to make him fully understand what is wanted of him.
In order to train a dog to heel, it is best to take him to an area with a wall all around. A room is not suitable as it may not have enough space for the dog to move! Initially for the first seven days the area where you train the dog to heel should be preferably free from distractions like children playing or sudden and loud noise or other dogs or animals.
Keep the dog on your left between you and the wall. Make him sit and stay. As in the earlier sessions the command should succeed the name the dog with a gap of about 10 seconds between the two. Calling the name alerts the dog. Unlike ours dog’s mind wanders less, but still he may be distracted by the powerful aroma of the tidbit in your pocket. So you may start with ‘Bozo, Heel’. Precisely with the completion of the word heel, step off with your left foot. If you notice you normally step off with your left foot. While teaching the dog to heel you will have to put the left foot out first always. The reason for which is simple. Dog being on your left notices the movement of the left foot easily with his powerful side vision. As you step off, give a slight tug to the leash. Ninety-nine out of hundred chances are that your pooch will also move.
If he moves smartly even for two three steps, it is sufficient to begin with. Just halt, again make him Sit, Stay and pat his chest and praise him with all the honey in your voice. If he doesn’t and lags behind, give a louder jerk with the leash, that will awaken him from his slumber and he will move.
While learning heel, dogs generally try to pull the master. A loud jerk with a reprimand like no generally sets right the dog and he tries to fall back. But in case he continues to do so, make a sharp right about turn repeating the command and keep walking briskly. Dog has no option but to walk with you. Just walk him a few steps and then halt to praise him. In no time dog learns that if he walks without pulling the leash he gets lots of reward. In other words he learns that he makes the master happy by walking with him on a lose leash.
Yet another problem comes when a dog refuses to budge. May be he sticks close to the ground despite your tug! Such a dog has to be cajoled sweetly to come. Since he has already gone through the training drill, he makes two plus two as four and learns to walk with you. He may take a few days extra to reach that stage.
Patience is the crux of this training. Your dog might pick up the command in the walled area, but once on the road he may again pull ahead. The technique remains the same. If the dog forges ahead, a right about turn sets him right.
As usual go on changing the places for the training sessions. Starting from the quiet least disturbed walled perimeter to a road or a park, makes him perfect. It takes about 15 days for the dog to fully learn the command and further practice makes him a gem of a dog. Once he is trained to heel, the morning walk becomes a pleasure for both of you.
Dogs are such fast learners that they soon learn to heel without leash. In order to train this, after the dog has practiced heel with leash, one fine morning unhook the leash, while the choke collar remains around his neck. To your surprise you will find the dog will heel smartly besides you. Mind you for initial, six months or so practice this only in a confined area. Because if he realises even once that he is off the leash he will bolt and start the game of catch me if you can.