Loose-Leash Walking and Heeling


New Member
Hello all!
Just wandering what the difference is between heeling and loose leash walking and how you would train for both?


Experienced Member
Loose Leash Walking

Loose leash walking is pretty much as the name suggests. It requires no more than having the dog walking with you without it pulling the leash taut. The dog does not have to be paying attention to you, does not have to be in line with your leg/hip, and can in fact walk slightly in front or behind you, depending on which you prefer.

How I train it, and always have done to great effect is as follows:

1. Decide exactly what you consider a loose leash to be. For me, I don't like my dog's nose to be any further forward that my left foot when it steps out to full stretch. This step is more important that it sounds. How can the dog know where the boundaries are, if you don't have them firmly in mind first?

2. Before you ever set off for a walk, have the dog sit by your side (left side is most common) and get it to look up at you.

3. The second the dog gives you its attention, say "Fido, let's go.", or similar. Do not use the term "heel" if you later want to train heel-work.

4. The split second that the dog walks further in front than you would like, say "ah-ah", "oi", or similar, and immediately do a 180 degrees turn and walk the other way for a few paces (The dog will feel a very short "pop" on his leash as you turn and pull the other way, but that is all that it is. You are not aiming to give the dog a leash correction.) until the dog is in the correct position.

5. Click, reward, and casually turn around again, but without the "ah-ah" or "oi", so you can continue to walk where you were originally going.

I personally don't like to to praise my dog verbally when she's doing well on a loose leash walk, as she is still very young and gets easily excited, which breaks her focus. However, you should decide for yourself what is suitable for your own dog.

I also don't ever stop for my dog to sniff the ground or socialise with other dogs while on leash. Once trained I would suppose it's fine to allow both, but in the early days, I think it's important to just keep the momentum going as much as is humanly possible.

It can be frustrating for a few days as you seem to be forever turning around, and getting funny looks from passers-by, but the way I look at it is, that the looks you will get doing this will be nowhere near as bad as the looks as you will get if you later have a dog that is pulling you down the street on its leash. So, a few days now, or a lifetime later. It's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.

I've never known this method not to work on a dog yet. Another common method given is to just stand still when the dog pulls. The trouble with that is the dog will often be quite happy to sit there too, and then just carry on pulling as soon as you set off. Plus, you want to teach the dog to be on a loose leash as you move, not as you stand still.

It is quite common for people to want to apply a "word" for this, such as "heel" or "walk", or "close". I never have done. I believe the dog is smart enough to realise that the leash itself is the cue. The only sound my dog hears is "ah-ha" if she ventures too far forward. Then she just slows down slightly and falls into place.

If possible, attach the leash to a belt or to your waistband. This will help prevent the natural urge to apply a pull correction on the leash with your hand, when the dog forges forward.

If you use this method consistently, you will notice an incredible difference in your dog's loose leash within a week. But you have to be unforgiving in your demands. The dog will take its lead from you. If you show it's okay to pull ahead "sometimes", then that's what the dog will do.

Heeling is different to loose-leash work primarily in the demands that it places upon the dog. The positioning (in both front/back and side distance) has to be precise, the position of the handlers hands is precise, as is the posture. Even the speed at which the handler walks with the dog has to be practised.

I'm reluctant to write too much about this, as I don't know which country you're in and kennel club rules vary from country to country. For example, here in the UK, dogs walk literally right next to the leg, whereas in the US, I gather points would be deducted for "crowding" if that happened. I also believe the rules are different in terms of hand position for the handler.

I'm also not sure if the dog *has* to be looking up at the handler and paying attention in the US, while heeling.

Before detailing how to train for heeling, I would strongly recommend that you practise getting the dog to an "in" position, which means sitting tight in to your left leg. What I then do, for starters, is just turn around on the spot in 90 degree turns, and encourage the dog to turn with me, but all the while maintaining a close "in" position.

You should do this by luring with food treats to start with. (Hold the treat in your left hand, at waist height to encourage the dog to look upwards throughout.) If your dog only does one successful 90 degree turn in a day, so be it. It's one more than it did yesterday. :) Be generous with the clicker and the treats. Eventually, the dog will turn around with you in full circles, staying tight to your left leg, and looking up at you at all times. Once you have that mastered, you're ready to begin heel-work, and not before, in my opinion. After all, what chance have you got of keeping a dog in position on the move, if you can't do it just turning on a single spot?

For the record, I use the word "In", for the above. So each time I do a turn, I say "In". Eventually, you'll be able to stand in any position, say "in", and your dog will just get in the right position.

Hopefully, someone with experience of US Competitive Obedience rules will see your post, and fill in the blanks.

What I will add is that competitive heel-work is exhausting, for both dog and handler. The dog isn't expected to maintain it for long periods, as it requires such an amount of focus. I personally find it to be the most physically exhausting thing to train too.


Experienced Member
I managed to find a copy of the AKC Obedience regulations this morning. I was too tired to look last night. (Though it has occurred to me that you may not reside in England or the US.) But anyway...

Section 18. Heel Position. The heel position as
defined in these Regulations, applies whether the dog is
sitting, standing, lying down, or moving at heel. The
dog should be at the handler’s left side straight in line
with the direction the handler is facing. The area from
the dog’s head to shoulder is to be in line with the
handler’s left hip. The dog should be close to, but not
crowding, its handler so that the handler has freedom
of motion at all times.

Section 19. Hands. In all exercises where the dog is
required to heel free, one of these options should be
followed: (1) when the handler is in motion, the arms
and hands must move naturally at the sides and must
hang naturally at the sides when stopped or (2) the right
hand and arm must move naturally at the side, while the
left hand must be held against the front of the body,
centered in the area of the waist, with the left forearm
carried against the body.

In either of the above situations, the hands and arms
may be adjusted during the fast portion of an exercise in
order to maintain balance.

There will be a substantial deduction if the hands and
arms are not carried in one of the positions stated above.
In any exercise that requires a dog to sit in front, the
handler’s arms and hands must hang naturally at the
sides until the dog has sat in front. The handler must
receive a substantial deduction for not doing so.
The full AKC Obedience Regulations in PDF format


New Member
Thanks so much collieman. You've provided so much more than i expected....My Golden retriever is 7 yrs old (hes a senior). When we go walking we'll be fine and then suddenly he'll just stop, almost dislocating my arm may i add. Any suggestions to wny he does this and how to discourage it? My arm is gettin quite sore..


Honored Member
Staff member
You might try walking on as though you didn't notice. It'd probably be best to use a relatively long leash, as you wouldn't want him running off somewhere. Watch him closely...does he give any kind of sign at all before he stops? Is something distracting him? Since he is older, is he simply letting you know when he's tired? Is he on a senior diet so that he is physically capable of taking the same length walk he did years ago? Has he always done this, or is this fairly recent?


New Member
I have tried walking on as though was wrong but he still wont move and its physically impossible for me to drag him along as hes so strong! He doesnt give any sign before he stops and i doubt hes tired because he does it shortly after we've started walking!
Come to think of it, it has only been recently that he started. The only way ive been able to coax him to move is to bribe him with a treat, which ensures he walks a couple of steps before stopping again....
any ideas?


New Member
Is he stopping because he is interested in something, like sniffing the air or the ground or looking at something? Or is he stopping maybe because he has a pain in his foot or joints? I would continue to use the treats to encourage him to stay with you, and to continue this if he is stopping just because of distractions. But if he is stopping a lot and it's not because he is being distracted by something, I would question if there is something physically "wrong" like if he is feeling pain and that needs to be addressed instead of trying to train it away.

Collie Man has given some very good information on loose leash walking versus heel. Just thought I would add in case anyone is interested:
- in AKC obedience the dog is not required to look up at the handler, and is not required to show drive or enthusiasm (which may explain why so many dogs at AKC trials heel with such so little drive and enthusiam!), all that is required is to stay in the correct position. In other words, the judge can't give you extra points if your dog DOES show drive/enthusiasm, nor can they deduct points if your dog does NOT show it. But in schutzhund heeling the dog is required to show drive and enthusiasm. I don't know about the rules for heeling in rally or in heeling to music.

- classes for everyday obedience usually teach the heel command too but with much less stringent requirements. They will consider the heel exercise to be something in between the overly-stylized competition heel, and the loose leash walk. For example the dog staying by your left side more or less (so less freedom than a loose leash walk where you might allow the dog to forge ahead slightly) but at the same time not requiring perfect position or constant undivided attention to the handler.

Colie Man makes a good point that to teach loose leash walking you must first decide what YOU consider as loose leash walking and stick to that definition so it does not confuse the dog. If you decide that it means stay by your left side within so many inches, then stick to that. If you decide it means the dog can go all the way out to the end of the leash, then stick to that.

I grappled for some time with what I would define as loose leash walking. eventually I made it the simple rule that whenever he feels tension on the leash, to slow down or stop forward movement. He can do anything, be as far forward or back or to the side as he wants as much the leash allows, just no straining or maintaining constant tension. At first I wanted the rule to be to just stay within 6 feet of me. But then I ran into the problem that sometimes I need to shorten the leash, like in very crowded places, and other times I want to allow him to go further, like if we are out hiking where off-leash is not allowed thus he is on a flexi-leash. So, how is he to know when the leash is about to end and thus to stay back? that must be very confusing to the dog if I often change the length of the leash. Therefore in the end I decided that I would allow him to feel slight momentary tension on the leash and use that as a signal for when he should back off. In other words, OK for him to reach the end of the leash, but not to stay there and strain against it, instead he must back off once he feels the tension. so far this works well for us so I have no complaints. It does mean that I do occasionally feel these little momentary tugs on the leash when he reaches the end, but since he backs off it is not uncomfortable or annoying to me. he also seems to sense when the leash is about to go taut from the slight shifting of the D-ring on his harness, and also uses that as the cue to slow down. Also another rule I have is that by default he is allowed to stop and sniff unless I tell him otherwise.

However, running with me is a different set of rules. Here the default = no stopping to sniff unless I say it's OK. However if he starts to lag behind me rather than being beside or in front of me, then I know he is getting tired and will let him stop if he wants to.


Honored Member
Staff member
I didn't necessarily mean dragging him, but actually leaving him(but not too far, and if you do this, do it in a safe area). |_|_a brings up a very valid point. First rule out any physical problems that may be causing this. If he is not in pain, then you might try just walking off. You should probably use a retractable leash or just drop the leash completely. If he is not refusing to move due to pain, then he has trained you to stop or at least slow down when he decides the walk is over. Luring him back into the walk is good, and I think what you are doing should help him. Also, make sure your walk is fun. If the walk is simply just that---a walk---then he may become bored. Walk in many different places rather than the same place every time, play as much as you both want to. This way he will be looking forward to the walk instead of seeing it as an everyday activity. =) Good luck!

sharon jean

New Member
I would look into the fact at his age, his hips may be hurting him. I'd check with a vet before I forced him to walk any more distance. It is his desire to please you and has been up until recently, so something is going on.
Has he had any bad experiences during a walk lately?
GOd bless you
Sharon E.