Loose Lead Skill Training


This is an ideal image that we would all like to strive for when we think of heel work.

The following stages will set you on your path way to achieving this

We are constantly revisiting Stages 1-4 with our own dogs, mainly to reinforce the understanding of the foundations.

Never be in a hurry to progress to more advanced skills until you have fully mastered the foundations for each stage.

Back chaining is a positive way forward.

Skipping and rushing Stages is a fools game and will only lead to problems.

This is another Stage that will be revisited and used frequently, and not only in heel work training.

Make good use of your handling of food exercise and develop another excellent handling skill.


All problems relating to dog walking starts the moment you exit the house

Whether it be by the front or back door, how you control your dog in their moment of excitement to get out into the big wide world of friends, smells and possible chases will determine the mind set for the remainder of your walk with your dog.

It is that simple and will determine failure or success.

So, as well as training your dog to walk on a loose lead and not to pull, how about spending some more time teaching your dog manners when walking through doors and gateways.

We start to train the following from the onset.

Walk the puppy on lead up to a door.

Get them relatively close up to the door (taking into consideration which way the door actually opens, ideally you would require a door that opens away from you).

  1. Lure puppy into a sit

     Hold in position for a few seconds
     Break door open and close again
    (Gain the help of a door person if this is easier).

    Reward and release the dog from the exercise.

  1. Repeat the above and include:
    Lure into the sit

     Push door open
     Lure dog into stand – hold momentarily

     Close door

      Release dog from exercise.

  1. Repeat the above and include:

     Lure into stand – hold

     Lure through the doorway.
     (Step back pushing the door fully open)

     Lure the dog through and into a sit in front of you.

  • Break off and reward with verbal praise and jackpot treats.
  • The reason for turning our back on the door when performing this exercise, is to use our body to block the dog running into the open space.


Teaching the puppy to follow the hand

Teaching you puppy to follow you hand from the beginning is setting your puppy up for a successful understanding of where it should be looking and aiming to position itself. Therefore, it is an essential tool for training heel work.

What you need:

  • Lots of soft treats
  • Lead
  • Quiet training area

What to do:

  • With treats in you left hand and your lead held in your right hand.
  • Kneel on the floor and use a treat in the left hand to lure the puppy to move and follow the hand.
  • Reward to the smallest movement with the hand that the puppy makes to start with.
  • Then start to increase the time between marking the behaviour and rewarding the overall result (you are now adding in duration)

Remember our training acronym = KISS.

You want your puppy to be successful, so by using KISS you are setting both on you on the right side for success.

KISS Keeping It Short & Simple.


Teaching the puppy heel-work position – statically.

What you need:

  • Lots of soft treats
  • Lead
  • Quiet training area

What to do:

  • With the puppy in front of you looking at you, you are going to lure the puppy to go past your left leg, go behind you and turn around and come into the back of your left leg where you are then going to reward the puppy for their efforts.

How to execute the exercise.

  • With you puppy in a sit, down or stand in from of you, simply show them you have a nice food lure in your left hand.
  • Keeping the lure on the puppy’s nose in order for them to follow the left hand easily and successfully, slowly move the left hand towards and then out a way to full arm length away from the left leg, whilst at the same time keeping puppy following closely to the left hand with the food lure in it.
  • Slowly take the left arm to full length behind your back, again maintaining contact with the puppy and the food lure, then slowly turn your hand in order to turn the puppy in towards the back of your left leg.

  • When the puppy’s nose is more or less touching the palm of your left hand as you bring this hand into contact with the back of your left knee, simply reward the puppy in that position by allowing them the lure food.

Points to bear in mind

There is no point at this moment in teaching this exercise to put in a verbal cue as it will basically fall on deaf ears and will become totally meaningless at this stage and all that remains is that you have poisoned your cue.

If you move your left hand to high or too quickly the puppy cannot gain contact with the food lure and is more likely to fail you as they are likely to lose interest with the feeling that they are never going to be allowed the food as a reward as it keeps moving out of their reach to quickly or too high for them to possibly keep contact.

Reason for rewarding behind and finishing the exercise behind the left leg, is simply to avoid building in incorrect behaviours that you will have to train out at some point in training, this is because if you move the left hand past the normal position, i.e. past the side of the left leg to in front of the left leg you are rewarding and teaching an incorrect position and informing your puppy that you want them to walk in front of you, which will eventually lead to a learnt behaviour.


Teaching the puppy heelwork position – statically.

We are going to repeat the stage two exercise, only this time we are going to arrive at the last stage of how to execute the exercise and this time once the puppy arrives in position at the back of your knee on your left leg, you are going to walk very slowly for two to three small steps whilst maintaining you hand position.

So, you are going to have to be very strict with yourself in relationship to the final “points to bear in mind” in stage two.

After the two to three strides, IF, puppy is still in position at the back of your left knee, break off and reward and give lots of praise in order to feed back to your puppy that it has just performed amazingly.

You appreciate when we inform you that you have handled amazingly, as it helps you understand, hopefully, good from adequate or inadequate handling skills.

Therefore, it is only fair that you inform Puppy that they have performed the exercise just as expected.

Refer to the “Marker Cues whilst Training”, Diagram to help you understand and develop great communication life skills with your puppy.

Points to bear in mind

  • Reason for rewarding behind and finishing the exercise behind the left leg, is simply to avoid building incorrect behaviours that you will have to train out at some point in training, this is because if you move the left hand past the normal position, i.e. past the side of the left leg to in front of the left leg you are rewarding and teaching an incorrect position and informing your puppy that you want them to walk in front of you, which will eventually lead to them learning to pull on the lead.
  • Now that you are starting to introduce movement into your heel work you will hopefully understand the importance of maintaining a correct hand position as stated in the point above.

  • Why only two or three strides? Simple again remember you are always aiming for success, you are therefore using the KISS method to achieve this.
    Therefore if, you go on for too many strides there is a big chance things will go wrong for two reasons: 

  • The handler isn’t competent or relaxed enough to maintain control of their left hand position, as a result it will creep forward well past and in front of the left knee taking puppy with it.

  • Puppy will lose interest quickly, again resulting in them running in front of you.


Rapid Fire Treats (RFTs)

Purpose:  To establish the very first step towards focus.

Once that is accomplished this exercise can be used as a diagnostic tool to determine whether your dog is ready to work in any situation.

In this exercise, you want to reinforce your dog as fast as you can with ten treats. Even though it sounds simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Start with a quiet setting; your dog; ten small soft treats and a clicker if you use one.

Feel free to use a verbal marker such as “yes” rather than a clicker if you’d prefer. You can sit or stand.

Start marking and treating your dog, no matter what they are doing. If they don’t look at you, that’s fine – if they take the treats. Your goal is to get rid of those ten treats as quickly as possible.

Once you have given all ten treats, give your dog a verbal release command like “okay” or “all done”.

You can then throw another treat for your dog to chase after it and eat it. If you dog comes straight back and appears eager, start the exercise all over again with another 10 treats. Release again after all ten treats are gone, you can repeat this up to three times.

Some trainers have questioned the use of the marker word as you are not training a specific behaviour, that is true all your dog has to do is eat the treats until you stop offering them. The marker helps with classical conditioning, we are establishing emotional associations. We want our dog to develop a strong positive association between us and both the primary (food) and secondary (markers) reinforcers. That positive association creates natural focus.

When your dog is eagerly taking the treats in one location it is time to move to a slightly more challenging one. You will continue to use RFTs in every new setting because it helps establish focus connection.

Using the rapid-fire exercise first in order to get your puppy wanting more treats.

​Then progress onto the stage for exercise starting with stage two followed by the stage three exercises.

But this time instead of walking two or three small strides you are going to turn the pace up slightly and as stated, perform a ½ circle in heel work.

Whilst doing so you are going to be giving your puppy lots of verbal encouragement to entice them to want to keep up with you.

Personally, I use the words “ready-steady” as I start moving as in stage 3 and then change to an exciting “go – go – go” to encourage them puppy to want to drive forward with me.

If you use an exciting tone of voice you will be massively surprised at the result you will get from your puppy.

As the puppy starts to follow your left hand which will be glued to the back of your left leg, you are going to be rewarding the puppy practically every two strides.

This is the awkward bit of the handling skill training, because you are going to have treats in your right hand which is also going to be holding the lead at the same time.

What I would do therefore is, move your right hand over and place it just above the knee on your left leg.

  • This supports and keeps the left hand in place – stops it wandering forward.
  • Gives greater and quicker access to topping up treats in the left hand.

Continue doing this for ½ a large circle, then break the puppy off from working mode with an exciting verbal party sounding command and repeat the rapid-fire treat sessions again in order to praise and give positive feedback to the puppy.

Do yourself a huge favour and practice the moving of treats game that I have demonstrated and explained to you.

I know it is easier said than done but try not to drop treats all over the ground as you are going to break the puppies attention off yourself and turn them into a floor sniffer instead – so you are teaching them an incorrect behaviour that can be really awkward to break them out of.

Avoid small circle, they send you dizzy quickly and are not that easy to achieve the overall desire of this exercise, plus you may accidentally tread on puppies’ feet and they may never forgive you for that.


Adding more movement and introducing drive

At this stage we are going to start to increase the amount of heel-work we perform before we break off to hopefully jackpot the reward the puppy.

For this stage you are going to need lots of small soft treats. You will be walking a large half circle of approx. 15/20 metres.

One important piece of advice to adhere to:
Always have your puppy on the outside of the circle, never on the inside at this point in training.

The reason for this is simple:

On the outside of the circle the puppy is more able to play catch up, especially with lots of verbal encouragement from the handler. On the inside of the circle the puppy is being asked to collect itself and keep its position back, which is really
asking a lot from a young dog with immature structure and joints.

During this stage of training, you as the handler have to be aware of where your left hand is positioned, which should be behind the left leg.
The exact same position where you are going to reward your puppy, if you want to succeed with their heel work training.

This is not an easy stage of training for the handler as you are learning how to handle your dog as well as yourself and whilst you are moving you will be rewarding your puppy.

Now if you insist on ignoring our advice at this stage of training in relationship to the type of treats to use, then you only have yourself to blame for not being successful and constantly having to stop and wait for puppy to eat their treat correctly.

Remember you need small soft treats NOT hard kibble treats.

Before you start movement, I want you to practice a static exercise with your puppy, called the “Rapid Fire” exercise.


Ready to Move

With the dog sat nicely by the handlers left side, with left foot slightly raised off the floor, I would expect the dog to adopt a stand position in readiness to follow the handler forward in heel work. This is a little advanced for this stage in training, but we can start to teach the mechanics behind the idea to the dog.

How I normally start is by having the dog sat nicely at the side of me.

Gee the dog up using verbal tone commands like Readddddy, Steaddddy.

At the same time, I start to lean forward to the point that I lose balance and have to step forward to stop myself falling as I give the Go command.

On doing this all I want the dog to do is make some attempt to move forward with my body movement.

If they do, no matter how slight, I jackpot reward and then give a game of praise and play, play, play.

Over a period of time you will get more and more movement from your dog and eventually they will start to try and beat you off the mark as soon as they hear the words Readddddy, Steaddddy, without you having to tilt your upper body forward.

It is at the stage where you can then train them to pop out of the sit when you raise the left heel of the floor.


Change of Pace (Acceleration and Deceleration)

At this stage in training, especially with a puppy or young dog, I tend not to do too much work on changes of pace until later in training, simply because I believe that the young dog is not ready for this sort of what can be high motivation training especially if the dog is easily aroused through their work. Plus, it can put unnecessary pressure on them with the expectations of slow work which can affect their heelwork position if not handled correctly, and also requires a lot of collection work from them which we personally think is too much for their little bodies to deal with at this stage in training.

However, as a fun game to introduce changes of pace, we will introduce a little game that helps keep the dogs focus on you a  little bit more which is more important.

This is an imitation game. Your dog moves when you move stops when you stop turns when you turn. Your goal is to be unpredictable, fast and exciting, although the game will ultimately improve your heel work, it isn’t work, so make sure it doesn’t resemble formal heel work. Move with your dog on both sides, back up with your dog in front of you, slam into halts and then run forward. Change direction suddenly and race away. It is not about precision; it is about your dog trying to keep up with you.

Use lots of praise and random treats to keep your dog’s interest high.

Feel free to suddenly whip out a hidden toy for a quick tug game.

Skills and Concepts Your Dog Will Learn.

  • Develops focus with movement
  • Pay close attention to changes in your body language
  • Encourages sustained interest in you as you move.

Remember: When you turn – ALWAYS turn away from your dog, that way you don’t injure either of you.


Prepare to Stop – the Automatic Halt

The one thing I don’t want my puppy attempting to do is run out into the road in front of me whilst approaching the curbside in order to cross over the road.

Therefore, I need to train him/her that whilst we are enjoying our walk, I may at some point decided we need to pause or stop, for example, prior to crossing a road or simply to bend down and retie my shoelace. Coming to the halt, I will require my puppy to copy my lead and perform the same exercise, in order that we remain controlled and as a team.

I approach this exercise by first teaching my puppy to anticipate that I am slowing down, hence the training in the Stage 8.

In order to start teaching the Automatic Halt to the puppy, the first thing I am going to do is start to shorten my stride prior to coming to a gentle halt (deceleration), this is going to teach the puppy two things:
– to read my body language
– to prepare themselves simply by raising their head upwards slightly, thereby getting their bottoms underneath them more prepping for the sit.

As I come to the halt, I always halt with the left leg first bringing the right leg gently in line without the stamping of any feet.

At the same time, with a treat in the left hand, I lower this hand towards the dogs nose and then slowly raise the hand as I come into the halt in order to bring the dog into the sit at the side of me.

Hold the position of the dog for a couple of seconds then break off and reward.


Be careful when you bring the left hand back up to entice the dog into the sit that you do not rush the movement of the hand as it could cause;

  • Confusion in the dog and they won’t sit
  • They may well jump up you in order to get to the treat.

Timing is of the essence in this exercise so don’t rush it.


Plumb line and ready to move stance

The Plumb Line

This in effect relates to the position the handler requires the dog to maintain in relationship with the handlers left leg.

Imagine dropping a plumb line down from the handler’s hip and it is falling by the trouser seam and finishing on the floor halfway along the handles foot (instep).

The dog is then expected to keep its shoulders level with the handler’s leg in order that the plumb line runs through the centre of the dog’s shoulder.

Colour Key to Fig. 2

Red line:
Indicates that the dog is working in front of the leg, this may also create crabbing as well as wrapping around the front of the handler’s leg.

Green Line:
Indicates the ideal heel work position

Blue Line:
Indicates that the dog is behind the handler’s forward movement and therefore beginning to lag.

Ready to move in harmony

With the handler stood in this position, with left foot slightly raised off the floor,
I would expect the dog to adopt a stand position in readiness to follow the handler forward in heel work. This is a little advanced than the work performed in Stage 7 and will be covered later.


Encouraging heel work position

  • With the dog sitting squarely at the side of your left leg, carefully widen the gap between your legs by approximately two feet.
  • Place the lead and your treats in your right hand.
  • Bring the right hand closely across the front of your body with the treat and hold the right hand and treat above the dog’s nose just around your hip height or just below. (Be extremely careful not to draw the dog out of the square position as you do so).
  • Then gently place the left hand on the dogs left hand shoulder (the one furthest away from your leg).
  • As you press gently on the dog’s shoulder to feel the dog’s body contact against your leg, gently and without moving your left foot, sway your left leg slowly and slightly towards the right leg in like a “cradle rocking” motion, as you do so praise the dog and apply your heel work command, i.e., “Close, that’s a nice Close”.
  • Perform 3-4 repetitions and then break off for a huge party game of play.

When the dog is back in an arouse state of mind, repeat 3-4 more times and then finish on an exuberantly high note.



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