“Heeling” is different than Leash communication skills

It’s a very common mistake to think that if you teach your dog to “heel” your dog won’t have leash-reactivity or leash-aggression. This is not true.

For over 10 years I’ve trained hundreds of dogs with leash reactivity or leash aggression. Many of them had perfect “heeling” skills. How’s that possible? True “heeling” skills are off-leash skills and even if you use a leash for safety the whole purpose of “heeling” is to teach your dog to be next to you at all times without using the leash. So where’s the problem then? The problem is exactly that, that you never learn how to communicate effectively with the leash in a gentle manner. 

On top of this, If you live in a big city asking your dog to “heel” all the time not only is unrealistic, but is not healthy. Dogs should be able to walk calmly on leash with no tension experiencing their environment and without having to be on heeling position. 

Leash reactivity/aggression is always created by humans:

It takes one or two mistake on your part when you use the leash the wrong way for your dog to start developing leash reactivity. 

Here’s an example of what usually happens: You are training your dog heeling position in a calm environment with very little distractions and all of a sudden something out of the ordinary shows up. It could be a truck, a wild animal, a loud noise. Your dog starts loosing it and now you start puling on the leash to keep your dog safe. If you don’t have good leash communication skills chances are you’re going to make one of this 3 mistakes mistakes. 

At this point things can turn south pretty fast, even if your dog keeps improving on “heeling”.

3 mistakes that will create leash reactivity or leash aggression:

  • 1. Maintaining tension on the leash. If you keep restraining your dog without knowing how to release tension on the leash, your dog is going to get more umped up and more reactive. You need to teach your dog not to lean into pressure. Most importantly you need to train yourself how to do this. Rule #1 on leash skills is to communicate with tension-release. You always reward the release and not reward for pulling. 


  • 2. Pulling backwards. The most common reaction when a dog is pulling is to pull  directly backwards. When you do this what you’re going to get is opposite resistance. Which means that your dog will pull harder and will probably get to stand in two legs. At this point you’ve lost your dog. This is a red flag that your doing it wrong. If you need to pull, always pull to the side, never pull backwards. 


  • 3. Using corrections and yanking your dog as a punishment for bad behavior after the fact. If your dog is already pulling and going crazy, this is only going to make things worse. True behavior modification is never achieved by correcting behavior after the fact with punishment. Suppressing behavior or emotional responses from your dog is going to lead to other problems. It’s also not the best way to build a solid relationship. Behavior modification is not about correcting behavior, is about not letting behavior to happen in first place.


When using the leash make sure you avoid  the above mentioned mistakes. 


© Gabriel Riesco, Pawmos Dog Training LLC |   All Rights Reserved December 2022