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Civilized Canine Companions

Hi John

Why is it so important a dog heel during the entire walk? Why should the entire walk be at your feet? Dogs are curious, it’s a big, wide world out there. Why do people feel the need to force everything to conform to what they want without giving anything?

My dog completely freaks out like it’s the first time he’s gone in a year. But if I need him beside me, I can call him back. He was trained with simple patience and practice. It’s his nature to be excited to go outside as well as want to sniff EVERYTHING we pass when we go outside. Why is this a bad thing?

I just don’t get why we can’t let dogs be dogs as long as they are reasonable and controllable. -Francine

Hi Francine,

Those last three word are the key. You have the luxury of letting your dog find his inner self because when the need arises you can rein him in. When you have the ability to easily turn it off, then you have the luxury of letting it turn on. That’s the advantage of having a trained dog.

Teaching a proper street heel is part of the way to get a dog to the point where it can enjoy the freedom yours enjoys. Not teaching it can have far reaching consequences. I know of countless upended dog owners with injuries like broken bones or dogs that in their excitement were able to get away from their owner and into the street and killed. Dogs out of control on walks usually get a head start inside the doorway of their homes and that has its own ancillary fallout. They are usually doorway crazy dogs that eventually make the departure and arrival of guests a pain. Some people often the elderly and those with children just don’t visit, not because they don’t like dogs, but because they don’t like the risks associated with wearing them. Once outside, the sniffing is usually done on a leash tighter then a guitar string. I don’t hear of neck injuries to the dog that often, but lots of shoulder, elbow, and wrist strains for the dog walker. I know of pedestrians with lives that have been catastrophically changed after being upended by overly friendly dogs that just wanted to do what was natural and say a doggy hello.

There’s a time and a place for wild abandon and sniffing, and for me that’s not the street shared with cars, bicyclists, skaters, joggers, people with children etc. To be honest with you if a dog can’t do a loose leash heel I think it’s very bad manners if the dog owner doesn’t pull them aside to allow passersby. When we’re at the dog park or another place safe to, let them run amok, have at it I say.

Heres a way to get the best of both worlds. I teach “heel” which is on the left side and “Relax” when its on the right side. “Relax” is sniff time but if I say “heel” it’s because we’re in a crowd or there are children, bicyclists, joggers etc. Hopefully that keeps everyone safe and happy. But the bottom line is if a dog can’t be reigned in by it’s owner around distractions, then it’s essentially out of control with potentially disastrous consequences for all.

-John Wade the Dog Trainer

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