Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone

Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone

In This Chapter

  • Taking Buddy for a walk
  • Ensuring that your dog comes when called
  • Teaching the “Leave it” command

Taking your dog for a nice, long walk is balm for the soul and good exercise for both of you, provided he doesn’t drag you down the street. Teaching him to walk on a loose leash makes your strolls with Buddy a pleasure rather than a chore.

Most of you want to be able to take your dog for a walk on leash and have him remain within the length of his leash without pulling. A leisurely stroll is an important daily routine, and for many dogs, it’s the only opportunity to get some fresh air.
Even better from the dog’s perspective is a good run in the park or the woods. For this privilege Buddy has to learn to come when called. You can teach him to respond to the “Come” command by playing the Recall Game.

Another command you want Buddy to learn is “Leave it!” The command tells the dog to ignore whatever interests him at the time. The object of his interest can be a cat, another dog, a person, or something on the ground. “Leave it” is especially useful when Buddy discovers something disgusting he perceives as edible.

Walking Your Dog

Even if you don’t ordinarily take him for walks, the well-trained dog knows how to walk on a leash without pulling your arms out. For example, at least once a year, you have to take him to the vet. If he has been trained to walk on leash, the visit will go much more smoothly than if he bounces off the end of the leash like a kangaroo. If your dog isn’t already accustomed to a leash, see Chapter Mastering Basic Training.


The reason dogs pull on a leash is that they’re more interested in the sights and scents in their environment than in you. Your job is to teach Buddy to become aware of and respect your existence at the other end of the leash.

Born to pull

To teach Buddy not to pull, you need his training collar, his leash, and a few treats. Attach the leash to the live ring of the training collar. Take him to an area without too many distractions — you don’t need other people and dogs (especially loose dogs) in the vicinity right now — and where you can walk in a straight line or in a circle (about 30 feet in diameter).
Perform these steps:
1. Put the loop of the leash over the thumb of your right hand, and make a fist.
2. Place your left hand directly under your right.

Hold the leash in both hands as though it were a baseball bat. Plant both hands firmly against your belt buckle.

3. Say “Let’s go,” and start walking.
4. Just before he gets to the end of the leash, say “Buddy, easy,” make an about-turn to your right, and walk in the opposite direction.


Be sure you keep your hands firmly planted. As a safety precaution, don’t put your entire hand through the loop of the leash or wrap it around your hand. If your dog catches you unaware and makes a dash, he could cause you to fall. By having the loop over your thumb, you can just let go, and it’ll slide off.

5. Step 2 produces a tug on Buddy’s collar and turns him in the new direction.

As he scampers to catch up with you, tell him what a clever boy he is, and give him a treat. Before you know it, he’ll be ahead of you again, and you’ll have to repeat the procedure. When you make your turn, do it with determination. Be sure you keep your hands firmly planted against your belt buckle. Make your turn, and keep walking in the new direction. Don’t look back, and don’t worry about Buddy; he’ll quickly catch up. Remember to praise and reward him when he does.


The first few times you try this, you’ll be a little late — Buddy is already leaning into his collar. Try it again. Concentrate on Buddy, and learn to anticipate when you have to make the turn. Always give him a chance to respond by saying, “Buddy, easy” before you make the turn. You need to repeat this sequence several times over the course of a few training sessions until he understands that you don’t want him to pull. Your goal is to teach him to walk within the perimeter of his leash without pulling.

Most dogs quickly learn to respect the leash, and, with an occasional reminder, they become a pleasure to take for a walk. Some, on the other hand, don’t seem to get it. If Buddy seems particularly dense about this simple concept, you may need to use a pinch collar. Put Buddy in a position where you can praise him (see Chapter Equipping for Training Success for a story about situations where you may have to use of a pinch collar). The pinch collar, also called prong collar, is similar to a martingale in that it is self-limiting.
Remember, how readily your dog responds to his collar depends on
The pinch collar is an equalizer for these factors. It lets you enjoy training your dog without becoming frustrated or angry. Your dog, in turn, will thank you for maintaining a positive attitude and for praising him when he responds correctly.

Heeling on leash

Heeling and walking on a loose leash are two different exercises. When you take Buddy for a walk to give him exercise, or in order to do his business, he’s on his own time. He can sniff, look around, or just aimlessly wander about, so long as he doesn’t pull. For those times when you walk him on a busy sidewalk or in an area with traffic, Buddy needs to learn the “Heel” command.
Heeling means Buddy has to walk at your left side, the traditional position, while paying strict attention to you and staying with you as you change direction or pace. When your dog is heeling, he’s now on your time. Buddy’s responsibility is to focus on you, and you have to teach him to accept that responsibility. Buddy has to learn to heel whether you make a right turn, left turn, do an about-face turn, run, or slow walk. The key to teaching heeling is to get Buddy to pay attention to you.


Heeling is used for walking your dog in traffic — when you need absolute control — and for competitive obedience events. The American Kennel Club (AKC) definition of heeling is walking “close to the left side of the handler without swinging wide, lagging, forging, or crowding,” either on a loose leash or off leash.

Teaching your dog to sit at heel

Before teaching Buddy to heel with both of you walking, you’re going to teach him what to do when you stop, which is called the Automatic Sit at Heel:
1. Attach your leash to the live ring of your dog’s training collar and have him sit at your left side with both of you facing in the same direction while you put the leash over your right shoulder.
2. Say, “Buddy, heel.”
3. Take a step forward on your right foot, and then a step with the left past the right; drop down on your right knee, put your right hand against your dog’s chest, and fold him into a Sit at Heel position.


Use the same technique to sit your dog described in Chapter Setting the Stage for Training, and avoid the temptation to push down on his rear end. Keep your hands in place as you tell him how clever he is.

Buddy already knows the “Sit” command, but you’re now showing him exactly where you want him to sit. Practice the Sit at Heel about five times or until both of you feel comfortable with this maneuver (see Figure 8-1).

Teaching heeling

To teach heeling, choose a location relatively free of distractions, preferably a confined area, such as your back yard, and follow these steps:
1. Attach your leash to the live ring of your dog’s training collar and have him sit at your left side with both of you facing in the same direction while you put the leash over your right shoulder.

You need to allow about four inches of slack so there’s no tension on the leash when you start.

2. Make a funnel with both hands around the leash.

Keep both hands about waist high and close to your body. The object is not to touch the leash until necessary.

Figure 8.1: Preparing to teach heeling on leash.
3. In a pleasant, upbeat tone of voice, say “Buddy, heel” and start to walk.

Move out briskly, as though you’re late for an appointment. Walk in a large, clockwise circle, or in a straight line.

4. When your dog leaves your left side, close your hands around the leash, and bring him back to Heel position.

You’ll notice that as soon as both of you are in motion, Buddy wants to get ahead of you. Close your hands on the leash, and firmly bring him back to your left side. Work on keeping his shoulder in line with your left hip. Anytime he gets out of position, bring him back and tell him how clever he is.

5. After about ten steps, stop and place him into a Sit at Heel, and verbally praise him.

It’ll take you a few tries to get the hang of it. At first, you’ll be a little slow on the uptake. Buddy is joyfully bounding ahead of you, the leash has fallen off your shoulder, and you’re scrambling to get it back. Just start over, and work on anticipating what your dog is going to do.


When heeling your dog, walk briskly and with determination, as though you’re trying to catch the next train home. The more energy you put into your pace, the easier it is to keep your dog’s attention focused on you. If you dawdle, so does your dog. By paying attention to your dog, you’ll discover when you need to bring him back to Heel. If you can see his tail, you’ve waited too long. 

Your initial goal is to be able to heel Buddy for ten paces without having to touch the leash. How long it takes you depends on
  • Your dog
  • What your dog was bred to do
  • His response to the training collar
  • Your attitude
Generally, if you have a Shetland Sheepdog, you’ll reach that goal in maybe five minutes; if you have a Fox Terrier, you’ll work on it considerably longer.
When Buddy heels without you having to touch the leash for ten paces, gradually increase the number of steps before a halt. Bring him back to heel whenever necessary, and then praise him. After about five training sessions, he should be getting the idea, at least in an area relatively free from distractions.

Changing direction

After you and your dog have pretty much gotten the hang of heeling, your next step is to introduce your dog to changes of direction while heeling. In this section, you find out about the three essential turns — a right turn, an about-turn to the right, and a left turn.

Right turn

To stay with you when you’re making a right turn, Buddy needs to speed up. And, at this stage in your training, Buddy isn’t yet giving you 100 percent of his attention, and you’re going to anticipate that he needs help with the right turn.


If you want your dog to pay attention to you, you have to pay attention to your dog. Discovering how to anticipate what he’s going to do is the first step to successful heeling. Just before you make the turn, enthusiastically say his name, make the turn, and keep moving. Using his name causes him to look up at you, and he notices that you’re changing direction, which causes him to stay with you. Without giving him that cue, chances are that as you make the turn and go one way, he keeps going the other direction.


An about-turn is a right turn times two. When you make your turn, keep your feet together so Buddy can keep up. As you did for the right turn, use his name just before you make the turn to encourage him to stay with you.


In the event Buddy has a particularly difficult time remaining at your side for the right or about-turn, you can use a treat or other object of interest to help guide him around. Hold the treat in your right hand as you’re heeling. Before you make the turn, show it to your dog by bringing the treat directly in front of his nose and using it to guide him around the turn, and then give him the treat.

This approach has a potential drawback. Some dogs become overly stimulated when they know you have a treat in your hand. Make no mistake about it, Buddy knows. If you see that your dog becomes difficult to control under such circumstances, you may want to eliminate use of the treat. The hassle isn’t worth the potential benefit.

Left turn

To make the left turn without bumping into him, Buddy needs to slow down as you make the turn and then resume normal speed after you make the turn. Just before you make the turn, slow down. With your left hand, draw back on the leash, make the turn, bring your hand back to position, and resume your normal brisk pace. Practice heeling and the turns for a few times as a regular part of your daily outings.

Changing pace

Next, you’re going to teach your dog to change pace with you while heeling. He has to learn that whether you walk slowly or quickly, he has to stay in Heel position.


For the slow pace, cut the speed of your pace in half, but maintain the same length of stride. As you go into the slow pace, draw back on the leash to keep your dog in Heel position. For the fast pace, double the speed of your pace, again keeping the length of your stride the same. Just before you go into a fast pace, use your dog’s name in an excited tone of voice to encourage him to stay with you.

You’re still working with the leash over your shoulder. By now, you should also be able to tell whether Buddy is actually heeling. If heeling properly, Buddy doesn’t swing wide on right and about-turns, bump into you on the left turn, fall behind you as you go into a fast pace, or get ahead of you as you go into a slow pace.

Winning the Game of Coming When Called

One of the greatest joys of owning a dog is going for a walk in a park or the woods and letting him run, knowing he’ll come when called. A dog that doesn’t come when called is a prisoner of his leash and, if he gets loose, is a danger to himself and others. This section offers some proven rules for helping you and your dog realize the benefits of coming when called.
Here are the basic rules you need to follow to encourage your dog to come to you when you call him:

Exercise, exercise, exercise. Many dogs don’t come when called because they don’t get enough exercise. At every chance, they run off and make the most of this unexpected freedom by staying out for hours at a time. Consider what your dog was bred to do, and that tells you how much exercise he needs. Just putting him out in the backyard isn’t good enough. You have to participate. Think of it this way: Exercise is as good for you as it is for your dog. A good source for exercise requirements is The Roger Caras Dog Book: The Complete Guide to Every AKC Breed, 3rdEdition (M. Evans & Co.).

Whenever your dog comes to you, be nice to him. One of the quickest ways to teach your dog not to come to you is to call him to punish him or to do something the dog perceives as unpleasant. Most dogs consider being called to be left alone in the house when you go out or to be given a pill unpleasant. In these circumstances, go and get Buddy instead of calling him to you.


Another example of teaching your dog not to come is to take him for a run in the park and call him to you when it’s time to go home. Repeating this sequence several times teaches the dog that the party is over. Soon, he may become reluctant to return to you when called because he isn’t ready to end the fun. You can prevent this kind of unintentional training by calling him to you several times during his outing, sometimes giving him a treat, sometimes just a word of praise. Then let him romp again.

Teach him to “Come” as soon as you get him. Ideally, you acquired your dog as a puppy, which is the best time to teach him to come when called. Start right away. But remember, sometime between 4 and 8 months of age your puppy begins to realize there’s a big, wide world out there (see Chapter Surviving the Puppy Period). While he’s going through this stage, keep him on leash so he doesn’t learn that he can ignore you when you call him.

When in doubt, keep him on leash. Learn to anticipate when your dog is likely not to come. You may be tempting fate by trying to call him after he has spotted a cat, another dog, or a jogger. Of course, there are times when you goof and let him go just as another dog appears out of nowhere.


Resist the urge to make a complete fool of yourself by bellowing “Come” a million times. The more often you holler “Come,” the quicker he learns he can ignore you when he’s off leash. Instead, patiently go to him and put him on leash. Don’t get angry with him after you’ve caught him, or you’ll make him afraid of you, and he’ll run away from you when you try to catch him the next time.

Make sure your dog always comes to you and lets you touch his collar before you reward. Touching his collar prevents the dog from developing the annoying habit of playing “catch” — coming toward you and then dancing around you, just out of reach. So teach him to let you touch his collar before you offer him a treat or praise.

Training Buddy to come when called

You need two people, one hungry dog, one six-foot leash, plenty of small treats, and two whistles (optional). Some people prefer to train their dog to come to a whistle rather than the verbal command “Come.” Some people train their dog to do both.
What works best depends on the dog, and you may want to experiment. Consider trying the verbal command first, because there may be times when you need to call your dog but don’t have your whistle. You can then repeat the steps, using a whistle, which goes very quickly because Buddy already has some understanding of what he’s supposed to do.
For this exercise, you need to be inside the house, with your dog on a six-foot leash. You and your partner are sitting on the floor, six feet apart, facing each other, and your partner gently restrains the dog while you hold the end of the leash.
1. Call your dog by saying “Buddy, come,” and use the leash to guide him to you.

Avoid the temptation to reach for your dog.

2. When Buddy comes to you, put your hand through his collar, give him a treat, pet him, and praise him enthusiastically.

Now you can and should pet Buddy so that he understands how happy you are that he came to you. This situation is different from the Sit or the Down in Chapter Mastering Basic Training, where you want him to remain in place, and petting him would cause him to get up.

3. Hold Buddy, and pass the leash to your partner, who says “Buddy, come,” guides the dog in, puts his hand through the collar, gives him a treat, and praises the dog.

Keep working on this exercise until your dog responds on his own to being called and no longer needs to be guided in with the leash.

4. Repeat the exercise with Buddy off leash, gradually increasing the distance between you and your partner to 12 feet.

5. Have your partner hold Buddy by the collar while you go into another room, and then call your dog.
6. When he finds you, put your hand through the collar, give him a treat, and praise him.

If he can’t find you, slowly go to him, take him by the collar, and bring him to the spot where you called. Reward and praise.

7. Have your partner go into another room and then call the dog.
8. Repeat the exercise until Buddy doesn’t hesitate finding you or your partner in any room of the house.
9. Take Buddy outside to a confined area, such as a fenced yard, tennis court, park, or school yard, and repeat Steps 1, 2, and 3.
Now you’re ready to practice by yourself. With Buddy on leash, take him for a walk. Let him sniff around, and when he isn’t paying any attention to you, call him. When he gets to you, give him a treat, and make a big fuss over him. If he doesn’t come, firmly check him toward you (you may have to use the live ring of his training collar), and then reward and praise him. Repeat until he comes to you every time you call him. After Buddy is trained, you don’t have to reward him with a treat every time, but do so randomly.

Adding distractions

Most dogs need to be trained to come in the face of distractions, such as other dogs, children, joggers, food, or friendly strangers. Think about the most irresistible situations for your dog, and then practice under those circumstances.

Put a 12-foot leash on your dog (you can tie two six-foot leashes together), and take him to an area where he’s likely to encounter his favorite distraction. After he spots it (jogger, bicycle, other dog, whatever), let him become thoroughly engrossed, either by watching or straining at his leash, and then call him. More than likely, he’ll ignore you. Give a sharp tug on the leash, and guide him back to you. Praise and pet him enthusiastically. Repeat three times per session until the dog turns and comes to you immediately when you call. If he doesn’t, you may have to change your training equipment.

Some dogs quickly learn to avoid the distraction by staying close to you, which is fine. Tell him what a clever fellow he is, and then try with a different distraction at another time.


Repeat in different locations with as many different distractions as you can find. Try it with someone offering your dog a tidbit as a distraction (don’t let the dog get the treat), someone petting the dog, and anything else that may distract him. Use your imagination. Your goal is to have Buddy respond reliably every time you call. Until he’s steady on leash, he most certainly won’t come off leash.

Advancing to off-leash distractions

How you approach adding off-leash distractions depends on your individual circumstances. For example, take your dog to an area where you aren’t likely to encounter distractions in the form of other dogs or people. Let him off leash, and allow him to become involved in a smell in the grass or a tree. Keep the distance between you and him about ten feet. Call him, and if he responds, praise enthusiastically and reward. If he doesn’t, avoid the temptation to call him again. Don’t worry; he heard you but chose to ignore you. Instead, slowly walk up to him, firmly take him by his collar, under his chin, palm up, and trot backwards to the spot where you called him. Then praise and reward.
After he’s reliable with this exercise, try him in an area with other distractions. If he doesn’t respond, practice for the correct response with the 12-foot leash before you try him off leash again.
Can you now trust him to come to you in an unconfined area? That depends on how well you’ve done your homework and what your dog may encounter in the “real” world. Understanding your dog and what interests him helps you know when he’s likely not to respond to the Come command.


Let common sense be your guide. For example, when you’re traveling and have to let him out to relieve himself at a busy interstate rest stop, you’d be foolhardy to let him run loose. When in doubt, keep him on leash.

Mastering the “Leave It” Command

When we take our dogs for their daily walk in the fields, we aren’t too thrilled when one or the other wants to ingest horse manure or geese droppings. Nor are we fond of having to extricate such delicacies from a dog’s mouth. To tell the truth, we’d prefer if they didn’t pick up anything from the ground they perceive as potentially edible. At a dog park in our area, several dogs became seriously ill after ingesting chunks of poison-laced hot dogs. This command is a good start for such situations.


Teaching this command is a wonderful opportunity to find out more about how your dog’s thought processes work. You can truly see the wheels turning. Depending on how quickly Buddy catches on, you may want to practice this exercise over the course of several sessions. Keep the sessions short — no more than five minutes at a time, and follow these steps:

1. Hold a treat between your thumb and index finger.
2. With your palm facing up, show the treat to your dog.

He’ll try to pry it loose. Say “Leave it,” close your hand into a fist, and turn it so that your palm now faces down. (See Figure 8-2).

3. Observe your dog’s reaction.

He may stare fixedly at the back of your hand, he may try to get to the treat by nuzzling or nibbling your hand, or he may start barking. Ignore all these behaviors. You’re looking for the first break in his attention away from your hand. He may make eye contact with you or look away.

4. The instant he breaks his attention away from your hand, say “Good,” and give him the treat.
5. Repeat until your dog looks at you or away from your hand when you give the command and turn your hand over.

You’re teaching Buddy that looking at you and not at your hand is rewarded with a treat.

6. To find out whether Buddy is responding to the command or to the turning of your hand, repeat Step 1 without turning your hand.

If he responds, praise and reward. If he doesn’t, close your hand into a fist and wait for the break in attention. Repeat until he responds to the command.

7. Make yourself comfortable on the floor, and show your dog a treat; put it on the floor, and cover it with your hand.

When his attention is on your hand or he tries to get to the treat, say “Leave it.”

 Figure 8-2: Working on the “Leave it” command.
8. Wait for the break in attention, and then praise and reward.
9. Repeat Steps 6 and 7, but cover the treat with just your index finger. Then try it when placing the treat between your index and middle finger.
10. When successful, place the treat one inch in front of your hand, and repeat Steps 6 and 7.

Here you need to be watchful: He may be faster at getting to the treat than you can cover it.

11. Put Buddy on leash and stand next to him (Heel position), neatly fold the leash into your left hand, and hold your hand as close to his collar as is comfortable without any tension on the leash.

You need to make sure that the amount of slack in the leash isn’t so much that his mouth can reach the floor.

12. Hold the treat in your right hand and show it to Buddy, and then casually drop the treat.

When he tries to get to the treat, say “Leave it.” If he responds, praise him, pick up the treat, and give it to him. If he doesn’t, check straight up. Repeat until he obeys the command.


Test his response by taking the leash off and dropping a treat. If he makes a dive for it, don’t attempt to beat him to it or yell “No.” He’s telling you he needs more work on leash.

Now, go outside, but first you need to do some preparation. Select a food item that’s readily visible to you in the grass or the ground, such as some crackers or a few kernels of popcorn. Drop four or five pieces of food in the area where you’re taking Buddy for the big test. Put some of your regular treats in your pocket, and take Buddy for a walk on leash in the area where you left the food. As soon as his nose goes to the food, say, “Leave it.” If he responds, praise enthusiastically and give him a treat. If he doesn’t, check straight up.


If he manages to snag a cracker or kernel of popcorn, you’re too slow on the uptake. Practice walking around the food-contaminated area until he ignores the food on command.

Buddy should now know and obey the “Leave it” command. Test him off leash, and his response will tell you if he needs more work. Still, like any other command, you need to review it with him periodically on leash.
by Jack and Wendy Volhard