Dog training question (positive reinforcement)

I’m using the reward method to train my dog (the old operant conditioning method) and it’s easy to reward a dog when he comes to you or performs a requested behavior right in front of your face, but how exactly do you reward a dog for not pulling on the leash when he’s out 5 feet in front of you?

Why are you letting him walk out 5 feet in front of you? That’s poor doggy manners. Pull him in to walk beside you, teaching him “heel!” (Get it? He’s walking by your heel.) He should be no more than five inches to the left of you, and his shoulders should be even with your body. Teaching him to heel, he’ll be at the perfect spot for lovin’ or treats.

He should only stop when you stop, and go where you want to go. He’s not the boss of this walk. You tell him when he can stop and take care of business.

Your dog shouldn’t be walking that far in front of you during training. You’re allowing the dog to “lead the pack” and that can send confusing signals, especially if the dog has dominance issues.

Ideally, he should be right beside you, his neck right beside your leg with the leash dangling a bit between you.

Having your dog that far away makes him harder to control, more unpredictable, and more likely to think he is in charge.

And if your dog does something good when he is out of reach, exuberant verbal praise is required.

Well I have in my mind this idea of a “loose leash” walk, and I dunno, I don’t imagine I need him to do a textbook show heel or anything, or maybe I do?? I bought him one of those pulling harnesses, so he’s not getting yanked by his neck, but he’s a puller, and he has a VERY strong hound-y smell instinct that keeps him always checking stuff out. Everything else we’re working on is coming along swimmingly, but this is gonna be the hard one.

Suggestions, please? And thank you!

p.s. he gets the “happy voice” praise in droves

When he gets as far in front of you as you want, stop. When he stays at the point you want him to, walk with him, and talk to him.

Dog folks don’t like the dog in front, but if you make the limit consistent, and the reaction reliable, the dog will learn “his place.” If you are inconsistent, the dog will learn nothing.


Man, you really shouldn’t just accept that your dog is a “puller” and let him pull you. You’re right that you don’t need a “show-grade heel” but it’s safer and more relaxing for him to be at your side when on a loose leash. You and other will be more willing to walk him on a regular basis if he’s not pulling, too.

That aside - I would try to teach him to respond to a stop command with a sit, let you catch up and THEN praise him. At least then you have some control while he’s off ahead of you in that you can always get him to stop and sit. If stop and sit means happy things most of the time, he’ll be more apt to do it when it means bad things too.

You can choose, AFTER training, to allow the dog to walk ahead of you. But it has to be clear to him that this is done under the supreme benevolence of his pack leader, and his status as “scout” is yours to revoke at any time.

That sounds a little heavy handed, I know, but dogs have two basic ideas of rank - leader and follower. When they are young or new to an owner, they need to feel that they are safe and secure under strong leadership. If they don’t, much like teenaged humans, they get nervous and anxious and start acting out. They know that someone has to be leader, and if it’s not you, it must be him, so darnit, he’s going to give it his best shot! And that includes telling you where to walk and how fast - in other words, pulling at the leash.

Take the time to teach him a proper heel, and then when you deign to give him some more leash, he’ll be the happiest pup on the planet AND he’ll still be under your control. This is not just important because of form and grace, but safety. If he’s tugging you now just to go where he wants, how will you keep him at your side when a small child with an ice cream cone crosses his path? Or a nasty dog who wants to pick a fight? Or a UPS truck is driving close to the curb and doesn’t see him?

If you use food as a reward (bits of liver for instance), always combine the food reward with verbal praise. Then, begin randomly substituting verbal praise alone for the food plus verbal praise. Over time, the verbal praise will be as effective as the food reward.

As always I’m going to suggest my favorite training book: Don’t shoot the dog

I don’t have a dog, but your advice reminds me of The Dog Whisperer. He seems pretty good at training people to work with their dogs.

What WhyNot said.

Once you’ve trained him to walk at a heel consistently and properly (no pulling, no attempts to stop and sniff - walks when you walk, stops and waits attentively when you stop), then you can create a new command (I’ve used “walk on” or you could steal WhyNot’s “scout”) to tell him it’s OK to wander out ahead.

The key is to make sure that the dog always understands that YOU are in charge. It will save you so many problems, and he will be much, much happier.

In addition, it will make it easier to solve the pulling problem. Since you’re in charge, all you have to do is be less than happy with him when he pulls and very happy with him when he doesn’t. He’ll get it.

Right now, he’s in charge so he’s paying no attention whatsoever to you.

Under operant conditioning the “click” is the reward, the treat is just a “bridge” so that they understand that “click” means “good.”

Once the bridge has been established (which should only take a couple sessions, it took 2 with my horse, but she was darn smart) the treat was no longer needed, and I used the clicker to reward at a distance.

A harness isn’t the greatest thing to use when you teach a dog to walk on a leash. You need a training leash. I’d sign up for a class. It’s much easier when someone shows you what to do.

Do practice sessions maybe in your driveway that are separate from the actual walk with no distractions for 10-15 minutes at a time. You really need to have the sit and heel down pat before you start on working with the leash. Put a few objects the dog likes in the driveway and teach the “leave it” command. That’ll make it easier when she’s on the leash and you don’t want the dog stopping.

Some dogs especially scent dogs are a little more difficult to teach.

Also, some dogs respond to punishment very well. My dog was pretty much perfect except when we were in the yard and I was not watching her. She would run off through the neighborhood, returning 30 to 90 minutes later. I worked with her but made no progress until I got a shock collar. After 3 total shocks, she decided she didn’t wanna run off. Ever. I had the collar on her continuously for 2 months. Six months later she started chasing a deer, I yelled and she did a 180 and returned.

I second the recommendation for Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog.”

You mention that your dog has a very houndy smell instinct. An easy thing to do is to make sure that the best smelling thing in the world is in your hip pocket. A ziplock baggie full of smelly, yummy treats that magically appear out of your pocket every time the dog is heeling is a great teaching tool. I’ve watched dogs walking completely fixated on their owner’s pockets because they know that goodness is contained therein.