Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue/Red Heelers) are very active and curious dogs that can become easily distracted when walking on a leash. This will usually result in them pulling on the leash to get to what has piqued their interest. They tend to have a strong chase drive due to their natural herding instincts so the pulling begins.
Often they are pulling just because they are in a hurry to get where they are going. This can make taking them for a walk very unpleasant or they may even cause you injury if they pull you over.
Loose leash vs heel walking a Blue Heeler
Loose leash walking is when your Blue Heeler is walking on the leash without pulling it taut or trying to drag you along. This method gives them a little more freedom to sniff when remaining focused and aware of you.
Heel walking is when a dog is walking directly by your side, at your heel. This tends to be used more in obedience completion and is probably not necessary for a Blue Heeler that is a pet. With this method, it may take a lot more time and training to get a Blue Heeler to master this. They tend to be a breed that is prone to want to be moving and exploring.
With loose leash walking your Heeler gets the benefits and enrichment of the walk without you suffering the frustration of being dragged along.
How to loose leash walk a Blue Heeler
Australian Cattle Dogs are smart dogs (see just how smart here) and are relatively easy to train as long as you have them focused. As Blue Heelers are bred as herding and droving partners they have a strong drive to work for a human. They are eager to please, love human affection and praise, and are often motivated by food rewards.
With consistent training, they can learn quickly to break the pulling habit and walk nicely on a loose leash making the walks a lot more pleasant for you both.
Key principles before you begin
To maximize the chance of success with teaching your Blue Heeler loose leash walking there are a couple of principles around the mindset you want (yours and theirs). These are
Calm your Blue Heeler
If your Blue Heeler has excessive pent-up energy and is in an excited state before you even begin the walk, it will be difficult to stop them from pulling. You want to be able to calm their mind before you even leave the house or property.
As an active breed, they require a fair amount of exercise, both physical and mental to tire both their body and their minds. They also need to be taught impulse control. Impulse control is where they are able to go from a state of high arousal to a calm state.
The first step in having a calmer and less hyper Blue Heeler is to ensure that they are getting sufficient exercise daily. For a guide to Australian Cattle Dog exercise with suggestions see here.
Blue Heelers are very smart dogs (see just how smart here) and require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment to help make them calmer. Mental exercise can tire and calm a dog just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for a Blue Heeler see here.
The next step is to calm the mind – both yours and theirs. Your Blue Heeler will not be calm if you are not calm. If you are speaking and interacting with your Blue Heeler with excited energy it will excite them. If your energy is calm and you speak to them in a calm monotone pitch it will keep them calmer.
For more on calming a Blue Heeler see here.
Have your Blue Heeler focus on you
In order to be able to stop the pulling on the leash, your Blue Heeler will need to be focused on you. Not on what is happening around them. This can be achieved by following the 3 phrases of loose leash walking below.
The 3 Phrases of teaching loose lead walking a Blue Heeler
If your Blue Heeler is an extreme puller there are 3 steps to fix most unwanted pulling behavior. They are
The first stage to teaching a blue Heeler not to pull is to show them that the pulling behavior is not acceptable. This is called the correction stage. Dogs need to know when they are doing something you don’t want. Otherwise, they are just guessing what it is you want from them.
You need to have a way to show them very clearly what it is you do want and don’t want. Firstly you need to be using the right equipment. Many people use a harness which is not the best way to walk a dog that is pulling. The best lead to use is a slip leash.
You want to put the leash nice and high on the dog’s neck just behind the ears. This way they are not putting pressure on their windpipe if they pull. This also reduces the amount of power they are able to pull with and gives you more control over the direction the head is facing. A dog can only move in the direction they are facing.
The root cause of a dog pulling is the lack of guidance and direction like you get with a harness. Without guidance, they are looking ahead and making their own decisions which is what creates pulling. The thing you are correcting is your Blue Heeler’s lack of focus and engagement with you. When they do engage with you can reward them with a treat and praise the behavior for bringing their attention back to you.
When they do pull on the leash you can stop and correct them with a gentle pull on the leash. The intensity of the correction will depend on how hard they are pulling. It should never be necessary to use extreme force. The key is the timing of the correction, not the force behind the correction.
As soon as the lead goes loose, they can move forward. As soon as the leash tightens, stop and correct or turn around and walk the other way to make the dog sit. The only way your blue Heeler is allowed to move forward is when they are walking on a loose lead.
Another simple way to correct leash pulling is to use a technique called leash pressure. When your Blue Heeler pulls on the leash just stop and place pressure on the leash. Don’t pull or drag them back towards you. When they move back towards you the pressure on the leash is released. This is known as negative reinforcement.In dog training terms, positive means to add something to reward the behavior such as a treat, and negative means to take away something to reinforce the wanted behavior. In this case, it is the pressure on the leash.
Another technique that is effective if they are not responding to the corrections is to do a walk-in front. You will need to have your Blue Heeler on a short leash so you are at their side. Otherwise, you will not be able to walk in front of them.
When they pull, walk in front of them and start walking in the opposite direction. Take a couple of steps and do it again so you are walking in the original direction again. Every time they pull or try to be in front of you do the walk in front.
The correction stage teaches your Blue Heeler the undesirable behavior you don’t want – the pulling. The redirection stage is to redirect them to the behavior you do want – loose leash walking. When they are walking well you can reward them with a treat or praise.
You will find that the need to correct your Blue Heeler becomes much less because you have removed that undesirable behavior. The key now is to reward them for the wanted behavior.
By this stage, correction should hardly be needed if at all. Continue to reinforce the nice walking behavior. This will soon become the natural way for them to behave on a leash.
Tools to help with loose lead walking a Blue Heeler
There are various tools and pieces of equipment available to help with teaching your Blue Heeler to walk on a leash without pulling.
This is the method described above. Put the lead high up on your Blue Heeler’s neck just behind the ears. This will give you more control of their head.
View slip leashes on Amazon.
Headcollars can have mixed results. They work well with some dogs. Other dogs take a little while to get used to them and others never do. They are like a bridle that fits around your dog’s muzzle with the leash attached to a clip under the chin. When the dog pulls it pulls its head around.
These can rub on their muzzle, pull across their eyes, and restrict their mouth. I personally am not a big fan, but many dog owners have had excellent results using one of these.
View head collars on Amazon.
Choker chains and prong collars
A choker chain is a steel slip collar that you give a correction when the dog pulls. These can be quite effective when used correctly. A pong collar is a steel collar that has pongs that poke into the dog’s neck and apply pressure when they pull. I am not a big fan of these as they can cause the dog discomfort.
Australian Cattle Dogs are a breed that doesn’t respond well to harsh training methods like the use of pong collars.
View choker chains and pong collar on Amazon.
Front clip harness
I said above that using a harness is not the best way to walk a Blue Heeler that is pulling. The exception to this is a front clip harness. When the dog pulls against the harness, the force of his pulling against you pulls their body round to face you. Their attention is then redirected from where they were pulling back to you stopping them from going forward in the direction they wanted.
View front clip harnesses on Amazon.
Hopefully, this guide to stopping your Australian Cattle Dog from pulling on the lead has been helpful. You will now be able to have pleasant walks together. For a guide to dealing with other Australian Cattle Dog behavior issues see here.