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Hi all. I have a 1 year 5 month old retriever mix. We have had him since he was 9 months old and from the start we were hoping to train him to walk well and eventually be an off-leash dog. We live in an apartment so we go on two walks a day and since the day we got him we have worked on heeling.

We trained him first not to pull on the leash and then we trained him how to heel throughout halls of our apartment because there are fewer distractions. He walks wonderfully in the halls but as soon as we go outside he stops heeling. Our issue is that he doesn't pull on the leash, he just walks 1-2 steps ahead of us. For the life of us we simply cannot get him to walk right next to us. He is determined to always be a couple steps ahead. This makes it so his attention isn't always on us so when we stop or slow down or change directions, he doesn't know for a few seconds and keeps walking straight.

We have worked on this every single day for 8 months and we are beginning to get frustrated because we seemed to have plateaued. The method we use to train him is holding a treat next to our side so if hes in the correct spot then he constantly gets treats and then if he goes too far ahead of us, we turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, he is not food or toy motivated so he doesn't really care to stand next to our hand and get treats. He often only walks well for a few steps before we have to turn around again so we're just constantly going in circles.

We have tried to stick to one area outside to get him familiar with distractions and now he walks perfectly on the sidewalk in front of our apartment because we spent a lot of time there but if we go anywhere else he is back to walking ahead of us.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to break his habit of walking a step or two ahead of us?
 

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The first thing you need to understand is dogs do not generalize behavior. They learn in the apartment. Then they go outside they must relearn it there.. and then you go to the park and they must relearn it there.. and until you teach a behavior in about 20-30 different places the dog won't understand that heel means heel no matter where we are.

I also assume your heeling is more of a "with me" than a competition heel with the dog always 100% focused on you. Taking a walk with a dog doing a competition heel the whole time would be awful for the dog.

The other thought I had is why is 2-3 steps ahead on a loose leash on a walk a bad thing? If you are going to stop or turn simply communicate your intention to the dog and get his attention on you before you stop or turn? Dogs are not automatons and walking abreast is a very unnatural thing for dogs to do (that is why it takes two years to teach a competition heel to a dog).
 

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What is your reasoning for him constantly being at your side, rather than simply 1 - 2 steps ahead? If he's not pulling on the leash, and your goal is to take a pleasant walk with your dog (as opposed to an obedience 'heel' such as would be required for showing) I really don't see the problem?
If you need to slow down or change directions, then teach an 'attention' cue such as "this way" for direction, or "easy" for speed. You could train a "with me" cue that means walking right at your side for a limited amount of time, but followed by a release cue ("free" or my personal one "take a break") which allows the dog to move ahead, sniff/mark/etc... as long as there is no pulling. I do a lot of hiking with my dogs, so mine also know "wait" when a trail is narrow & I want to go first with the dog behind me.
Generally speaking, though, casual walking with a dog a couple steps ahead would be perfectly acceptable, IMO.
 
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