picture of a bernese mountain dog in nature and the text : bmdtutorials.com - bernese mountain dog tutorials by a dog parent, for dog parents

Chapter 11 - On Leash Action

11 months old puppy wearing a human's t-shirt, smiling and sitting next to his older dog sister, a beautiful black dog
Bruno at 11 months old, with his older sister Lila and wearing Fred’s t-shirt

Would you be willing to walk around with an agitated champagne bottle, ready to pop the cork at any moment? I know I wouldn’t. But what happens each time before going for a walk? Well, each time you bring the harness and leash, which signals your puppy to enter in champagne bottle mode. So here's the door plan I suggest. Your puppy sits or lays down while you attach his harness and leash. Then, at your cue, you both walk toward the door. The puppy sits at the threshold and waits again for your cue to get out. This is the plan, and it helps your puppy maintain his self-control and not become agitated at the door. On top of that, it's also a road safety precaution, even if you live in a house and you have a fenced garden. Because maybe some of the friends you visit with have a door that opens directly on the sidewalk.

Getting out the door

Getting out the door: calm harnessing

Alright, now that we've got that clear, lights, camera aaaaaand action! Here are the steps to teach him the door plan: first ask him to sit and remain seated while you show him the harness, get the harness closer to him, get his head through the loop and finish attaching it. Each time he gets up, hide the harness behind your back for 2 to 3 seconds, ask him for a Sit and try again. Don't worry if you have to repeat each step many times, it's normal and expected. After all, it's a self-control exercise for your puppy.

Getting out the door: calm harnessing

Let's move on to the leash. The steps are the same. As long as he sits, you take the leash out, get closer to the harness and attach it. The puppy gets up? You start over.

Getting out the door: opening the door

Now, the door. So he has the harness and leash on and he's sitting. On your cue, you walk together toward the door. If he gets up before you give him the cue, ask him to sit again. What cue? Choose a word of your liking, for example, Let’s go or C’mon. Okay, so you reach the door and ask him to sit. As long as he sits, you extend your arm toward the doorknob, put your hand on the doorknob, twist it, slightly open the door, continue opening the door until it's wide open. As with the harness and the leash, if the puppy gets up, close the door, ask him to sit and start over.

How long does this take? Of course, it depends on you and your puppy. We did these exercises with Bruno before five or six walks. I think we needed about half an hour to get out the door the first time. The second time it took us 15 minutes, the next times we were even quicker.

Now you may be wondering, Why aren't we using rewards for this exercise? Actually, we are. In this case, the reward is the walk, and every progress that brings you closer to the walk is a reward in and of itself. But if you want faster results you can also use treats as rewards.


Alright. Now that he has his harness and leash on and we can get out the door nicely, it’s time for some on-leash action. More specifically heeling. How do you do that? Let me present to you the method that worked for Bruno. So you go outside in a fenced yard and you detach the leash. You start walking fast and determined, like someone who wants to be on time for their appointment. While walking this way you call your dog. As soon as he reaches you, you praise him, give him a treat and immediately change direction. While walking, call your dog again, and as soon as he reaches your leg, change direction again after praising and rewarding him.

Continue like this, left, right, forward, backward. You'll notice the distance between you and the puppy gets shorter and shorter with each recall. Continue until the puppy’s walking so close and following your every movement, you'd think he's glued to your leg. From now on you can tell him, Puppy, heel! each time, right before you change direction.

The next step is to attach his leash on the harness and to continue this exercise of fast walking and direction changing. And this is how you teach him to heel.

Leash games

Now let's move on to some leash games. You need a mini obstacle course for this, and you can install it right in your yard. The obstacle course is made of a ramp, a few cones, and 4-inch jumps. You can add more stuff if you like, weave poles and plastic tunnels for example. But in this book, we’ll stick to the mini obstacle course.

You can also improvise. Instead of cones, you can use some flowerpots, instead of the 4-inch jump, a stick secured between two concrete blocks, reaching no higher than 4 inches. And instead of the ramp, a robust wooden board propped on a solid surface. If you have a special car ramp, you can prop it on the open trunk. And if you don't have a yard, you can set up a mini obstacle course in the house, but you’ll have to get more creative.

Okay so now you have the obstacle course, what do you do with it? Well, you arm yourself with treats, put the harness on the dog, attach the leash and start walking together. You can slalom between cones, jump the jumps, walk briskly, walk slowly, run, stop, turn left, turn right, turn around, encourage the puppy to get on and off the ramp, do some Sits, Downs, and Stands.

Teaching new words

And you take advantage of each exercise to teach him new words: Faster, Slower, Run, Jump, Stop, Left, Right, Turn around, Go up, Get off. Here's how it works: you say the word right before the action, then praise and reward him after the action. Repeat. As usual, you give him a treat each time in the beginning while he learns the word, then only once in a while after he has learned it, but you keep the praise coming. Also remember to reward progress, not just the final result.

Let's take as an example Slower, Run and Stop. You begin by walking briskly, then you tell him in a low and calm voice, Puppy, slooower! and you slow down. You continue walking slowly for a few seconds, then you say in a perky voice, Puppy, run! and you start running. Again, Puppy, slooower! and you slow down. Then, Puppy, stop! and you stop, Puppy, sit! and the puppy sits.

When you get to the ramp, your enthusiasm is your biggest asset, combined with great treats for each progress, Good puppy! Yeeees! You can do it! Woooohooo! Yeeees! What a good dog! Way to go puppy! I’m so proud of you! If it’s one of the first times he’s using the ramp, you’re actually socializing him with it. Remember the Go to your mat training? You worked progressively. First you rewarded looking at the mat, then taking a step toward it, then putting a paw on it, two paws, and so on.

It’s the same with the ramp. You begin with the ramp laying flat on the ground, and you click, praise and reward him for taking any interest in it. Then for putting a paw on it, then two paws, and so on. Now you can prop the ramp on a stable surface and continue the clicking, praising and rewarding for any progress. And voilà, your puppy is a ramp expert.

Games on walks

Alright, so this was on-leash action in the yard. Next, let's talk about on-leash action on walks. The time has come, you're done with the vaccines, goodbye stroller, hello walking directly on the ground. Yee-how! Now’s the time to put into practice what you’ve learned at home and in puppy class: Faster, Slower, Run, Jump, Stop, Left, Right, Turn around, Go up, Get off. How do you do this without an obstacle course? You use your surroundings. Every 100 yards or so, you stop and ask your puppy for a Sit, a Down or a Turn around. You can also slalom between the trees, bushes or light poles. When you get to the edge of the sidewalk or a red traffic light, Stop, Sit, and Let’s go. You can sometimes walk slower, other times faster, and other times you can run.

For each correct answer you praise him, and sometimes you reward him. You can give him Yummies because the distractions on the walks are infinite: other dogs, children, all kinds of people, bikes, cars, garbage trucks. Or if you're walking in nature: rabbits, birds, wild boar traces, and all the tree trunks are watered with so many canine messages. Can you imagine the level of focus and self-control your puppy must demonstrate in order to give you any response? This is why you ask him to check in with you every 100 yards or so, using Sit or Down for example. And this is why it's a good idea to just stop and admire the surroundings for two to three minutes once in a while. This is how you help your puppy to improve his self-control and focus.


Remember the 5 minutes for every month of age rule. So 15 minutes twice a day when he’s three months old, 20 minutes when he's four months old, and so on. When he grows up it’s you who’ll get tired before he ever does.

Saying Hi on walks

Okay, let's move on to The Ideal On-leash Greeting. Let's say you're walking in the center of a city, in the pedestrian zone. And all of a sudden, Hello there, is this the puppy you keep telling us about every day? You should bring him to work, he-he-he! It’s George from accounting and he’s stretching his arm to shake hands with you. Now how would you like your puppy to behave? Here's an example of a nice greeting. Well hello to you too, George! Puppy sit! and you shake hands. Then George can pet the puppy and give him a Yummy-wow.

And here's another example. You're still in the city, enjoying your walk, and this time you meet a tourist, Hi, may I pet your puppy? Yes, but first, please ask him to sit and give him this treat. The treat is, of course, a Yummy-wow. These examples are great but you can create your own version of the greeting ritual, depending on how you imagine The Ideal On-leash Greeting.

Next, what do you do when you meet another dog? First, let's get one thing straight, you’re the one who decides when your puppy may say Hi to another dog. So the lesson for him is We don't say hi to all dogs. You evaluate the situation. Does the other dog look friendly and relaxed, or is he breathless at the end of the leash or jumping around like a goat? Does the owner agree to stop and let the dogs say Hi, or maybe she's in a hurry?

Okay, so the other dog is friendly and her owner wants to let the dogs greet. What's the procedure? Like in the Greeting Humans ritual, you begin with a Sit. Then you tell your dog, Go say Hi! or, Aloha! or whatever secret code you choose, and you allow him to sniff the other dog for 15 seconds tops. Then you call your dog, ask him to sit, praise him and give him a few Yummy-wows. If you want, you can let the dogs say Hi for 15 more seconds, then you can interrupt them again by calling your puppy. You praise and reward him, then you can let them greet for another round, and so on and so forth. This is Greetingus Interruptus, the secret of doggy Aloha.

2 months old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy in his human's lap. The puppy is laying on his back with his paws extended, it's a funny position
See you soon at https://bmdtutorials.com In the meantime, I’ll take a nap in a totally normal position. What? You’ve never seen a dog sleeping like that before?