Training Walks vs Fun Walks – Does Your Dog Know the Difference?

Rotating between training walks vs fun walks

When I walk my weimaraner Remy, I try to rotate between training him to walk at my side and giving him freedom to walk in front.

Most dog trainers seem to think it’s OK to rotate between “training” and “freedom” because it’s unreasonable to expect a dog to heel or walk perfectly at your side for an entire 60-minute walk.

Heck, it’s hard for some dogs to focus for even 2 minutes! We’re asking them to walk painfully slow and ignore everything interesting.

So, my questions to you are:

1. Do you rotate between “training” and “freedom” on your dog walks?

2. How do you communicate to your dog the difference between the two?

First I want to comment that I don’t think it’s as simple as “training” vs. “freedom.” Remy and I have at least 3 different “modes” on our walks.

Training walks vs fun walks

We have 3 walking modes:

Mode 1: True training walks. This is where Remy and I are both really focused and we work on heeling and obedience commands like stand, stay and down. We do this for about 10 minutes most mornings.

Mode 2: Power walks where I hold Remy at “heel.” To be honest, he’s pulling almost the entire time when we do this. I still tell him “heel” but I’m keeping him in place with a tight leash. About 50% of our walks are like this, so a good 3 hours per week.

Mode 3: Freedom walks. I let Remy walk in front of me, pee on things, sniff, etc. He’s usually pulling, although not hard. This makes about the other 50% of our walks, so at least 3 hours per week.

I wanted to point out the above to give you an idea of what our walks look like. It’s not so simple as “training” vs “freedom” because of those walks where I’m holding him at a heel.

*In the comments, let me know if you have similar “modes” and how often do you spend time in each?

Training walks vs fun walks

How does your dog know when it’s OK to “check out” from training?

Here are two ideas that can potentially make things clearer for you both:

1. Use two different commands/cues.

One word for when you want your dog to walk at your side. One word for when you want to let your dog take a break.

My words are “HEEL” for working on heeling and “BREAK” to signal take a break.

I usually say it’s best not to repeat a command, but when working on “Heel” I repeat it a lot. I also repeat “Break” when I want my dog to have freedom.

2. Choose two collars or a harness and a collar.

Clip the leash to one collar or harness for training and to the other collar or harness when you’re not training.

My friend who is a professional dog trainer (Hi, Christine!) suggested it can be helpful for a dog if you clip the leash to the front of your dog’s harness for training and to the top of a harness when you’re not training.

What do you guys think? Would this be helpful for your dog?

For example, she said she uses the Freedom harness for her dog because it has a ring for the leash in two places – at the dog’s chest and on the dog’s back. So with that one tool she can easily switch the leash from one spot to the other.

Most of us don’t use a Freedom harness (you can order one here), but the same concept could apply with any two collars or a harness. Christine is a positive reinforcement trainer, and she highly recommends the Freedom harness.

I’m trying this concept using a harness and a collar.

I have an EasyWalk harness, which is also designed to limit a dog’s pulling. It has a ring for the leash at the dog’s chest.

EasyWalk Harness

For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been having Remy wear his harness and prong collar at the same time, and I clip the leash to one or the other depending on what we’re doing. You could use whatever collar you want – a flat nylon collar, a slip collar or a Gentle Leader.

When I want Remy to remain at my side, I keep the leash clipped to his prong collar and say “Heel.”

When I want to give Remy freedom to walk in front, I clip the leash to his harness and say “Break!”

After trying this for a week, it has removed stress for ME.

Physically switching the leash gives me permission to check out from training.

Rotating between the two tools has definitely helped Remy and I both feel more relaxed.

When we’re working, we’re working. When we’re not, we’re not!

This reminded me of how some working dogs (guide dogs, police K9s, etc.) wear a harness or vest when they’re working or training. This helps signal to the public that the dog is working but it’s also a signal to the dog.

There are cons to using this method:

1. There are risks to clipping the leash on and off. Some dogs might dart away if you’re not careful. (Be careful!)

2. Your dog has to wear more gear. Remy wears his flat nylon collar, his prong collar and his harness so it gets to be a lot! No big deal in our case but it could get annoying depending on what you’re doing.

Sometimes if I know I’m not going to work on training I just leave the prong collar home and we use the harness the whole time or vice versa.

I also want to mention, you can use whatever two collars/harnesses/tools you want.

You don’t have to use a harness. You could use a Gentle Leader or a Halti for training and your dog’s flat collar for freedom walks. Or any combination. Your dog will likely pick up on the difference if you’re consistent.

Training walks vs fun walks

Now, I’m curious what the rest of you think of these ideas.

Would you use two different collars? One for training and one for freedom? Or do you think that’s making it overly complicated? I’m not sure if I will continue it or not, it’s just something I’m trying for a few weeks.

Do you use two different commands/cues for training walks vs. freedom?

Let me know in the comments! Thank you for reading and participating. Please share this post with others if you found it helpful.


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25 thoughts on “Training Walks vs Fun Walks – Does Your Dog Know the Difference?”

  1. Stephany Pritchard

    I do the same thing! For my GSD, we have a collar with a small bandanna on it. We also have a second collar that is thicker. Depending upon which collar I place on her, she knows what our task is for the day: either a run or sniff-and-explore kind of walk (bandanna), or a training and not breaking heel walk.

    It took her a little while to get it down, but she knows now what’s being asked of her! Oftentimes, I’ve found that my demeanor BEFORE I clip either collar on makes a big difference too. She gets excited for both walks, but I make it a point to be a touch more professional when I want her to work on training.

    It’s awesome to hear that others also try this approach! It keeps like fun, exploratory and challenging!

  2. I also use different leashes and collars on long walk/runs, including a retractable leash to practice random recalls, stays, fronts and to help me avoid the ticks and chiggers in our woods during the summer months. Shorts walks that are strictly for training I will only use a 6 foot leash and a prong collar. We also practice healing and other rally moves in the house or during our training class off leash. I was initially concerned that Rosie would be confused but have found this not to be the case. She is a responsive and obedient pup.

  3. I also do this. I get the dogs to heal on the street, and as soon as we hit off road, I stop & sit them. Don’t change the lead, but do lengthen them, or take them off (I don’t use expendables I use a multi-purpose lead which can be short, long, 2 dogs together, round the waist etc). I class that as ‘their’ time. It certainly settles our GSD down as he can (more or less) do what he likes – he enjoys rural bags more than urban. When my other half takes them but he doesn’t do what I do, the dogs carry it on! I tell him but he just says “well, I’ve got them now”!! Poor dogs they must get confused at times. He does sit and wait them to let them off the lead though. It works well for us, and we all get the best of both worlds. The dogs seem to know the difference, but maybe I’ve just been doing it that long its second nature.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I think dogs have us pretty figured out and they know there are different rules for different people. But yes, we must be very confusing at times!

      1. That’s why consistency is very important – from everybody all the while. But yes the dogs have us all sussed out (and, in the case of our GSD – every human that is out walking – from watching his behaviour we are both convinced he knows what mood folk are in – for this I wish he was like out staffy X – she doesn’t give a s*** about other folk. I think dogs have the capability to adapt to us humans, that is why the grey wolf adopted us in the first place all those millennia ago

  4. This sounds ok when you are just starting to train but…I don’t like the idea of having my dog sit, stay while I fumble around with leashes, collars, harnesses, etc. For instance, if you were walking loose lead and a bicycle was quickly approaching, I would not want to stop and change things up. I prefer to teach the dog using just the words heel and break or go potty. The easy walk harness and other equipment has really helped us dog walkers control our dogs, but nothing beats good old fashioned obedience training so you do not get stressed or tired from walking your dog.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep, I hear ya Phyllis. That is an issue for me too. No matter what gear we’re using (or even no leash at all) I would expect my dog to listen to my commands. (This doesn’t mean he does! It’s a work in progress.)

  5. We are fortunate to be living in a rural area and places close by for walking. Lily is almost 11 months old and is Border Collie/Newfoundland cross fortunately won’t be as big as the Newfie side – loves water,etc and energetic. We started off with mainly on-leash walks but now we are mainly off-leash in our area. After getting to a point of trust and her listening skills are fairly good – we do let her jump into the bush for the odd squirrel but not always – I have a strong whistle ability and she responds most of the time to once-pay attention-twice means to come- and thrice is I mean it Lily….we worked consistently (one of the training items we do similar) is when we hear a vehicle coming, we sit on the side of the road, we also made her do this as on occasion she showed signs of wanting to pursue. I am somewhat lax to the heel but also have occassions when it is necessary for by my side – so there are times when we still put the soft lead on and do a strong training time at that time, especially when we cross paths with other walkers with dogs and without. She has come a long ways as she is very, very friendly and doesn’t always understand why all dogs don’t want to play with her – so learning to remain submissive and in heel position on and off lead has been proving to us that she does have that capacity. Been very proud of her when we have the odd neighbor dogs running down their driveway barking and I stop and encourage her to stay with me while I tell them to get home – we still have times when I need to put lead on to keep her within grasp. The trust part has been the main thing to learn – one of our last dogs was a rescue of two yrs. and Zoey loved to bound off after rabbits and such and once she got to the point of trail and yipping it was a lost cause of calling – so we always had to pay attention to her gait when off lead cause there would be those moments just before that we could attention wise get her back on the lead to keep the focus on the walk.

    I really appreciate your blog and have found it so reassuring when we got Lily as it had been many years since we had a puppy as our last three dogs had been rescues or inherited and been decently trained as puppies. The discussions and ideas really helped with the journey of training and not thinking we were screw-ups and there was hope for this puppy that jumped around on the lead especially when meeting others – where now we see hope. Thank you. – Enjoy getting the training tips

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You’re so welcome! I enjoy hearing about your experiences with Lily. Sounds like you’ve really made some impressive progress.

  6. We too live in a quiet area and walk our one-year-old Brittany off leash. However, he does wear an ecollar. When he needs to be on-leash, we use the Gentle Leader (thanks to your blog!) and he knows he has to stay close and behave. We have chosen not to train him to technically heel like we did with our GSD and Lab. For us it’s either “pay attention and stay by me” when wearing the harness or “run! run like the wind! (and please wear off some of your energy!)” when off leash. This does mean that when we leave our neighborhood, he is wearing three collars – a normal collar with an id and tags, a harness, and the ecollar. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all so we’ll just go with it. I also need to remember to add in some other basic obedience. We practice recall without using any collar correction which includes sit, but stand and down would be good to work on while on a walk. This was a great topic!

      1. We have the Garmin Delta XC and we love it. It has three correction options – tone, vibration and stimulation that can be set at 18 levels. We primarily use tone at level 7, only using stimulation (again at level 7) for bad behavior in the house (off-limits furniture or excessive nipping) or if he doesn’t immediately respond to the tone. This is now VERY infrequent. The remote is also small and easy to navigate by touch so I can keep it in my pocket. I would definitely recommend it.

  7. Good stuff Lindsay. I use a Mighty Paw collar when she has work to do and I use the harness when it`s just dog time.I use the hands-free leash when it`s exercise time.Emma Lou just by putting them on her she knows what we’re going to do.There is also the free time when I cut her loose to play unleashed. The trick is like everything else be consistent.

  8. Also the 15′ leash I have seen (and they are hard to find ) is only about 3/4 ” wide. My pup is very strong pit mix
    I don’t know if that size is strong enough
    Ideas ?

  9. I really like the idea of switching back and forth between the two because, as you said, it’s unrealistic to expect a dog to always walk at a heel. They’re dogs, after all, and enjoy exploring all those interesting sniffs that are out there. That being said, I definitely do expect my pups to listen when I ask them to walk next to me. I use “focus” for that purpose.

    I really, really like the idea of using a harness with two clips to train a dog between the two different walks. We don’t have the Freedom harnesses, but our Ruffwear harnesses also have a leash attachment in the front and one on the back.

  10. My own dog is so old that he walks slowly all the time, but I do have trouble with him getting distracted by certain things – he gets so excited when he see another dog and begins pulling. I think a harness instead of his collar will help. But a new command word is in order that will mean “leave the other dog alone.” I guess I’m going to be teaching my old dog some new tricks!

  11. With my BC, all our walks are a mix of training and fun/freedom. I think of the walk as ‘his time’ and think it’s important for him to have time to be able to run and sniff freely without me nagging him all the time! However we do stop to do training outside on our walks on every walk and I kind of think of everything being training- someone said once that whatever you do with a dog/all their experiences are teaching them something, so it’s important to be teaching them what you want them to be learning, and I liked that.

    Patch is only on his lead for short periods- on roads and pavements mainly, but I always make him walk nicely, although not to heel as such. We have a command for heel but don’t use it all the time on lead, more off lead when needed…think it would get tiring for us both if we did! As long as he’s not pulling, that’s fine by me. I think he’d be very confused and slower to learn if I let him pull sometimes, but maybe that’s different for different dogs. Also it would really hurt me if he pulled… Can’t imagine how hard it must be/painful walking a bigger dog if they pull!

    I’ve heard a lot of people in the USA mention leash laws but don’t understand what they are. I know it’s something to do with dogs having to be on lead but whereabouts and in what situation? Is it just certain states? Is it all the time they have to be on lead? Feel very lucky we have more freedom in the UK-my BC would go nuts if he had to be on the lead all the time!

    Forgot to mention- I’ve not done it myself but heard of a lot of people using different leads to signify if the dog is allowed more freedom or has to walk nicely. Apparently it works well a lot of the time. Also people using harnesses for running so the dog knows they can pull but only in the harness.

    Thanks for another interesting post!:)

  12. I follow a similar routine, using “come” (this command is used for recall as well as heeling: this is the basis of e-collar training used by SitMeansSit dog trainers) and “go”. Go on leash means do what you want, off leash it means go play !

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