how to teach your dog to heel

How to Teach Your Dog to Heel

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Heel is a very important command and will make your walks and your dog’s impulse control much better.

It is also a great way to train some leash manners, especially with a young puppy or very excited and high energy dog.

What Does Heel Mean?

Heel will teach your dog to walk beside you rather than in front of you, preferably on the left side. He will have to adjust himself to your pace and stop every time when you stop. It is the formal version of loose leash walking and is also used in competitions.

The dog’s body remains very close to the handler and he always looks up to him. But it really depends on what the heel is used for. For everyday use, your dog doesn’t have to walk like a soldier and a working gun dog needs to be looking ahead.

Note that the command “heel” can only be used for short distances as it requires a high level of concentration from the dog.

Why Should I Teach My Dog to Heel?

My dog usually tends to walk in front of me, without pulling, but it felt like that she was walking me instead of me walking her. Easy walks will make your life so much easier.

Even if your dog is a strong puller, this will help him to regain focus on you when getting distracted by the environment. This way you always hold control over the situation and your dog won’t be pulling you down the street.

Heel is a musthave command if you are letting your dog off-leash. For me, it worked great even if she is not in the heel position she will walk very close to me without a leash.

The command is usually trained with large breeds but you can also teach this to your small dog. You will want to have something like a long spoon where you can add some peanut butter to it that will reach your pup without having to bend down all the way.

Before You Start

Get your hands on some delicious treats as you will need plenty of them in the beginning and separate them into tiny pieces. Heel can be reached with or without a leash. I chose without.

Start your training in a non-distractive environment like your own home or your backyard. You can also use a clicker as the marker if your dog is already clicker trained.

You will want your dog to have a strong release command because we will use that later.

How to Teach the Command “Heel”

The command heel consists of four key stages, the starting position, walking, distance, and distraction. Choose the right heel position in the beginning so you won’t be switching them throughout the training process and your dog won’t get confused.

Use your dog’s neck or collar as the guideline. The neck should be positioned right beside your leg while the head is in front when walking. It doesn’t really matter which side you chose to walk your dog on, just stick with one.

Positioning

You will want to start off with showing your dog how to position himself beside you through positive reinforcement.

Start with your dog sitting in front of you and take a treat into your left hand. Lure your dog behind your left heel by swinging your arm around your side until your dog moves beside your left leg and sits.

Hold the treat up high so he will have to stretch his head to reach it. Repeat this step a couple of times and always reward him with “good boy” or whatever you use and feed him with treats.

If your dog turns too wide around your leg, try teaching him while standing near a wall, so he will only have limited space while passing your leg.

Movement

Start to bring some movement into the training and add the cue “heel” when you want to dog to move into position.

While luring your dog behind your left heel, make a step forward, so he will have to also move and then sit when you stop. Once you are done with the heel give your dog his release command.

Walk & Distance

Now we want to increase the movement by walking a couple of steps forward with your dog following you besides your left leg.

When you stop, he has to immediately sit. While increasing the walking distance, make sure to give him plenty of rewards and if he gets distracted, simply get him into position again.

Once you have trained this, you can decrease the number of treats and only reward when he sits. If he doesn’t follow your open palm, try it a few more times with treats.

Increasing the duration will make it harder for your dog to follow and you will want to make sure that he has fun doing it and is not bored. You can also add a few obstacles that you will have to move around with your dog.

Distraction

The last phase of teaching a proper heel is to add distraction to your training. Grab your leash and get outside with your dog into a semi-distractive environment.

If he fails too often that means that you have trained too fast and you will need to take a step back. Add more and more distance and distraction over time until your dog can do a reliable heel.

If you would like to know more about each step, go ahead and watch this video which explains every part very detailed.

Advanced Heel

After you have successfully trained heel for a few weeks, you can then start to fade out the treats completely and only lure your dog with your open palm. You can choose whatever hand gesture you like to point your dog into the heel position.

Of course, you can still treat him if you want once in a while but we only want him to be prepared for situations where you have to get him into a quick heel even if you have no treats with you.

If he can follow you around in the house without treat luring, then you can go into more distractive environments like the dog park. Remove the leash and let him perform a solid heel with no luring and only verbal praise. If he fails that means that he is not ready for it and you should go a step back.

Problems that May Occur

It can happen that your dog gets too distracted or lose focus and break out of the heel from time to time. Simply move him back into the starting position and reward him with treats. If he constantly fails, go back a step and really perfect every step.

Heel is a command that is build up very gradually and many dog owners tend to move on too quickly so their dog gets overwhelmed. Not fade out the treats too quickly and don’t get overboard with the distance and distraction. We want the dog to always succeed so he won’t lose interest in training.

Always be clear with what you expect and want from him. I love this example of how important the right communication in dog training is:

Imagine for a moment that you are training your dog to place a red toy on top of a blue one. Continue to pretend that after your dog has (seemingly) mastered the behavior, she performs that behavior correctly 100% of the time for two weeks straight. Then, one day, your dog places the blue toy on top of the red one. The issue is not stubbornness, nor defiance, but rather a problem of communication. Your dog may have thought all along that the correct behavior was to stack up the two toys.

Clickertraining

If he still breaks out of the heel this might be because he is simply tired. Try shorter training sessions and spread them into 5-10 minute sessions throughout the day. If he gets bored engage with him in a short play or use play as the reward from the beginning.

Consistency and patience will get you the results that you want. If you always stick to the plan and train him every day, you will see him heel in no time.

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