Training a dog to heel is one of the most important skills your dog can learn. When a dog is heeling, the dog walks alongside of you in line with the seam of your pant. When you walk, the dog walks in heel position. When you stop, the dog stops. Traditionally and for obedience and rally competitions, a dog heels on the left side of a person. When you are walking a dog on a leash and the dog is walking you, there is a problem. The first problem is that the dog is the leader and not you. A dog that won’t heel can present safety issues for itself, other people, or other animals. Besides a dog that won’t heel demonstrates poor manners. It isn’t as fun to walk a dog that is constantly pulling on the leash. So it is very important to teach dogs to heel. Finally, if you want to compete in dog competitions, go hunting with your dog, or even take the dog out in public, heeling is essential.
How To Teach A Dog To Heel
There are a number of ways to teach a dog to heel. Before you begin to teach a dog to heel, the dog already should be able to sit and stay. The preliminary exercise we will use to teach dogs to heel has the dog alternate between sitting and walking. The preliminary exercise for heeling really only needs the dog and some treats, preferably high value treats that your dog likes and that can be eaten quickly. A 6 foot leash and a collar can be very helpful to teach a dog to heel. The topic of collars can provoke a lot of discussion among dog people. For the purposes of this tutorial, we recommend that you begin with a flat band collar or a martingale collar (these collars are allowed at AKC dog competitions). Other collars such as pinch collars, choke collars, or e-collars could have a role in training a dog to heel, but these collars require some training of the user before putting them on a dog. We recommend you consult a dog trainer before using them on your dog. The approach we advocate here to introduce and to train a dog to heel is a positive approach, and does not use corrections on the collar.
Step 1: Introduce heeling in a confined space such as a room, or a small fenced in area. Training a dog to heel in a confined space will be easier on you and your dog.
Step 2: Begin by calling your dog to the heel position (traditionally the left side). You can point to where you would like the dog to come. Once the dog reaches the correct position, praise the dog by using a clicker or saying, “yes,” or “good” to mark the behavior. After marking and praising the dog, reward him with a treat.
Step 3: Begin walking with the dog along side. When the dog remains in the heel position, repeat the marking, praise, and treating of the behavior.
Step 4: Once the dog heels fairly consistently, get the dog to look at you. Use the command “eyes” or “watch me” or “look at me.” Practice, practice, practice once or twice every day for 5-10 minutes at a time. As the dog improves in heeling, you reduce the number of treats. Initially go from treating every time to every other time, then treat every third or fourth time. Eventually, you will be walking a dog on a leash in heel position.
Another positive technique to teach a dog to heel involves luring the dog with a treat. Just as before, it is good to introduce heeling in a confined area. It can also be helpful to practice this along a wall or against a ring gate at a kennel.
Step 1: Begin with the dog sitting in the heel position.
Step 2: With the treat in your left hand, hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose and begin to walk. The dog naturally will follow the treat.
Step 3: While introducing this technique, take three steps and give your dog the sit command. Once the dog sits in heel position, reward the dog with a treat.
Step 4: With a treat in your left hand, begin walking again with the dog following the treat, then repeat step 3.
Once your dog gets the hang of this, increase the number of steps. For instance, go from 3 steps to 6 steps between treating the dog. As indicated above, remember to mark with a clicker or verbally by saying, “yes,” when your dog does what you commanded, followed by a reward (treat).
Once you dog has mastered the basics, you can work on some more advanced heeling. As your dog improves, reduce to the treats. When you practice heeling, only treat the dog occasionally. Take the dog heeling with a zig zag patten or through an obstacle course. Practice heeling with turns, variations in speed (normal, fast, and slow). Practice heeling with distractions and in noisy environments. Eventually, the dog will be walking on a leash and heeling like a pro. With even more practice, you can teach a dog to heel off leash. Remember to end training sessions on a positive note, ending before the dog becomes bored or tired. Consistency in training and good leadership are essential to training a dog.
A dog that heels while on a leash is a joy to walk. Heeling ends all pulling and jerking while walking. Heeling is one of the most important skills a dog can learn. Training a dog to heel is something anyone can do with enough patience and practice. A dog that heels and walks nicely on a leash is safer in public and demonstrates good manners. Teaching a dog to heel could be the being of further obedience training and even competitions. A well mannered dog is a dog people want to be around. The well behaved and obedient dog can go more places with you, leading to more good memories with you and your dog.