We have all heard and seen the ‘heel’ command in movies. What is it exactly and why is it important? Well, the heel command is great for your dog to walk with you at your own pace instead of theirs. The dog must recognize you as the alpha male and heed to you.
No more dogs walking their owners. Let’s learn how to train a dog to heel. Once mastered, your dog can walk beside you with or without a leash. Your daily walks will also be more enjoyable. Let’s get started.
Before we begin, your dog must know the sit, stay, come, and focus commands first. It will help to master the more complex command, ‘heel’.
The heel position is not strictly profound or defined. A good rule of thumb is to line up the dog’s shoulder or collar to your knee. Its head will be slightly in front of you. The position should be comfortable for both of you. The side you choose to heel on is up to you, just be consistent.
Prepare to succeed
Clicker training is a great way to see faster results. Having the clicker in one hand and good quality treats in the other, you are good to go.
If you plan to have a long training session, be sure to have extra treats in your pocket. You should begin in a familiar environment without distractions. It can be your living room, basement, or fenced in backyard.
Now, position your dog on your treat side and command them to sit and stay. Click when completed and give a treat immediately.
Then, have the dog sitting calmly until you are ready to walk. Make sure they are fully focusing on you. The clicker will help the dog to associate correct responses with the reward.
If you don’t have a clicker, you can do the same with hand cues. Start the dog in a sit position. Lure it with the treat in hand and begin walking. With the dog in the correct position beside you, say ‘Yes’ and give the treat to the dog.
To make it a little easier, you can position yourself with a walk on your heel side. Leave just enough space for your dog between you and the walk. It will make getting into the correct position much easier at first.
Add forward motion
Next, you should slowly walk forward while using the command ‘heel’. Expect your dog to walk slowly beside you. Hold a treat an inch in front of the dog’s face to guide the pace. You may reward the dog with the treat or praise every one or two steps.
Without a clicker, continue to walk with the lure. You may treat every other step. Once the dog has gotten used to it, leave your lure hand empty. It is now considered a cue hand.
Continue walking and when the dog is in the correct position, open your cue hand. It shows the dog there is no dog treat but would have gotten one. If the dog losses focus without a treat, add a treat to the lure hand and try again.
Practice these steps for one to two weeks. Once you feel the dog has mastered it, we will move on to walking without a guide treat.
Place all your treats in your pocket and walk with your hand naturally at your side. When your dog is walking calmly beside you, pull out a treat and reward it. Start rewarding every other step. Then gradually space these rewards out to every five steps and then every ten.
Now make it more challenging. Walk forwards and backward. You may treat the dog as necessary. By now, your dog should be receiving your heel commands and receiving rewards every once in a while. Soon you can rely more on verbal praise.
It’s good to keep some treats on hand. You can also set up an obstacle course to practice walking around. Pretty soon your dog will look like one of those show dog talent shows.
Once both of you seem comfortable, it is time to increase the difficulty by incorporating distractions. Test your dog at or near a dog park to see if they are able to heed your commands.
It may start with a leash on and hold with much slack. Once you see the dog is able to keep a comfortable pace beside you, you may remove the leash for more challenge. Please make sure the environment is safe and you are able to recover your dog if they become too distracted.
Off the straight and narrow
Once the dog is comfortable staying beside you, let’s add more control and difficulty. Let’s teach it how to turn with you. Take two steps forward and stop. Rotate your body a quarter turn away from your cue hand.
Reward any movements your dog makes to stay with you. Continue to turn and reward until the dog is able to walk circles around you as you turn.
Once understood, you can move on to rotating the opposite direction. Once it understands, you can walk in a square formation, turning at each corner. Each side of the square can have one or two steps.
Heeling without motion
Great, the last part is the most important, heeling when not walking. What do you want your dog to do when you stop walking to talk to a friend or at a street light. Some owners teach the sit command.
If so, then start introducing the sit command at the end of a heel motion. After a while, the dog will sit automatically without the command.
There you have it. Once you have all these steps you can continue to practice in public with all the added distractions. If the dog is unable to maintain focus, then return to a previous step and practice more.
‘Heel’ is a complex command and will take some time to master. Please be patient with your dog. It is doing its best to make you happy. Once mastered, you both can enjoy your walks together even more.