Walking offers many health benefits, including stress relief, particularly when with a great company such as your dog. It is essential to train your dog for the command “heel” to make it the perfect company for your walk.
What Does The Command ‘Heel’ Mean?
Heeling is nothing but asking your dog to walk alongside you – neither faster nor slower than your pace of walking. This practice also trains your dog to start walking when you start and stop walking when you stop.
Why Is ‘Heel’ Training Necessary?
The purpose of teaching a dog to heel is to ensure that the dog pays attention to its master during the walk. While this does not mean that your dog needs to look at you actively, they need to be aware of you. To do that, they need to remain close to you.
‘Heel’ also helps you train your dog to be attentive instead of getting distracted by anything and everything (which many dogs do). If your dog were to get distracted, they could potentially drag you around in pursuit of any distraction that comes their way.
How Much Time Will Your Dog Take To Learn Heel Position?
Training your dog in the heel position is relatively straightforward but requires continuous training. Generally, most dogs can learn the heel position with five to ten minutes of training two to three times a day for one month. Consistent training is vital to help the dog remember the command.
Tools Needed for Teaching a Dog to Heel
There are a few essentials that will be helpful during heel training. They are:
Collar or Harness
How to Teach a Dog to Heel On-Leash (Process)
Teaching your dog to heel is a multi-step process that differs based on the breed of the dog. A leash, some standard treats, some higher-value treats, a clicker (if you use one), and lots of patience is all you will need.
Start teaching your dog to heel in a secure, low-distraction setting, such as a fenced backyard or indoors (ensure there is ample space), just as you would for any other command. This will help your dog concentrate on you and avoid any distractions including visitors, other pets, or any dangers.
- Step One: Teach the Heel Position
You must first teach a stationary heel before you can teach a moving heel. Place your dog next to you in the heel position, with his head or shoulders aligned with your hips.
Start by luring your dog into a position to teach him that this is where you want him to be. For example, suppose you want to compete with your dog in confirmation or competitions. In that case, you should teach him to heel on the left side (as that is how competitions are structured). Otherwise, you should pick the side that makes your dog feel more assured and safer.
Call your dog to you and praise him with food and a clicker. Then, using a treat, entice your dog to the side you’ve selected for heeling and lead him into the sitting pose. As soon as your dog’s back hits the ground, reward him.
Give your dog a release order and start again after he’s finished eating his delicious treat.
- Take Steps Forward
You’ll want to get your dog moving until he understands the position. Put your dog on a leash and place him in the heel position before marking and rewarding him.
Place a treat in front of your dog’s nose and start moving forward with your foot closest to the dog. Use the treat to lead the dog along and then into a stop, marking and rewarding him until his back hits the ground again.
Go on to two steps, then three steps, and so on until the dog has mastered one step heeling.
- Remove the Lure
It’s time to take away the lure now that your dog is firmly heeling in motion. Apart from using the trick, the way you teach your dog to heel will remain the same.
Since your dog receives the treat in your lap, he will always obey your hand even though the treat is not there. Next, you’ll mark and praise your dog until he is in the heel posture and sitting. Then, take a step forward in the same manner —guide, mark, and then reward.
As dogs don’t generalize their instructions, you’ll need to retrain the dog to heel in several situations. To a dog, heeling in the backyard is not the same as heeling on a stroll. When out for runs at the park or other locations, you take your dog, practice leading him into the heeling stance, and take steps.
There are far more distractions outside than there are in your backyard, so use high-value training treats such as hot dogs, lunch meat, cheese, or something else your dog loves. You want to instill in him the belief that concentrating on you and heeling is more satisfying than being distracted.
- Always mark the correct posture.
- To treat your dog, use the hand on the dog’s side, not with the opposite hand. It will mark that the treat will be received only if he positions himself on the right side.
How to Teach a Dog to Heel Off-Leash
Heeling off a leash is a fantastic accomplishment to be proud of, but it takes a lot of practice and discipline. Without a collar to physically tie your dog to you, the dog’s attention on you is the only thing that keeps him there.
For this training, use incredibly high-value treats or rewards — if your dog isn’t superfood inspired, try a ball or toy as a reward. Then, without a leash on your puppy, follow the steps to teach them how to heel.
Do the off-leash training in a safe, enclosed environment. Your dog may become confused, wounded, or killed if he becomes frustrated and breaks his heel in an open area. Don’t hurry off-leash training; it can take months to learn. For this one, slow and steady wins the race.
Challenges of Teaching Heel Command
For new owners and distractible dogs, heeling may be a challenging task to master, but don’t give up!
Here are some common causes of your dog’s inability to heel, as well as some solutions:
- We have strong expectations of our dogs and always expect them to learn more profoundly than they do. It is essential to manage our expectations of how long our dog will take to learn commands.
- Keep in mind that dogs don’t generalize — following order in a different location with new people is more complex. Slow down and praise the dog more often if you catch him agitated or failing to stay in the heel position.
- Your dog is likely to get distracted if you go from exercising in your peaceful backyard to training in a crowded park with plenty of other people, puppies, and distractions.
- Keep an eye on the dog’s body language. If your dog is loose and free at home but stiff elsewhere, the change in environment or atmosphere could be the reason. Reduce the number of people and try a quieter location with higher-value treats.
- It’s essential to keep in mind that dogs will become exhausted. Training, particularly for a puppy, necessitates a lot of mental and physical effort. You may have conditioned your dog for too long if you find your dog being impatient, complaining, shouting, or just not listening.
- You should not train young dogs for longer than five to ten minutes in a row. Adult and mature dogs will exercise for more extended periods, but this can be gradually increased — you wouldn’t go from lifting 10-pound weights to 100-pound weights in a week!
How To Teach Heel Position to a Stubborn Dog
The first move in training a stubborn dog to heel is to take a step back and look at what could logically trigger the stumbling block. We generally assign human characteristics to dogs. So, we humanize them in our lives. Still, dogs are rarely just bold — there’s almost always an explanation behind their behavior. Pulling ahead of their owners is done for a variety of causes. Keep yourself calm and take a look around at your dog and your environment.
If you don’t see any distractions, imagine yourself on your dog’s level. Is the dog veering to the side to explore something? Is the dog dragging the whole walk, or did he lunge out of nowhere? Have there been any moving bicycles or automobiles?
Putting yourself in your dog’s position will assist you in determining how to help them. You will begin to fix the issue after identifying the root of the “obstinate” behavior.
Dogs see the planet as a massive adventure sandbox, and it’s easy for them to get overwhelmed. Instead, try using a front-clip leash and exercising in a more relaxed environment for higher-value treats.
One of the essential things for any dog owner is to teach their dog to walk to heel. But, once you get moving and have a strategy in place, it isn’t as difficult as you would imagine.
Remember that your dog would grow better if he understood what is expected of him and if you start with a lot of high-value rewards.
Master a particular training level before going on to the next, and congratulate yourself and your dog for these accomplishments!