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Become an expert: Training a dog to heel

Jack Russell learning how to heel advice
© Shutterstock

Surely, you can agree that walking is one of the best experiences you can have with your dog. That is why training "heel" when you have a dog is so important!

By Daniel Mar

Having a dog involves a lot of walking around. It’s one of the core elements in the relationship between a pet parent and his dog. Likewise, it is one of the greatest bonding moments that you can ever dream of having with your dog. Also, walking is a great form of exercise for your pet. Now, you should think about the last time you took your dog for a walk on the lead. Was it perfect? Did he behave? Was he beside you on a loose leash? If your answers to these questions are perfect, then you already have the hang of it! But if you don’t, then it is time for you to learn about training a dog to walk to heel.

Why is training a dog to heel an important task?

You might think it's quite entertaining getting dragged around by your dog the first few times you are walking around. But, eventually, you will grow tired of it. After all, a dog pulling on the lead is never pleasant, and believe it or not, dogs don’t enjoy dragging you around either. Not only are they pulling you constantly, but this excess force can be tiring for their hips, neck, and throat. That is why training a dog to heel is so important! Therefore, as a pet parent, it is your responsibility to learn how to teach a dog to walk to heel.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kate (@shapingsheepdog) on

Furthermore, eventually, both you and your dog will appreciate the training, especially when visiting crowded places like parks or the beach! You need to feel confident and calm about your dog’s behaviour in such places.

Let’s get you started with the basics of training a dog to heel

training a dog to heel
The "Heel" position
© Shutterstock
 

Dog trainers call “Heel” the position in which your dog is facing the same direction you are while walking together, your dog being close to your heel. This position is characterised by the collar being ‘lined up’ with your left leg. Additionally, your dog’s front toes are in line with your shoes.  In a way, your dog should be parallel with you but in a straight line. This means that he should not stick his rear end out or cross in front of your path.

How to train a dog to heel?

Dog trainers recommend teaching a dog to heel at mealtime. Also, the first time you attempt this should be in a controlled environment, such as your living room. Make sure you have a handful of dog treats. Once you are ready to begin, feed your dog one treat.

The key to using treats to focus your dog's attention during training sessions is to take the treats with your left hand and using them as a lure to get your dog in the exact position you want him to be in. It is important that your dog doesn’t go after the treats or gets them if he is out of position. Each time you give a treat, try to smile and say “Good!”.

Next, tell your dog when you are moving and where you are heading. Whenever you stop, and start to walk again, use the cue “heel”. Say this cue each time you are going to begin walking again. Eventually, your dog will understand what “heel” means and he will move together with you. If after several attempts, your dog is not in a “Heel” position when you take the first step together, you have to start all over again.

At first, try areas with minimal distractions! All throughout this teaching process, offer treats while you are walking. In the beginning, offer a treat every 2 steps in heel position.  Then, take 2 steps and place a treat while continuing to walk. Repeat the process until you both grow tired. In time, you will be able to walk 5, 10, or even 50 steps in heel position.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Michelle Sellars (@cascadiadogtraining) on

Important considerations

Food motivation is very important to teach a dog to walk to heel. Not only does it help him to focus but it is a magnificent way to make him look forward to something after a good behaviour.

A dog's learning can slow down significantly if you are trying to train him in places full of distractions. Start in controlled areas first! Once your dog has mastered heeling in quiet areas, move on to more populated areas. Always remain patient! Do not expect your dog to know how to behave as soon as you suddenly change the environment!

Also, bear in mind that, when walking with your dog on a lead, you should not feel tension on the lead. It has to remain loose! If you can’t manage to keep it loose, then you are teaching your dog to fight against that tension.

Teaching a dog to heel opens up a whole world of possibilities between a pet parent and his pet. Both of you will enjoy walking together like never before! Most importantly, heel commands can help keep your dog safe if he is walking off lead but near a busy area with potential dangers around.

That is why training "heel" when you own a dog should be one of your priorities!