Walking is extremely beneficial for your dog, and for you! Most dogs are not born knowing the proper way to follow or heel while going on a walk. It is up to us to teach them this valuable skill which makes everyone happier and healthier in the long run!
What does heel mean?
The command or skill "heel" simply means that the dog must walk directly next to you instead of behind or in front of you. The dog is required to keep pace with you, only stopping when you stop and walking when you walk.
How do I know if my pup still needs to learn this skill?
You know you need to add this to your to-do list if when you take your dog for a walk you feel like instead your dog is the one walking you! It can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself to get up and go for a walk. But it is even harder to get motivated and enjoy a walk with your favorite companion if they are constantly pulling and tugging you in every direction. At SitStay, we offer a wide variety of dog training tools that can help you to train your dog to do pretty much anything, including learning to become a respectful walking buddy.
Why should I take the time to teach my dog to heel?
This skill helps your dog know that you are in charge of the walk and that you are the alpha in the pack. This skill is also a must have if you ever wish to walk your dog without a lead or leash. Even with a leash or lead it is so much more enjoyable to go on a walk and have your dog heel to you instead of you trying to keep up with whatever direction or pace your dog thinks you should walk at. Try using our great Cloud Star Treats for your heel training sessions they are fun and delectable.
How do I teach my dog to heel?
Although there are many methods that can be effective in teaching your dog to walk alongside you, there is one that we find especially effective --lure and reward. To effectively teach this more complex skill make sure your dog has mastered the sit, stay, come and focus commands. These allow you to fully teach this more complex skill. The biggest key to long term success with this skill is being consistent.
First, get a clicker for your right hand and a handful of training treats in your left hand. Zuke's Mini Naturals make a great healthy and delicious incentive while training. Keep extras in your pocket if you plan to do a longer training session. Start your heel training in a non-distracting familiar environment, like your living room, basement, or a fenced in backyard.
Second, you will position your pup on your left-hand side. Have them sit and stay then quickly reward them with a click and a treat. Have your dog sit calmly next to you until you are ready to walk. Make sure you wait to start until they are calmly following your first more simple commands before beginning your more advanced heel training. You will also want to make sure they are fully focused on you! Clickers are used to show your dog they have successfully followed your command and to keep their focus solely on you.
Third, keep the handful of small, soft training treats in your left hand. Start to walk slowly forward; the command "heel" would be appropriate. Expect your pet to walk slowly beside you. The idea is to hold the treats out within an inch of your dog's face to guide him or her along, and every step or two reward with a click from the clicker and a treat. If you combine this with verbal praise it is most effective. But the clicker and verbal praise can be interchangeable, so you don't wear out your voice on longer sessions. If your dog starts to veer off, pull ahead or focus on anything other than you, you should stop immediately, call your dog's name, ask them to sit, stay and then start again only once your pup is in the correct position and focused on you.
More advanced training:
After a week or so of practicing this way, it is time to pocket the treats and walk with your empty left hand hanging naturally by your side. When your dog is walking beside you calmly, pull a treat out of your pocket and give it to them. At first, give them a treat after every other step, then about every 5 steps and finally every 10 steps. Try walking back and forth, and add in an obstacle course of objects in your environment to practice walking around while training.
Finally, your dog should be able to follow your heel commands correctly and only receive a treat every once in a while. You can rely more heavily on verbal praise and less on actual training treats, though they are always good to have on hand. Try testing your dog by going out to a dog park then removing their leash allowing your dog to practice this complex skill in a more challenging but safe environment.
Since we know walking a dog that constantly pulls can take the fun out of an afternoon walk, if you follow the above simple, quick and fun steps we are confident you can train your dog to walk calmly beside you.
Heel is an advanced skill and command for a dog to learn be patient if it takes a while to master. Also remember that consistency is key! We believe that there are four advanced commands that you should teach your dog if you want to know the rest of the top 4 advanced commands please check out our blog More Advanced Commands All Dogs Should Know.