What Does it Mean for a Dog to Heel?
The “heel” cue means that the dog must walk directly beside the person walking him, not in front or behind. The dog must stay with the person walking him at all times, keeping at the same pace and only walking when the person is walking.
Why Would I Want My Dog to Heel?
Teaching a dog to heel is a difficult, but important skill to master. There are two forms of heeling, informal and formal.
Formal heeling requires full focus from both the person walking the dog and the dog. It is a very advanced skill requiring a lot of concentration and training. This would be important for a show dog or in a situation where there are lots of distractions. The owner literally is facing down at the dog and the dog up at the owner and positioned next to one another.
Informal heeling still requires training and concentration but to a lesser extent than formal. By teaching your dog to informal heel you are able to keep your dog walking close by your side and focused on you while walking in everyday life situations. The difference from formal being that you both are able to walk looking forward at what is ahead of you and not facing directly at one another. You will learn to read each other’s body language to anticipate changes from that position, ie. when he needs to pee or when you want to walk quickly.
If you continue to reward your dog for staying close to you he will be less likely to run ahead of you pulling towards places, ie. the dog park, or other dogs. This skill is very important if you want to eventually walk your dog off leash in order to keep him with you and under control.
Follow These Steps to Teach Your Dog to Heel:
You will need your dog, high value treats, a treat pouch, a clicker & walking equipment (leash, collar, harness).
1) Start practising in the house with few distractions.
Have your dog on a leash at the left side of you, the handle of the leash in your right hand close to your body, your left hand positioned further down the leash and treats in it as well. Ask your dog to “sit” at your side. Say “look at me” to cue him to look up at you, mark with a click and treat to reward when he looks. Say “okay, lets go” so he knows it is time to get up and start walking. Walk forward a few steps, click and treat him as he follows and stays focused on you. Stop and immediately cue him to “sit”, click and reward him. Repeat this sequence over and over again till he learns to focus on you when walking. Increase the number of steps you take as he gets better at it.
2) Introduce a cue to the heel behaviour when walking.
As you walk with him, if he attempts to walk ahead or away from you, tap your left thigh to have him come walk beside you. If he comes close beside you click and reward him with a treat. Continue to practice walking, heeling and sitting. He will learn to stay next to you and automatically sit when the walking stops.
If you prefer a vocal cue the word “heel” can be used. You would say “heel” click and treat as he is starting to walk beside you the first time you use it. You continue to add the cue in each time starting with a second before he is performing the behaviour to even sooner, a few seconds before, so he learns that when you say “heel” he should be walking right beside you.
3) Move heeling outdoors.
Move your training outdoors to introduce more distractions. Start in a quiet area and then when he is comfortable there move to an area with more distractions. Have him walk a few steps then sit and reward. Continue to walk and have him “heel” to stay close, while continuing to reward him for staying focused.
4) Vary directions
Now that your dog has mastered heeling outdoors you can start introducing a change in direction. Have him heel as you are turning corners. This is also great to do if your dog starts pulling on a walk. Have him heel, turn around and start walking the other way.
Once your dog’s heel is on cue (meaning he does it every single time you ask) you can start to fade out the clicker and continue to reinforce with “good boy” or “good girl” and a treat. Eventually only occasional treats will be needed to reinforce the behaviour but always remember to say “good boy”.
Keep in mind that although heeling is a useful skill to teach your dog it is not necessary, nor recommended, to continuously make him heel during the entire walk. A dog should feel free to explore and sniff around while maintaining a close distance and a loose leash.
Loose leash walking and heeling are both important skills to use during a walk with your dog. It would be best to use loose leash walking during the majority of your walk and then cue in a heel when necessary. Ideal situations to ask your dog to heel would be when you see other dogs approaching you or when you are crossing a street.
Happy Training! I wish you and your dog all the best in mastering heeling!