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Teaching A Dog To Heel

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this is “advanced” obedience training, but essential.

A woman teaching a dog to heel

Teaching a dog to heel is like having a verbal leash you can apply to your dog at a moment’s notice. The goal of this piece of obedience training, is to get your dog to stand or sit just inches away from your foot, and behave despite distractions. You’ll use this any time your dog is agitated or tempted to misbehave.

This is a difficult skill for your dog to learn. So, when teaching a dog to heel, you’ll build the behavior bit by bit. Take each step slowly, don’t expect results for a while, keep the training sessions especially short and make up for that by doing even more repetition than you normally would.

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Training Method – Teaching a Dog to Heel

The steps below for teaching a dog to heel will work with or without a leash. The goal is to get the behavior without a leash, but some people believe that the leash is an essential part of the mindset you’re trying to create in this lesson. Other people believe that teaching a dog to heel with a leash, only means you’ll have to repeat the training without it. That part is your call, but I recommend skipping the leash, so that he understands that the heel command can happen at any time.

Begin the training as always – in a familiar place with no distractions.

  1. Stand next to your dog, facing the same direction as him.
  2. In the hand closest to your dog, hold a treat at your dog’s eye level and say your dog’s name. He should make eye contact with you.
  3. Take a couple of steps forward, then stop. Your dog should move with you and then stay beside you. If he does, praise and reward him.
  4. If he doesn’t stay with you, encourage your dog however you normally do, but without saying “good dog.” If he didn’t stay beside you when you walked, don’t reward him, just repeat from step 1.

Teaching a dog to heel is not easy, but it is important.

Since this is a difficult skill to learn, you want to keep going immediately. As soon as he’s swallowed the treat, start again from step one above, and do a few repetitions before ending the session.

A few notes to be clear about the exact behavior you are shooting for when teaching a dog to heel:

  • Your dog should stay beside you as if he was on a leash.
  • Your dog should stop when you stop, and face where you face. (Although, glancing at you is good, as it’s a sign of obedience.)
  • Your dog should not be walking behind you sniffing or licking at the treat.

After several sessions, your dog should start getting the hang of this. After he’s mastered this, increase the number of steps you take – start with 2 steps, then every time he proves he’s “getting it” by keeping right beside you when you move and stopping when you stop, add 2 more steps.

Once you can get your dog to follow this routine for ten paces, with many successful repetitions, now it’s time to add the verbal command to “heel.” Remember that one of the first steps was to say your dog’s name – now, add the word “heel” after his name, then repeat the rest of the process exactly as above.

When you add the verbal cue, go back to fewer steps to avoid confusion. You should be able to add more paces, working your way back up to ten steps with your dog right beside you, more quickly than before – but be sensitive and work at your dog’s own pace.

You are now teaching your dog to heel! Be very generous with your praise when he gets it right, because again, this is not one of the easier commands for a dog to master. Staying near you is one thing – staying strictly beside you step for step and stopping when you stop is another matter.

Teaching a Dog to Heel: Advanced Training

There are a lot of challenges you can add to this routine, but take it slow. With previous obedience training commands, I suggest real temptations to challenge your dog’s obedience, but when teaching a dog to heel, make sure the challenges are basic and not too tempting at first.

You do eventually want to work up towards tossing a ball in front of you while your dog is subject to the “heel” command – that’s a real test of obedience in a case like this – but give him lots and lots of time before making it that difficult.

The final test is to be out-and-about with no leash, and giving the “heel” command when your dog is not beside you. Your dog should come to you, stand or sit beside you, face where you’re facing, and possibly look at you. When your dog meets that challenge, you’ve done a great job with obedience training – and so has your dog!

Back to home dog training tips, or return to obedience training commands.

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