Teaching your dog to heel can be one of the most difficult skills to teach your dog. It causes frustration and often causes you to question why your dog just won’t get it. Going on a nice walk on a beautiful day becomes a storm of pulling, distractions, and barking. You probably wonder if it’s really worth it?
Please understand that each dog learns in his own unique way. Just like children and even adults – one doesn’t learn the same way as the other. Some take longer than others. You will probably find that you will spend more time on one of the steps than the others. It just depends on your dog and his personality, traits, and drive.
Proper heeling is when you can walk your dog with a loose lead and his head does not move past your heel. This is primarily for safety so that if you turn left or right, you will not trip over him. He should move when you move, back up when you back up, and turn when you turn.
1. Practice “Heel” first with NO distractions.
Use a quiet place in your house. Attach a sturdy 6 foot lead to his harness. I recommend a harness instead of a collar for more control and to avoid choking your dog. Lure your dog with a treat to your left side. His head should not extend past your left heel. Take one step. If he stays in heel position, immediately say “Yes” and give a treat. Repeat this adding one step at a time. If at any point, he falls out of “Heel” position, simply go back to the last point he was successful and begin from that point. Ignore fails. Reward successes.
TIP: Place loop of leash around your right wrist and hold the leash further down with your left hand. This will give you more leverage and control.
Once your dog has mastered the heel skill in the room without distractions, move to a different room. Then take him with you around the house on the lead. Let him follow you and correct immediately if he falls out of heel position by stopping and luring him back into position. Don’t forget to reward for correctly heeling. Say “Yes” immediately and reward to capture the correct response. If you wait too long, you may accidentally reward a behavior that you don’t want.
Move in the yard with a few distractions. Go through the steps the same way as you did inside. Continue working outside with few distractions until he has mastered.
Move to the front yard with more distractions. Finally move to a neighborhood street – then to a local park or local store that is animal friendly.
2. Stop and Start.
Your dog loves to walk. He’s on a mission and he speeds ahead. When you stop, he thinks, “Hey! Why did you stop? What’s wrong?”. He should turn around to look at you. At this point, tell him what you want (come back to your side/heel). You can do this by calling him or luring with a treat. Once he is back in place, resume walking. Each and every time, he speeds ahead, Stop and Repeat. Yes. This can turn a 30 minute walk into an hour but it is so worth it! Be sure to keep lots of treats with you so you can reward for a great heel!
3. Redirect your Dog.
If he is pulling, gently change directions and guide him. I have actually been known to do figure eights and donuts. By doing this, your dog has to look at you for guidance because he has no idea what you’re doing. He may think you’re a little crazy but that’s okay! He should fall back into heel position and you can resume your walk. Just like Step 2, you may have to do this many times at first so don’t plan on going for a quick walk! Prepare to double your normal time. Don’t forget to praise and reward when your dog is heeling correctly!
The heel skill is no quick skill to learn. You will need lots of patience, understanding and determination. There will be times you will feel like giving up. Don’t. Give. Up! Don’t let your dog see your frustration. This will make the process take just that much longer.
If you have any questions about Getting Your Dog to Heel or would like to schedule a consultation, call or contact me today at 762-218-3708. We currently serve the Columbia County, GA area.
*NOTE: If your dog is unresponsive to these techniques or you don’t feel comfortable implementing them, contact a trainer who is familiar with behavior modification in dogs. Do NOT attempt to do anything that will jeopardize your safety.