Dog Training 101: How To Train Your Dog To Heel


How To Teach Your Dog The Heel Command

One of the most important elements of off leash control is having a good heel command.  Any dog training classes you take should thoroughly cover heeling your dog.  You need to know that you can trust your dog to remain near you at all times, even when you’re going through very busy situations.

If you’re in a situation that’s not good for the dog to be roaming free, you can call them and give them a heel command.

A properly trained dog will march beside you with his shoulder next to your thigh.

Traditionally the dog will be on your left side-that’s the standard side chosen for the heel command.  Historically dogs were heeled by hunters, and since most were right-handed and would carry guns in the right hand dogs were heeled on the left side for safety.  It’s still the most commonly taught side, but feel free to heel your dog on either side.

How do we begin to train our puppy to heel?

You begin training with your dog on a short line and you start with the dog beside you.  As you step out with your left foot-it’s the closest foot to the dog so it gives them a visual lead-you move forward and say “heel”.  The dog should begin moving with you.  If he doesn’t, give a small correction with the lead to get him moving.

If the dog is lagging behind in the beginning you can encourage them up with a little bit of finger motion in front of his nose. You can also make a couple of clicking sounds to encourage him.

The best position of the dog in a heel command is the dog’s head is angled upwards towards you and slightly in front of your leg.  That way at any point when you begin to change directions the dog is very visually aware of what you are doing. This means they’re not going to trip you up or get in your way.

Start out by just going in a straight line while a dog is watching you as you walk.  When you want to stop, slow down the last couple of steps before stopping.  This gives the dog the head’s up that you are going to stop.  Ideally he should sit when you stop walking, but in the beginning you will likely have to tell the dog to sit as you stop.

Issue the sit command if need be when you begin the heel training.  If the dog won’t sit, you may have to take the lead and give a sharp correction up and back to force the dog to sit.  We’re assuming that you’ve already taught the dog the sit command prior to this and they’re doing it very well.

As the dog learns the heel command, walks will become so much more enjoyable and productive for your dog.  As you walk, the dog has a level of freedom to run ahead and behind, as long as he stays with you.  He’ll get five times the exercise on the walk by running this way, and if a situation calls for it you can simply call him back and make him heel to keep him close.

When Do I Train The Dog To Turn?

Once he’s heeling pretty well in a line, begin to introduce turns to your dog.  I start with a left turn, as it’s the side that the dog is on so visually it’s easier for him to understand.

Start with the dog in a sit beside you, and take your initial left leg step while giving the ‘heel’ command.  Walk a few paces with him before beginning the left turn, remembering to keep the dog up with you by verbally and visually calling him.

On the turn, you plant your left foot, and swing your right across your body.  Do this in one fluid motion.  The planted left foot will be clearly visible to the dog, and he should follow the turn easily.  In fact, as you turn, your left leg will brush the dog’s nose.  The dog should be looking to you for instruction, not sniffing the ground or looking around.  Keep them looking at you with correction and guidance.

If after you’ve given them encouragement they’re still lagging, give the line a snap to bring them forward.

For the right turn, begin walking with the dog again using a ‘heel’ command.  Be sure to keep your hands low and the line slack, you don’t want to be dragging the dog.  A right turn causes them to make a longer turn since it’s an outside turn.

Once your dog is heeling properly in a controlled environment, the next step is to drop the line and have them heel without you holding it.  Any time you need to correct the dog, simply pick up the line and do a correction.  Walk a little more, and drop the line.

Repeat these steps and in a few weeks you will have a dog which will heel at your side through just about any distraction.

Remember!  Patience and consistency in YOU, the handler, goes a long way.  As you work the dog, keep the mood light and give them ‘attaboys’.  Correction should NEVER be done in anger, simply show them that the behavior being corrected is unwanted.


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