Teach a Dog to Heel

To teach a dog to heel you first must know exactly what you want the dog to do. When heeling the dog should be even with your heel and focused mainly on you or the road ahead. The main reason for teaching a dog to heel is not just to stop him from pulling on leash. The main reason that I train a dog to heel properly is to be able to get the dog in a calm submissive state whenever I need to. When your dog is heeling properly he is much less likely to react in an excited or aggressive way to things you encounter. While at your heel your dog sees your leg in front of him as a constant reminder of your presence. When he sees a dog, squirrel, or bicycle he sees you and then the distraction. If your dog is two inches ahead of you (even if he isn’t pulling) he will see only the distraction and not you.

The typical side to walk a dog is the left side, but use whichever side you prefer. Make sure that the entire family walks the dog on the same side. To start the process I let the dog burn off some steam by playing so that he is in an appropriate state of mind to learn. I then put on a leash and collar and tell the dog “heel” as I start walking. Never restrain the dog as you walk, use short little tugs as you say “heel” to keep the dog in position. When the dog pulls ahead give a tug straight back. Remember that you are trying to keep your dog focused on the road ahead, so also give little tugs when you lose his attention to the side. If the dog looks left give a tug to the right as you say “heel” and vice versa. When starting it is typical for the dog to constantly try to forge ahead. A little trick I use is to make constant sharp left turns to slow the dog down. While turning left give tugs straight back until your dog naturally slows when he sees you starting to turn. This helps keep the dog focused on you and makes sure that he doesn’t develop tunnel vision as you walk down the sidewalk.

After you have mastered the left turn it is time to start turning right. The goal is that we can turn right and the dog automatically turns with us and turns his attention to our new direction. When starting the right turn it is essential to talk to the dog and give a lot of praise. As you turn right say his name as you tell him “heel” so that he is interested in what you are doing and wants to turn with you. Do not pull the dog as you turn right. If he is distracted as you turn, give tugs the way you want him to look as you say “heel”.
You should soon be able to walk straight with your dog at your heel, turn left without having to speed up, and turn right with your dog automatically coming with you. I practice this command on my daily walks and use it when necessary. I start every walk by telling my dog to heel and walking until the dog is calm. Once I like his behavior I will give him some freedom to smell, pee, and check everything out. I will then finish the walk by heeling the rest of the way home. A typical walk is usually twenty minutes of heeling, twenty minutes of freedom, and twenty more minutes of heeling. Once mastered this command becomes the easiest way to address many behavioral issues. It can be used to calm a dog down when they become aggressive, fearful, or start to bark just to name a few. If you start this command before you truly need it you will be thankful for all the time you put in.

Matt Covey
Suburban K-9
Elgin, Il