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The ability to teach dogs to heel is rewarding for both you and your canine friend. The skill makes walks more enjoyable and instills some necessary organization in your routine. The process may not be quick, but a heel command is a vital tool in building stability in your relationship with your pup.

What Does Heel Mean?

Teaching a dog to heel means directing your dog to walk beside you on command. Not behind you or in front of you – directly beside you. This distinction is important because if your dog walks ahead of you, you fall out of his peripheral vision. If your dog can’t see you, he decides he’s in charge and begins to lead you.

On the other hand, if your dog walks behind you, he’s not keeping pace with you and might be prone to sit or pull on his leash. Ideally, you want your dog to keep pace right by your side for a couple of reasons. If your dog thinks he’s walking you, neither of you can expect to have a good experience.

You must establish yourself as the alpha, and this conditioning will make your dog’s willingness to learn other skills easier. Once your dog understands what it means to heel, you can expect him to burn some energy in an organized fashion when you take him on walks. At the end of the day, your dog will be much happier because he won’t feel so restless.

Tips for Teaching a Dog to Heel

Before you teach a dog to heel, it’s essential to understand that it may not be an easy process. That is, it may be simple, just not easy. The number one tool for you to use is patience. Depending on how stubborn your dog is, you may need buckets of patience.

With that in mind, there are a few other fundamental tools required:

  • A leash and collar (arguably the most important behind patience)
  • Treats (treat bag optional; shove a handful in your pocket)
  • A training clicker (or make a click sound with your mouth)

Aside from basic supplies, there are also some key concepts to keep in mind. These concepts can make the learning process smoother and provide a solid foundation upon which to practice.

  • Whatever method you choose, practice at home first, either inside or in the backyard. Somewhere away from traffic. A park may not be ideal for the first few practice attempts because your dog may be easily distracted by others. Start at home and venture out when you’re both ready.
  • Traditionally, you would train a dog to heel on your left side. You don’t have to, but whatever side you decide you want your dog to walk on, make sure he always walks on that side.
  • Don’t overuse treats. Use treats only when your dog follows through on a command successfully. Make sure to hold treats out of your dog’s reach to discourage him from jumping on you to snatch it. The trick is to teach your dog to enjoy the walk, not to expect a treat.

Methods to Teach a Dog to Heel

Here we’ll cover three ways to train a dog to heel, step by step. You may want to pick one or merge some of these ideas. Whatever you decide to do, stick to it. Your dog will thrive on routine.

Method One: Using the Clicker

Whether you decided to invest in a training clicker or prefer to make the sound yourself, the concept here is to link the clicking sound with a treat. While the ultimate goal is to teach your dog to enjoy the walk for the walk’s sake, the treat catalyzes that outcome.

  1. Throw a few treats on the ground and allow your dog to eat them. Each time he eats one, click. Then offer your dog a treat by hand. When he eats it, click. Now repeat. After several treats, stop and let your dog lose interest. Now click. If your dog spins around eager for a treat, you have successfully associated the click with a treat.
  2. Now you’re ready to walk. Again, you should start at home, where there’s some space and few distractions. Let your dog know you have a treat for him by holding it in your hand by his nose. Lure him with the treat to walk forward and match your pace.
  3. Once your dog starts walking in the heel position you desire, say, “Heel.” Immediately click and give him the treat. Repeat this process – lure, walk, saying heel, click, and reward – several times.
  4. When your dog appears to understand, start spacing out rewards. Walk further before clicking and rewarding.

Method Two: Stop and Sit

A prerequisite for this method is that your dog knows how to sit. The idea is that when you walk, your dog walks, and when you stop, your dog sits. If he sits, you give him a treat. Your goal is to encourage your dog to walk along with you instead of ahead of you.

  1. Let your dog know you have a treat. Now walk a few paces, then stop. Don’t give the sit command. Wait for your dog to sit on his own – remember, he has not forgotten about that treat. The purpose of this is to get your dog to figure out on his own that by sitting, he gets the treat.
  2. Continue this exercise. Now, when you start walking, and your dog follows, say, “Heel.” Then stop, let him sit, and give him a treat.
  3. Watch out for your dog walking ahead of you. When this happens, stop and wait until he sits. Repeat – heel, stop, sit, treat – with longer walking intervals until your dog understands.

Method Three: Stop and Turn

This method deters your dog from pulling his leash. Your dog wants to go where he wants to go – the destination is the reward. Replace his concept of the destination being the reward with the rule that you stop if he doesn’t obey.

  1. Take your dog for a walk, and the first time your dog pulls on the leash, stop walking. Give the heel command. Reward him if he heels. Repeat this every time your dog tries to take the lead.
  2. If you stop and your dog ignores you, try walking in the opposite direction. When he catches up to your side, say, “Heel,” to reinforce the command and give him a treat.
  3. Repeat the stop and turn method by switching directions constantly, allowing your dog to catch up should he stray. Eventually, your dog will understand that if he tries to take the lead, you’re going to switch things up on him – which delays his ability to get anywhere.

How Long Does it Take to Teach a Dog to Heel?

Teaching a dog to heel is slightly more complicated than teaching him to sit. Your dog may catch on to the concept quickly, yet struggle with other aspects. He may have a hard time getting over the fact that a treat is present. Be patient and allow him to work out the puzzle for himself on how to get that treat.

Final Thoughts

When you teach a dog to heel, it’s a learning process for both of you. You gain a better understanding of your dog’s tendencies, and your dog receives a mental workout vital to his development. Further, your relationship improves because dogs inherently understand hierarchy. When he realizes you’re the alpha, harmony abounds.

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