Maintaining a perfect heel command while walking your dog shouldn’t seem like a constant battle. If you have fallen into a habit of continually correcting your dog while heeling then your dog might be assuming that correction is part of their daily walking routine. It is only fair that your dog understands what you are asking of them and that you are consistent in expecting the same results no matter what the environment has in store for you during your walk. To get you and your dog out of some bad habits, here are 10 tips you can apply to your heeling along with video demonstrations.
**For these tips, it is essential that your dog first understand the basic command “heel.” The definition of “heel” at The Doghouse is that your dog is positioned on your left side with his or her shoulder parallel to your knee. The leash should remain loose at all times during your walk, and if you stop walking, your dog should also stop and automatically go into a sit position.**
1. The 180° left turn-into your dog
This move is intended to be used when you are having to constantly correct your dog for forging (consistently ahead of you by less than 12 inches) Typically, these are the situations where your dog has been desensitized to prong collar. The constant expectation of getting corrected means that your dog has learned to shut off the information you are trying to give them through the correction. As an alternative to constant correction and warnings, once you feel your dog starting to pull forward, make an abrupt 180° turn into your dog. As soon as they touch your leg, say “No” and pop the leash away from you.
2. Go for a Walk, a Long Walk
A dog cannot properly practice the heel command on a short walk around your yard, from your house to your car, etc. So break out your walking shoes and take him/her on a long walk! The longer the walk, the better they will settle into the heel position.
3. Practice rewarding while walking (not just rewarding when they auto-sit)
Using a soft treat (that they can eat while walking), give your dog a reward for being in the correct position using your left hand. Keep your treat pouch positioned on your left hip so that you are targeting exactly where you want your dog to be. This is a great exercise for a dog that has high food drive because they are continually anticipating the next reward. As you get more fluent in giving the treat, you can practice this at any point during your walk. In the beginning you will need to walk slower to ensure you are not dropping food on the ground. It is important to only reward during the motion of the walk and not confuse this exercise with an automatic sit.
4. Stop and check your position periodically by using the automatic sit
Your dog has learned while in training that when you stop walking during the heel, it is their job to go into the sit position without you having to tell them the command sit. This is called an automatic sit and the dog has to be paying attention to you and your pace to be successful. When practicing this exercise, before you come to a stop, take a few steps to slow down (a good analogy is when your driving and the car in front of you puts on their blinker to signal they are turning.) By slowing down for your dog, you are putting on your blinker and preparing them for something to happen! If your dog doesn’t go into an automatic sit within 5 seconds, say NO and then give a correction on your leash straight up in the air. Once the dog sits, you can say Good Sit.
5. Be a Leader, not a follower
This exercise ensures that your dog understands that no matter what the distractions are in the enviroment that you are what they should be paying attention to. A lot of times, dogs can appear to be walking with their person but really they are on autopilot and are going through the motions of heel but really they are not paying attention to you and their mind is caught up in all the distractions of the environment. In this case, the “leadership exercise” is great to practice with your dog. It takes them out the formal expectations of the heel command and you can tell where the dog’s focus is. All I am looking for is a giant follow the leader game. Whenever the leash is on, your dog should look to you for direction.
6. The leash over the head boundary
Dogs are very sensitive to boundaries. To create an invisible boundary during a walk, swing your leash in a counter clockwise circular motion and gently tap the leash on the dog’s nose if it happens to be too far ahead. Simultaneously, you can pair it with a quick pop with the prong collar or when the leash touches the dogs nose, you can also pair the electric collar. By doing this, you make the dog become more aware of the “invisible boundary.” The demo video below helps to clear any confusion:
7. How to show your dog they are allowed to use the bathroom on leash
The heel command should be constantly reinforced. So, if you know that you want your dog to be allowed to have freedom to roam, sniff or go potty while on leash, then you need to clearly signal to the dog they don’t have to be in the heel position. If you have your dog on your normal 4 or 6 foot leash and you want to release them to “go potty’” always put the dog on your right side when they are not expected to be in the “heel” position as described in this video:
8. Be creative
Have fun with your dog and generalizing the “heel” command in various environments (downtown, farmers markets, boardwalks…). You can also incorporate the same rules expected during walks while biking, roller blading, skateboarding… the possibilities are endless!
9. Use your tools correctly
It is important to make sure that you are not desensitizing your dog to the training tools. To ensure you are not continually correcting your dog on a walk use two collars and be intentional about the correction you give on the prong. This is the next step in fading off of the prong collar to a buckle collar.
After practicing many sessions using the above method, once you get to a point that you don’t need to correct from the prong and once you are confident in your handle skills having generalized the heel in many different environments then you can take it off and try using the buckle collar only.
10. A healthy balance
Even when trying to maintain a perfect “heel” position, it is still important to let your dog simply be a dog! So don’t forget to give them a little break especially when you have mastered all these tips. At any point when the dog is under the OK (release command) and you say “heel”, they should go back into position as you walk away. I like using a retractable leash when practicing this. Keep a healthy balance when out walking so that the dog still gets to enjoy sniffing and just being a dog.