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Dog Training

How Heeling Can Transform Your Dog’s Behavior and Bonding

If you have seen a well-trained dog walking obediently by its owner’s side, you might have wondered how it achieved such harmony. The answer is likely the heel command, one of the most valuable and basic commands in dog training. Heeling is when your dog walks next to you at the same pace without pulling on the leash or getting distracted by other things. Heeling can make your walks more enjoyable, safer, and more accessible for you and your dog.

But how do you teach your dog to heel? There are different methods and techniques that you can use, depending on your dog’s personality, age, and level of training. Some standard tools that can help you are a leash, a collar, treats, and a clicker. The key is rewarding your dog for staying close to you and following your cues while correcting unwanted behavior. Heeling is not something that your dog will learn overnight, but with patience, consistency, and practice, you can achieve great results.

Table of Contents

Defining “Heel” In Dog Training

What Exactly Does Heel Mean?

Heel is a command that tells your dog to walk next to you at the same pace without pulling on the leash or getting distracted by other things. It is one of the most basic and useful commands in dog training, as it can make your walks more enjoyable, safer, and more accessible for you and your dog.

What Exactly is Heel Position?

Heel position is when your dog is on your left side, with its head or shoulder aligned with your left leg. Your dog should be close enough to touch your leg but not so close that it bumps into you or steps on your feet. Your dog should also look at you or ahead, not at the ground or other things.

Why Teach a Dog To Heel?

There are many benefits of teaching your dog to heel, such as:

Teaches Impulse Control:

Heeling can help your dog learn to control its impulses and focus on you rather than chasing squirrels, barking at other dogs, or jumping on people.

Teaches A Dog Not To Pull On The Leash:

Heeling can prevent your dog from pulling on the leash, which can cause injury, frustration, and discomfort for you and your dog.

Provides Physical And Mental Exercise:

Heeling can provide your dog with physical and mental stimulation, requiring it to pay attention to you, follow your cues, and adjust its pace and direction.

Can Help Teach A Dog How To Walk Off A Leash:

Heeling can be a stepping stone to teaching your dog how to walk off a leash, as it can teach your dog to stay close to you and follow your commands, even without a leash.

Can Be Used Like An Emergency Recall:

Heeling can get your dog back to you quickly and safely in an emergency, such as a car approaching, a loose dog, or a dangerous situation.

Can Be Used To Train A Working Dog:

Heeling can help work dogs, such as service dogs, therapy dogs, or police dogs, as it can help them perform their tasks efficiently and professionally.

How To Teach a Dog To Heel

Teaching your dog to heel can be done in several steps, such as:

Teach Some Basic Training Exercises:

Before you start teaching your dog to heel, you should teach your dog some basic training exercises, such as sit, stay, come, and look at me. These exercises can help your dog learn to listen to you and follow your commands, which are essential for heeling.

Teach Positioning:

The next step is to teach your dog what heel position is and how to get into it. You can use a treat to lure your dog to your left side and reward it when it is in the correct position. You can also use a marker word, such as “yes” or “good,” or a clicker to let your dog know when it is doing the right thing.

Teach Attention To You While The Dog’s Sitting Next To You:

Once your dog knows how to get into heel position, you can teach your dog to pay attention to you while sitting next to you. You can do this by holding a treat before your face and rewarding your dog when it looks at you. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually increase the duration of the eye contact and then add a cue word, such as “watch” or “focus.”

Add Motion Only After The Dog Understands What Heel Position Is:

The next step is to add motion to your heeling, but only after your dog understands what heel position is and how to maintain it. You can do this by taking one or two steps forward and rewarding your dog when it stays in the heel position. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually increase the number of steps and then add a cue word, such as “heel” or “let’s go.”

Add Attention To You When Moving:

Once your dog can walk with you in the heel position, you can teach your dog to pay attention to you when moving. You can do this by holding a treat before your face and rewarding your dog when it looks at you. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually increase the duration of the eye contact and then add distractions, such as other people, dogs, or noises.

Add A Hand Cue:

The next step is adding a hand cue to your heeling, which can help your dog know when to heel and walk normally. You can do this by holding your left hand in front of your chest and then rewarding your dog when it heels. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually lower your hand to your side and use it only when you want your dog to heel.

Fade Out The Treat Lure:

The next step is to fade out the treat lure from your heeling, and use only your voice and hand cues. You can do this by holding the treat behind your back and then rewarding your dog randomly when it heels. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually reduce the frequency of the treats and then use them only occasionally or as a jackpot reward.

Add Turns To Your Heeling:

The next step is to add turns to your heeling, which can make your heeling more dynamic and fun. You can do this by turning left, right, or around and then rewarding your dog when it follows you and stays in the heel position. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually increase the speed and sharpness of the turns and then add a cue word, such as “left,” “right,” or “around.”

Adding Changes Of Pace:

The next step is to add changes of pace to your heeling, which can challenge your dog and keep it interested. You can do this by walking faster, slower, or stopping, rewarding your dog when it adjusts its pace and stays in the heel position. You can also mark the behavior with a marker word or a clicker. You can gradually vary the pace and duration of the changes and then add a cue word, such as “fast,” “slow,” or “stop.”

End Training Sessions On A Positive Note:

The final step is to end your heeling training sessions on a positive note, which can reinforce your dog’s learning and motivation. You can do this by praising your dog, giving it a treat, playing with it, or letting it have some free time. You can also use a release word, such as “okay” or “free”, to let your dog know that the heeling session is over and that it can relax.

What Does Heel Mean?

Heel is a command that tells your dog to walk next to you at the same pace without pulling on the leash or getting distracted by other things.

Why Should You Teach Your Dog to Heel?

It would help if you taught your dog to heel because it can:

  • Teach your dog impulse control
  • Teach your dog not to pull on the leash
  • Provide your dog with physical and mental exercise
  • Help you teach your dog how to walk off a leash
  • Be used like an emergency recall
  • Be used to train a working dog

How Do I Teach My Dog To Heel?

You can teach your dog to heel by following these steps:

Beginning Training:

  • Teach your dog basic training exercises, such as sit, stay, come, and look at me.
  • Teach your dog positioning by using a treat to lure your dog to your left side and then rewarding your dog when it is in the correct position.
  • Teach your dog attention to you while the dog’s sitting next to you by holding a treat in front of your face and then rewarding your dog when it looks at you.
  • Add motion only after the dog understands the heel position by taking one or two steps forward and rewarding your dog when it stays in the heel position.
  • Add attention to you when moving by holding a treat in front of your face and then rewarding your dog when it looks at you.

More advanced training:

Add a hand cue by holding your left hand in front of your chest and then rewarding your dog when it heels.

Fade out the treat lure by holding the treat behind your back and then rewarding your dog randomly when it heels.

Add turns to your heeling, by turning left, right, or around, and then rewarding your dog when it follows you and stays in heel position.

It is adding changes of pace by walking faster, slower, or stopping, and then rewarding your dog when it adjusts its pace and stays in the heel position.

End training sessions on a positive note by praising your dog, giving it a treat, playing with it, or letting it have some free time.

Before You Get Started Teaching Your Dog to Heel

What does heel mean in dog training puppy

Before you get started teaching your dog to heel, you should:

Have lots of treats ready, preferably small, soft, and tasty ones your dog loves.

Get ready to mark a behavior by using a marker word, such as “yes” or “good,” or a clicker, a device that makes a clicking sound when you press it.

Teach a nose-to-hand target when your dog touches its nose to your hand, and then reward your dog when it does so. This can help your dog learn to follow your hand and stay close to you.

4 Easy Steps to Teach Your Dog to Heel on Leash

If you want to teach your dog to heel on a leash, you can follow these four easy steps:

Click and Treat Your Dog for Attention

The first step is to click and treat your dog for paying attention to you. You can do this by holding a treat near your face and clicking and rewarding your dog when it looks at you. You can also use a marker word, such as “yes” or “good,” instead of a clicker. This can help your dog learn to focus on you and ignore distractions.

Click and Treat for Hand Targeting

The second step is to click and treat your dog for hand targeting. This is when your dog touches its nose to your hand and then gets a reward. You can do this by holding your hand near your dog’s nose and clicking and rewarding it when it touches your hand. You can also use a cue word, such as “touch” or “target,” to tell your dog what to do. This can help your dog learn to follow your hand and stay close to you.

Increase Steps Between Hand Targets

The third step is to increase the number of steps between hand targets. This is when you start walking with your dog and then click and treat your dog for hand targeting every few steps. You can do this by holding your hand near your dog’s nose, taking one or two steps forward, and clicking and rewarding your dog when it touches your hand. You can gradually increase the number of steps and then add turns and changes of pace. This can help your dog learn to walk with you in heel position.

Fade the Hand Target

The fourth step is to fade the hand target. This is when you stop using your hand as a lure and use only your voice and body cues. You can do this by holding your hand behind your back and then clicking and rewarding your dog when it stays in the heel position. You can also use a hand signal, such as pointing to your side, to tell your dog where to go. You can gradually reduce the frequency of the treats and then use them only occasionally or as a jackpot reward. This can help your dog learn to heel without a lure.

To Heel Or Not To Heel

Heeling is a valuable skill for your dog, but it is not the only way to walk your dog. There are times when you want your dog to heel, and times when you want your dog to walk normally. Here are some things to consider before you get started teaching your dog to heel:

Before You Get Started

Make sure your dog is healthy and fit enough to heel. Heeling can be physically demanding for your dog, especially if you walk fast or for a long time. If your dog has health issues, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or obesity, you should consult your vet before heeling training.

Make sure your dog is mentally ready to heel. Heeling can be mentally challenging for your dog, as it requires your dog to pay attention to you and follow your cues. If your dog is not used to training or is easily distracted, you should start with some basic training exercises, such as sit, stay, come, and look at me, before you move on to heeling.

Make sure you have the right equipment to heel. Heeling can be easier and safer for you and your dog if you have the right equipment, such as a leash, a collar, a harness, a treat pouch, and a clicker. It would help if you chose the equipment that suits your dog’s size, breed, and temperament and that does not cause any discomfort, pain, or injury to your dog.

Have Lots of Treats Ready

When teaching your dog to heel, one of the most important things to have is lots of treats. Treats are the best way to motivate and reward your dog and reinforce your dog’s learning. You should have plenty of treats ready, preferably small, soft, and tasty ones your dog loves. It would help if you also varied the treats so your dog does not get bored or lose interest.

Get Ready To Mark A Behavior

Another essential thing to have when teaching your dog to heel is a way to mark a behavior. A marker is a signal that tells your dog when it is doing the right thing and that a reward is coming. You can use a marker word, such as “yes” or “good,” or a clicker, a device that makes a clicking sound when you press it. It would help if you used the marker when your dog performs the desired behavior, such as staying in the heel position and then following it with a treat. This can help your dog learn what you want it to do and associate it with a positive outcome.

Teach A Nose-To-Hand Target

A nose-to-hand target is a simple but effective way to teach your dog to heel. A nose-to-hand target is when your dog touches its nose to your hand and gets rewarded. You can instruct your dog on a nose-to-hand target by holding your hand near your dog’s nose and then clicking and rewarding your dog when it touches your hand. You can also use a cue word, such as “touch” or “target,” to tell your dog what to do. A nose-to-hand target can help your dog learn to follow your hand and stay close to you.

4 Steps To Teaching Your Dog How To Heel On A Leash

If you want to teach your dog how to heel on a leash, you can follow these four steps:

Step 1: Click And Treat Your Dog For Attention

The first step is to click and treat your dog for paying attention to you. You can do this by holding a treat near your face and clicking and rewarding your dog when it looks at you. You can also use a marker word, such as “yes” or “good,” instead of a clicker. This can help your dog learn to focus on you and ignore distractions.

Step 2: Click And Treat For Hand Targeting

The second step is to click and treat your dog for hand targeting. This is when your dog touches its nose to your hand and then gets a reward. You can do this by holding your hand near your dog’s nose and clicking and rewarding your dog when it touches your hand. You can also use a cue word, such as “touch” or “target,” to tell your dog what to do. This can help your dog learn to follow your hand and stay close to you.

Step 3: Increase Steps Between Hand Targets

The third step is to increase the number of steps between hand targets. This is when you start walking with your dog and then click and treat your dog for hand targeting every few steps. You can do this by holding your hand near your dog’s nose, taking one or two steps forward, and clicking and rewarding your dog when it touches your hand. You can gradually increase the number of steps and then add turns and changes of pace. This can help your dog learn to walk with you in heel position.

Step 4: Fade The Hand Target

The fourth step is to fade the hand target. This is when you stop using your hand as a lure and use only your voice and body cues. You can do this by holding your hand behind your back and clicking and rewarding your dog when it stays in the heel position. You can also use a hand signal, such as pointing to your side, to tell your dog where to go. You can gradually reduce the frequency of the treats and then use them only occasionally or as a jackpot reward. This can help your dog learn to heel without a lure.

Additional tips

Here are some additional tips to help you teach your dog to heel:

When to Begin Teaching Your Dog to Heel

You can begin teaching your dog to heel at any age as long as your dog is healthy and fit enough. However, some experts recommend starting heeling training when your dog is between six and twelve months old, as this is when your dog is more receptive to learning and less likely to develop bad habits. You can also start heeling training earlier or later, depending on your dog’s personality, temperament, and level of training.

How Your Dog Should Be Heeling

Your dog should be heeling on your left side, with its head or shoulder aligned with your left leg. Your dog should be close enough to touch your leg but not so close that it bumps into you or steps on your feet. Your dog should also look at you or ahead, not at the ground or other things. Your dog should walk at the same pace as you without pulling on the leash or lagging. Your dog should also be able to adjust its pace and direction according to your cues, such as speeding up, slowing down, or turning.

Keep a Loose Leash When Teaching “Heel”

Keeping a loose leash is one of the most important things to remember when teaching your dog to heel. A loose leash is when there is no tension or slack in the leash, and the leash forms a U-shape between you and your dog. A loose leash can help your dog learn to heel, as it allows your dog to move freely and comfortably and respond to your voice and body cues rather than the leash pressure. A loose leash can also prevent your dog from pulling on the leash, which can cause injury, frustration, and discomfort for you and your dog.

Using Bait (Treats) to Teach “Heel”

Using treats to teach your dog to heel can be a very effective way to motivate your dog, reward your dog, and reinforce your dog’s learning. However, it would help if you were careful not to overuse or misuse treats, as this can cause problems such as dependency, obesity, or loss of interest. Here are some tips on how to use treats properly to teach your dog to heel:

  • Use small, soft, and tasty treats your dog loves, and vary them to keep your dog interested.
  • Use treats as a lure only initially, then fade them out gradually, and use only your voice and body cues.
  • Use treats as a reward only when your dog performs the desired behavior, not as a bribe or a distraction.
  • Use treats randomly and unpredictably, only sometimes your dog heels, to keep your dog guessing and eager.
  • Use treats occasionally and sparingly, not as a substitute for praise, affection, or play.

Tools to Bring Your Dog Back To Earth

what age to teach a dog to heel

Sometimes, your dog might get too excited, distracted, stubborn, and need to remember to heel. In these cases, you might need some tools to bring your dog back to earth and remind your dog to pay attention to you and follow your commands. Here are some tools that you can use to correct your dog’s behavior:

A Leash Correction: 

This is when you give a quick and gentle tug on the leash and then release it to get your dog’s attention and stop your dog from pulling or wandering. It would help if you used a leash correction only as a last resort, not as a punishment or threat. It would help if you also used a leash correction only with a flat collar or a harness and not with a choke, prong, or shock collar, as these can cause your dog pain, injury, or fear.

A Verbal Correction: 

This is when you use a sharp and firm word, such as “no” or “ah-ah,” to tell your dog that it is doing something wrong and needs to stop and listen to you. It would help if you used a verbal correction only when your dog knows what you want it to do and not when your dog is confused or unsure. It would help if you used verbal correction only with a calm and confident tone, not a loud or angry tone, as this can scare or agitate your dog.

A Physical Correction: 

This is when you use a gentle and brief touch, such as a tap on the shoulder or a nudge on the hip, to redirect your dog’s attention and movement and guide your dog back to the heel position. It would help if you used a physical correction only when your dog is not responding to your voice or leash cues and not when your dog is resisting or reacting. It would help if you also used a physical correction only with a light and respectful touch, not with a complex or violent touch, as this can hurt or offend your dog.

Proofing Your Dog’s Heel

Proofing is the process of testing and improving your dog’s heeling skills in different situations, such as other locations, distances, durations, distractions, and challenges. Proofing can help your dog generalize and apply its heeling skills to any scenario, and make your dog more reliable and consistent. Here are some tips on how to proof your dog’s heel:

  1. Start proofing your dog’s heel only after your dog has mastered the basic heeling skills, such as positioning, attention, motion, and cues.
  2. Start proofing your dog’s heel in a familiar and low-distraction environment, such as your home or backyard, and then gradually move to a new and high-distraction environment, such as a park or a street.
  3. Start proofing your dog’s heel with a short and easy session, such as a few minutes and a few steps, and then gradually increase the length and difficulty of the session, such as more minutes and more steps.
  4. Start proofing your dog’s heel with a few simple distractions, such as a toy or a sound, and then gradually add more complex distractions, such as a person or a dog.
  5. Start proofing your dog’s heel with a few easy challenges, such as a straight line or a slow pace, and then gradually add more hard challenges, such as a curve or a fast pace.

The Best Dog Training School

If you want to teach your dog to heel but need professional help, consider enrolling your dog in a dog training school. A dog training school is where you and your dog can learn from experienced and qualified trainers who can teach you the best methods and techniques to train your dog. A dog training school can also provide the necessary equipment, facilities, and resources to train your dog. A dog training school can also offer you the opportunity to socialize your dog with other dogs and people, have fun, and bond with your dog.

However, not all dog training schools are the same; some might be better than others. Here are some tips on how to choose the best dog training school for you and your dog:

Do Some Research:

Before enrolling your dog in a dog training school, you should research the school, such as its reputation, credentials, curriculum, methods, and results. You can look for online reviews, testimonials, ratings, or referrals from other dog owners, or you can visit the school’s website, social media, or blog. You can also ask the school for some references, such as previous or current clients or veterinarians, who can vouch for the school’s quality and effectiveness.

Visit The School:

Before you enroll your dog in a dog training school, visit the school in person and see for yourself what the school is like. You can observe the school’s environment, such as its cleanliness, safety, and comfort. You can also follow the school’s staff, such as their professionalism, friendliness, and competence. You can also observe the school’s classes, such as their size, structure, and content. You can also ask the school questions about its philosophy, goals, and policies.

Try A Trial Class:

Before enrolling your dog in a dog training school, try a trial class and see how your dog likes it. You can bring your dog to the school and let your dog participate in a class or watch a class from the sidelines. You can see how your dog reacts to the school’s environment, staff, and methods. You can also see how your dog interacts with the other dogs and people. You can also see how the school’s trainers handle your dog and how they teach you and your dog. You can also see how much your dog learns and enjoys the class.

Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Heel

Here are some tips that the best dog training school can teach you for teaching your dog to heel:

Be Patient And Consistent:

Teaching your dog to heel can take time and effort; you should not expect your dog to learn it overnight. You should be patient with your dog and not rush or force your dog to heel. You should also be consistent with your dog and not change or mix your cues, methods, or expectations. You should also regularly practice your dog’s heeling skills and not skip or delay your training sessions.

Be Positive And Rewarding:

Teaching your dog to heel can be fun and rewarding, and you should make it so for your dog. It would help to be positive with your dog and not use harsh or harmful methods, such as yelling, hitting, or scolding. It would help if you were rewarding with your dog and not stingy or boring. You should use many treats, praise, affection, and play to motivate, reward, and reinforce your dog’s heeling skills.

Be Clear And Precise:

Teaching your dog to heel can be easy if you are clear and precise with your dog. It would help if you used clear and specific cues, such as words, hand signals, or body language, to tell your dog what you want it to do and when you want it to do it. It would help to use clear and precise feedback, such as markers, treats, or corrections, to tell your dog how it is doing and what it needs to improve. It would help if you also used clear and precise criteria, such as distance, duration, or distraction, to tell your dog how well it needs to do and when it has achieved it.

Conclusion

Teaching your dog to heel is a valuable skill that can make your walks more enjoyable, safer, and more accessible for both you and your dog. Heeling can also teach your dog impulse control, not to pull on the leash, physical and mental exercise, how to walk off a leash, emergency recall, and working dog skills. You can teach your dog to heel by following simple steps, such as clicking and treating for attention, hand targeting, increasing steps, and fading the hand target.

You can also use additional tips, such as when to begin, how to heel, keeping a loose leash, using bait, correcting behavior, and proofing skills. If you need professional help, you can enroll your dog in a dog training school, where you can learn from the best trainers and have fun with your dog. Heeling is not only a skill, but also a bond, between you and your dog.

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