Teach Your Dog To “HEEL”

8 03 2009

heelHEEL is probably one of my least favorite training commands, and I am sure that I am not alone.  Why do I dislike it?  It gives Mom, or any human, too much control!  I really like the freedom of walking with a loose leash, because it gives me a chance to check things out and look around a little bit.  But when we are practicing HEEL, I do not get that kind of freedom.  Mom says that HEEL is one of the more regimented of the walking commands.  When teaching your your dog this command, there are two different methods depending on the size of the dog.  Below, you will see instructions for both a BIG DOG HEEL and a LITTLE DOG HEEL.

Teaching HEEL To A Big Dog

HEEL is easier to teach to a big dog.  Obviously since this is a walking command, he will need to be on a leash.  The goal of this command is to have your dog walk directly parallel with you, directly at your side.  Since he will be standing right by your side, the shorter the leash, the better.  In fact, some pet stores sell 12 and 24 inch leads for just this purpose.  These sizes are perfect for bigger dogs.  If you choose not to get one of these, you can improvise by rolling up your leash until it brings your dog right by your side.  For this exercise, he does not need any slack on the leash.  Leash slack will give him the opportunity to wander in front, to the side, or even lag behind you.  Obviously, none of these positions are the desired HEEL position.

  1. Start with your dog already in the HEEL position, which is directly by your side.
  2. Make sure you have a tasty treat in your hand.  This is the same hand that holds your dog’s leash.  If you choose to HEEL more formally, it is necessary that your dog be on your left side.  More informal HEEL training allows your dog on either side.
  3. Bend slightly to let your dog know that you hold a tasty treat in your hand right over his head.
  4. Start walking with the foot that is closest to your dog.  When I am at HEEL, I keep a focused eye on Mom’s knees, specifically the one that is closest to me.  If it bends, that means that we are both going to start walking.  If her other knee bends, I remain seated, because I know that means that Mom is going to walk, but I will be staying behind in a STAY or WAIT.  How do I know this?  We practiced over and over and over, doing it right every time, so you do not confuse your dog.
  5. When you step off on the foot closest to your dog, you should immediately give the HEEL.
  6. Now when the other foot hits the ground, you should say your dog’s name.  If your dog is on your right, you should be saying the command and his name like this: Right foot – HEEL, Left Foot – SPIKE, Right Foot – HEEL, Left Foot – SPIKE.
  7. When you stop walking, you should command your dog to SIT, bringing your opposite side hand around to the side where your dog is with an upward sweeping motion.  Give the dog a treat from your non-leashed hand.  The treat in that hand is simply to keep his attention.
  8. Bend slightly to let the dog smell the treat in your hand and repeat steps #4 – #7, walking a little further each time.

Teaching HEEL To A Small Dog

When teaching HEEL to a small dog, the difference in height is a small, easily overcome obstacle.

  1. To eliminate the differing heights, you will need to go to a craft store to purchase a dowel rod.  Basically, it is just a long stick.
  2. You will not need to keep a treat in your hand, like with the big dogs, because it may cause him considerable neck pain, and he will be entirely too distracted to train.
  3. As a replacement for the treat, simply dip the dowel rod into some peanut butter or spray cheese.
  4. Place the rod right in front of the dog’s nose and run through steps #4 – #7 from the big dog’s training above.

It is okay if your small dog occasionally licks the stick, because he is still hearing the command and learning the position.  Just because he is a small dog, it does not mean that he does not have to SIT.  Every dog must SIT every time forward motion stops when working on the command.  After a couple weeks of practice, you can begin to do HEEL without the stick.  If your dog does not do well in the absence of the stick, simply add it stick back in for another week or so.

If you find that your dog gets antsy or out of control, by trying to pull ahead, off to the side, or lag behind you.  It is very important that you do not keep trying the HEEL.  Just stop and give your dog a SIT command.  When he complies, you are back in control.  Take this opportunity to re-position yourself and your dog and start over.  SIT is the number one control command, meaning that any time your dog is acting inappropriately, you command a SIT, and you are immediately back in control.

Remember, the words you use to cue an action by your dog are commands, and they need to sound like it.  This does not mean that you should yell, but you should not use your fun, happy, shrill voice to command a dog to do anything.  He is probably going to ignore you.  Your tone of voice is very important.

During the first week of training the HEEL command, you should practice by HEELing your dog for about twenty feet.  Remember, anytime you stop, you should command a SIT.  Be very careful not to create a pattern where your dog SITs every four steps.  The goal is to get him to SIT every time that forward motion ceases.  You can ensure that happens by mixing up the number of steps between SITs.

What is your dog doing while you have so much going on?  He is learning, learning that HEEL is done on the side of a human.  How did he learn this?  Every time he heard the word HEEL, he was in the position of being on the side of a human.  To him, that is the HEEL position.  Your dog may SIT at HEEL, he may stand at HEEL or he may HEEL at HEEL.

For the second week, you will want to HEEL your dog for further distances.  You should master the HEEL command, walking in a straight line before you add the left and right turns.  Teaching HEEL in a straight line will require a few weeks of practice, working on it daily.  We learn the same way you humans do.  None of this is rocket science. It is repetition, repetition, repetition!

My brother, Tax, is a great HEEL dog, probably even better than me.  In fact, he is so good that he will walk right beside Mom, with a loose leash or even without a leash.

Keep in mind, there are only two things that a dog can do in the HEEL position.  He can look straight ahead or he can glance up at his handler.  During a HEEL walk, he has no business checking out things in the neighborhood.  That is what loose leash walking is for.



One response

21 03 2009
Teaching (Go To Your) “PLACE” And “PARK IT” Command « Ask Spike Online

[…] basic training commands, SIT, COME when called, TAKE IT, LEAVE IT, DROP IT, Potty Training, HEEL, and STAY and WAIT.  This would be the final command necessary to complete a “basic […]

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