Commands: Heel

When you first begin to teach Heel! you don’t need a lot of room. 25 ft (8 metres) is more than sufficient. Start with your dog in a sit position, with the dogs shoulder even with your left knee. The lead should be held in both hands The off, right hand, should have the hand through the lead loop and the lead should be doubled back as much as necessary to take up the extra lead length. There should be about 6 – 8 inches of slack hanging down from the dogs collar, you want a definite “U” of slack from your control hand, the left, and back up to the collar. Your control hand should gently hold the lead at a point just about your left hip. Your right hand isn’t going to do much but hold excess lead and act as a back up in case your dog bolts on you.

The secret to properly teaching your dog to heel is slack or perhaps we should say lack of tension. Tension in the lead or tension in your body so relax. At a heel there should be six to eight inches of slack in your lead. More than that and you won’t be able to offer a correction with out making exaggerated arm motions. You want the dog to walk beside you, not behind you, not in front of you. The dogs shoulder shouldn’t go past your knee.

Some people will tell you the dogs nose shouldn’t go past your knee. I disagree. Every dog I’ve ever worked likes to be able to see past the trainer and to the right. If the dogs head and nose can’t go past your knee you are cutting their vision down considerably. Walking should be enjoyable for both of you. How would you feel if when you were out walking someone stood so close as to block your sight to the right? Not a very relaxing walk I’d guess.

Always step off with your left foot. This will become, as well as the forward motion of your left hand, a signal to heel. As you step off with your left foot, pull your left hand forward and say the command “Fido, Heel!” (Remember all commands are the dogs name first then the command.) As you walk lightly twitch the lead with your left hand. This lets the dog feel that the collar and lead are there but adds no pressure. If your dog walks beside you praise it. “good girl good, heel.” Use that happy voice.

If your dog moves ahead draw your hand back and up smoothly and released quickly. Don’t hold pressure. You want a little pop in the correction not a slow tightening. Give the command as the lead is popped. “Fido, Heel!” Don’t use a happy voice. Your voice should be firm and deeper for corrections. A soft motion of the lead should be all that’s needed. If it doesn’t elicit the response you want snap the lead quickly, sharply, and firmly. Give the command again “Fido, Heel!” (Heel is the only command that should ever be repeated more than once.) Then immediately change direction.

That’s right. Do a 90 degree turn and go the other way. Turn into the dog, cut right across its path. You may have to bump the dog with your knee slightly. Nothing wrong in that but keep moving. “Fido, Heel!” Tug forward on the lead and keep going. Every time the dog goes to get ahead of you, go the other way. Randomly change your direction and speed of your walking. Trot, walk slow, walk slower yet, then speed up and slow down. You want the dog paying attention to your movements. Sure you are going to look silly walking up and down your drive way at a snails pace then a trot then a walk. So what? This is not rocket science, it’s dog training. It’s more important than rocket science.

If your dog falls behind you, pull forward on the lead with a light pop. “Fido, Heel!” As soon as the dog does what you want praise it. “good girl” “good heel.” use your happy voice. Praise is one reward that your dog loves, it is free, and there are no calories to worry about. When your dog does things right PRAISE them.

Coming to a stop.

When you come to a stop from heeling you want your dog to immediately go into a sit. Stop lights and signs. Stopping to talk to someone, the second you stop the dog sits and believe me people are all impressed with how well trained your dog is. (Puts a smile on my face every time.) Crossing the street, you don’t cross without stopping and looking both ways, make the dog do the same. Never let your dog cross a road without stopping, sitting and looking. Traffic smart your dog.

As you come to a stop pull gently up on the lead increasing the tension in the lead and holding it. “Fido, Stop.” Stamp your left foot as you stop. “Fido, Sit”. If your dog is fully trained to sit that should be all that is required. If not…Hold the upward tension on the lead slightly. Run your hand down the dogs back to it’s haunches and over them pushing down slightly don’t try to force it, if the dog resists cup the tail slightly usually this will cause a sit. If she still doesn’t sit, then push down firmly on the hind quarters while maintaining pressure upward with the off, right hand. However necessary get her in that sit.

As soon as the dog sits. Praise it. Praise it some more. Pats. Scratches and chest rubs. Tell her how smart she is how pretty every thing in the book and then some. She did it right and you want her to know you’re happy, happy, happy with her. It won’t be long and you won’t have to say “Sit” when you stop. It will be automatic for her to do so. However, this is no reason to stop praising your dog for doing things right and sitting even then when they are doing it automatically

DO NOT drag your dog. If she won’t walk on the lead and plants her butt on the ground or lays down what do you do? Usually call it a day and go do something else.

Before you go out, acclimatize your dog to the lead indoors. Let her walk and drag it around the house. Have your dog sit at your feet while you hold the lead. If you walk your dog in the house and she is used to the lead she will probably walk well out side. Yet sometimes this does not happen. One reason why is because she probably doesn’t want to. So let her sit or lay on the ground. Sooner or later she will get up and start to move. She has to realize though if she wants to walk she has to heel. She isn’t walking you. You are walking her. She follows the rule, heel, she gets motion, she doesn’t follow the rules she doesn’t get to walk.

If your dog lunges and drags you down the road, they learn: “if I pull really hard I get to go, the harder I pull the more I walk him,” so don’t let them drag you around. Plant your feet and don’t move. When you dog quits pulling, eventually she will turn and go the other way. “Heel!” and off you go. You may only make 10 steps before she is ahead of you again. But it’s progress that you as the trainer have initiated made the decision, not the dog. Progress is what you’re after.

Keep training sessions short at first. Five to ten minutes is sufficient and more than enough. Always try to end on a positive note. Even if it is just a “Fido, Sit” done correctly. Nothing succeeds like success.

If you are using the correct training collar for that dog you shouldn’t have a problem. If you are having a problem try a different training collar. Be it slip/choke, strap, prong, gentle leader or harness. Finding the right one for your dog can take a bit of patience but it is well worth the effort.

Remember, keep a slack lead when you move, and tighten up the lead and you’re going the other way or not going at all. Train your dog. When they follow the rules (obedience) they get what they want. Walked. Praise. Play. Interaction. When they don’t, then those good things don’t happen.

Be consistent with your dog. Don’t let your dog walk where it wants then snap it to heel without giving the dog the command “Fido, Heel” and the opportunity to respond. Do expect immediate response to the command. Don’t expect your dog to “heel” a yard behind you or in front of you at one point, then expect the animal to know it’s supposed to heel beside you the next. Heeling should be with the dogs shoulder not past your knee. Consistency is key.

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