How to Train Your Small Dog to Heel

Medium
4-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Imagine walking through a busy market place with pup by your side. You weave in and out of crowds, slip through small openings, stop to buy some freshly baked goods. Where is your dog this whole time? Pup is right by your side in the heel position. Your dog sits when you stop to order food, keeps pace with you as you make your way through the streets, and hugs into your leg as you slip through the crowds. Pup is happily following you and watching your every move. 

Now imagine walking through your neighborhood with your small dog choking on the end of the leash as they try to pull ahead. You dread passing over dogs, you dare not take your dog anywhere crowded, and you feel quite embarrassed when you receive odd looks from neighbors. What’s the difference between these two dogs? One knows Heel and the other does not.

Dogs are traditionally taught to Heel on the left side because historically hunters needed to keep their right hand free for shooting. If pup won’t be hunting with you or pursuing an obedience title, your dog can be trained on your right or left.

Defining Tasks

A proper Heel means that pup’s muzzle is right beside your leg, at your heel, and not past it or too far behind. This position allows you to lead the walk and to make turns without bumping into your dog. It also prevents pup from pulling, wanding away, or lagging too far behind. 

Some dogs like to lean on you while heeling. Try to discourage this behavior since you may trip over a dog who leans on you, and often that dog is leaning so that they don’t have to pay as much attention to where you are going.

If the leash is new to your dog, Heel training should take place after a puppy or dog has overcome any initial fear they have of the leash. You can teach any age dog to heel, but of course, the younger your pup is when you start, the easier it will be and the less time it will take.  

Getting Started

You will need a few things to teach your small dog to walk in the heel position. You will need:

  • Treats: As rewards for when your pup gets it right. 
  • Leash: Choose a six-foot leash. Avoid retractable leashes when teaching Heel. 
  • Quiet: A quiet spacious place free of distractions is the best place to start the training. 
  • Time: Training your pup to Heel is going to take daily practice over the course of several weeks. 
  • Patience: No matter what you are training your dog to do, you will need an ample supply of patience. 

If you want this training to be successful, you need to stick to it and work with your pup on a daily basis. The nice thing about this "trick" is that you can work on it every time you take your pup for a walk.

The Show and Tell Method

Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Start with a treat
Start out with one of your pup's favorite treats in your hand, where your pup can see and smell it. Hold your hand down on your chosen 'heel' side, by the side of your leg.
Step
2
Let your pup see
Let your pup see the treat and then take a few steps.
Step
3
Follow me
If your pup follows you, come to a halt, give your pup the sit command and give him the treat. Be sure to give him lots of praise.
Step
4
Repeat
Continue repeating this step, going farther each time and remembering to reward him with a treat and plenty of praise.
Step
5
Add the command
Now that your pup has the basic idea, it's time to add the 'Heel' command. This time as you get ready to move off, say "Heel" and pat your leg as you step off. If your pup continues to follow you and runs to catch up with his 'Heel' spot, go for a walk and praise him. Each time he tries to pull or run ahead, stop, make him sit and start off all over again.
Step
6
Add distractions
When pup can stay in the Heel position for the entire walk while in a calm location like your neighborhood or yard, seek out distractions and practice around a variety of distractions to help pup improve even more. Add distractions gradually, only making the training more difficult as your dog is ready. Distractions might include dogs in the area, people walking by, bicycles, traffic, squirrels, or noise. Expect pup to struggle a bit more with new distractions. Work them through the new challenge with patience until they have mastered Heel in that situation too.
Recommend training method?

The Constant Praise Method

Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Get your pup's attention
Start by getting your dog to come to you. To do this try clapping your hands and saying "Heel!" in a happy voice. Pat your leg, if he goes to this spot be sure to praise him and give him a treat.
Step
2
Stepping on out
Have your pup standing in the heel position and take a single step forward, keeping his leash slack while giving him the 'Heel' command again. If he follows, praise him and give him a treat. Repeat this one step at a time, praising him each time he follows.
Step
3
Add more challenges
Keep walking in a straight line until he masters the Heel position while walking with you, then start making the walk a bit more challenging by gradually adding patterns like sharp turns, figure eights, winding trails, and anything you can think of to challenge your pup's ability to remain in the heel position. Each time he succeeds, be sure to reward him with treats and plenty of praise.
Step
4
Add the distractions
When your pup has shown that he can remain in the heel position on quiet walks, it's time to start going for walks in busier areas where there are plenty of distractions. Start with easier distractions first and gradually increase the difficulty as pup improves. Distractions might include traffic, other people, people walking with their dogs, bikes, and noise. Reward him each time he remains in the Heel position despite the distraction. It's okay if you have to remind him from time to time. But each time he stays in place, give him a reward and plenty of praise.
Step
5
One last step
After your pup has demonstrated the ability to assume and remain in the heel position, it's time for the final test. Make the leash slack and practice walking pup around distractions. Make turns and change speed while keeping the leash slack the entire time. Can pup walk without depending on the leash to remind them to stay in position? Practice until he can.
Recommend training method?

The Following Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Pick your heel side
Pick your 'heel' side before starting the training and be sure to stick to it so you don't confuse your pup.
Step
2
Choose your location
The best place to start this training is a calm and open area, like your yard, a car-free cul-de-sac, or a quiet park. You don’t want too many distractions at this point in the training and you will need plenty of space to make turns while walking.
Step
3
Position heel
With pup on leash, pat the side of your leg to encourage pup to come to the heel position. Praise pup and offer a treat right next to your leg, so that their muzzle is at or slightly behind your leg.
Step
4
Command 'heel'
Give the 'heel' command and take one step forward. If pup rushes past your leg stop. If pup stays next to you or slightly behind, praise and give another treat. Practice this single step until pup doesn’t rush past when you begin walking.
Step
5
Add a left turn
Once pup is not rushing past when you begin walking, start walking but continue your walk this time. If pup’s muzzle begins to move past your leg, tell pup ‘Heel’ while turning directly in front of pup at a ninety-degree angle to encourage them to slow down. If they adjust and stay in position during the turn, praise and offer a treat.
Step
6
Add a right turn
If pup begins to lag behind you or weave away from you, tell pup ‘Heel’ while turning away from pup. If pup is very distracted, also shuffle your feet when you turn and take small quick steps, to make it look like you are running away. The quick movement can help pup notice your turn better. If pup stays in position during this turn, praise and offer a treat.
Step
7
Change the speed
When pup can stay in position for right and left turns, periodically change your speed from fast to slow or slow to fast, to teach pup to adjust to your changes. Praise and reward pup when they stay by your side and adjust to your speed.
Step
8
Add distractions
When pup has mastered Heeling in a calm location, gradually add in distractions. Distractions might include: walking past neighbors, Heeling around dogs and their walkers at the park, keeping in step with you while a squirrel is in your yard, and going on walks with more traffic and noises present.
Step
9
Keep the leash slack
A good test of pup’s skills is whether they can walk past distractions and keep their leash slack the entire time. Practice until pup can keep a six-foot leash slack because they are staying in position because they are focused on you and not dependent on the leash to notice where you are.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd