How to Train Your Small Dog to Heel

Medium
4-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Even a small dog can be challenging to walk if he keeps pulling on the leash and trying to charge at everyone and everything he sees. Yet, most areas have leash laws meaning you have no choice but to train your small dog to walk on a leash without pulling all the time. The 'heel' command is used to make your dog walk beside you at your heel with slack in the leash or even off-leash where it's permitted, without having to constantly remind your pup where his place is.

Traditionally, the heel position is by your left heel, chosen by hunters. However, you can teach your pup to heel on whichever side you prefer or even behind you if that works best for you. The big thing is to choose one spot to be your 'heel' spot so that your dog always knows where to go when you give the heel command. 

Defining Tasks

When you give your pup the 'heel' command, he should see it as an order to move to the chosen heel position and remain there throughout the walk unless you release him. Most people follow the example of hunters and train their dogs to heel on the left. Hunters did this so that they could keep their gun hand free. Bear in mind the when your pup is in the 'heel' position, he should not be pulling on his leash or trying to wander around, he should remain by your side, matching your walking pace.

This training can be done after your pup has mastered walking on a leash or you can do both at the same time. You may find it easier to train your pup to heel after he has mastered walking on a leash and certainly after he has mastered the four basic commands of 'sit', 'stay', 'come', and 'down'. 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 won't need much in the way of training supplies to teach your small dog to walk in the heel position. The biggest thing is your dog needs to already know how to follow commands and preferably how to walk on his leash. You will need a few things to make the training go easier:

  • Treats: As rewards for when your pup gets it right.
  • Leash: Your dog must be on a leash at all times during this training.
  • Quiet: A quiet 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

Effective
0 Votes
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 tap 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. The rest is all about practice, it may take a little while, but with patience, your pup will learn to walk in the heel position quite happily.
Recommend training method?

The Constant Praise Method

Effective
0 Votes
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 firm voice. Point at the spot by your left side, 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 forwards, 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 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. These can 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. Take him for a walk without his leash, using nothing but the heel command. If he does this, be sure to heap on the praise and treats to reinforce his success.
Recommend training method?

The Collar Pop Method

Effective
0 Votes
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 a collar
Go to your local pet store and grab a training collar, you want the one designed to make a loud popping noise when you "snap" your pup's leash.
Step
3
Choose your location
The best place to start this training is a long stretch of straight sidewalk in a quiet area. This way there won't be many distractions during the early part of his training routine.
Step
4
Collar up
With your pup sitting in front of you, go ahead and put on his training collar and clip his leash on.
Step
5
The 'heel' command
Give the 'heel' command and take off walking at your normal walking pace. This teaches your dog what speed he can expect to be walking at. If he follows you, tap your leg to indicate where you expect him to walk, giving the 'heel' command one more time, no more. When he moves into place, stop, make him sit, give him a treat and praise him.
Step
6
Redirect
If your pup tries to run ahead and pull on the leash, reverse directions and "pop" the leash with a slight tug to let him know he is not getting it right. This lets your pup know who is in charge and simulates the action of a pack leader that is used to change the direction in which the pack is traveling.
Step
7
No more leash
The best way to find out if your pup has mastered the 'heel' command is to take him out without holding his leash. Instead, let it trail on the ground behind your pup. This way if he tries to take off, you can grab his leash and stop him. Continuous training, praise, and rewards will soon have your pup ready to go anywhere with you in the heel position.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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