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Want your pooch to be a superstar? In order to proper choreograph a routine for a show, for example, or a performance for friends, not only will your pooch have to walk to heel forward, but he’ll also need to learn to walk to heel backward as well. This will be necessary for all the shifts and turns in your show. Most dogs learn to heel forward, however as heeling backward requires a different level of skill, watching your pooch heel backward is sure to impress your audience. Another instance when having your four-legged friend heeling backward could be useful is if you want to do obedience or agility training, as these courses can involve an element of heeling backward.
Heeling backward is where your pooch walks to heel, but backward with you. A lot of pooches will be familiar with walking to heel forward if they’ve had any obedience training. Walking to heel in general is a great way to teach your pup obedience and get him to understand that you’re the leader of your pack and that what you say goes. Often, if dogs walk in front of you, as would occur in a pack, it allows them to think that they’re ahead of you in terms of dominance, therefore getting them to heel to you both forward and backward helps to eliminate this form of thinking.
Heeling backward can also be important in situations where you’re unable to walk forwards and need you and your pup to walk backward in order to keep safe in a dangerous walking environment.
This trick can be taught to both puppies and adult dogs, dogs are suitable for training when over 3 months old. This trick can be difficult to learn, as walking backward to heel is not normal behavior for a pooch it can take them a couple of months to learn this trick.
To get started, you’ll need some extra tasty treats to keep your pooch interested and let him know there’s a reward for his hard work. High-value treats, such as chicken pieces, hot dogs, and small cheese slices are good. You'll also need to purchase a heeling stick for some of the methods used, these can be bought from most pet stores. This trick is suitable for clicker training, if you’re clicker training your pooch. It is also a very good idea to teach your dog to heel forward first, to get him used to the concept of heeling.
Be patient with your pup and don’t get frustrated with him if he doesn’t get it right away, especially if he’s a younger pup. It would be best to train him in short 10-15 minute sessions. Remember to not get annoyed at him and to keep training fun and rewarding, so that he doesn’t go off the training.
The Heeling Stick Method
Teach your pooch to learn to use the heeling stick:
Read a guide on how to get your dog to use a heeling stick and practice with him, before getting him to heel backward.
Get your pooch to sit
First sit your dog in the right position at your heel. When he obeys, give him a treat.
While your pooch is still in the 'sit' position, slowly take a step backward about a couple of yards.
Get your heeling stick
Guide the dog with your stick, but be sure to be gentle, placing the stick on the outside of your dog's flank (side) to stop him from turning.
Coordinate the command
Coordinate the actions of the previous step with the ‘heel’ command. If he does it right, give him lots of praise and a tasty treat.
Increase the distance
Now he’s able to heel over a short distance, gradually increase the distance to check he gets the right idea.
Do it on the move
Next you want him to heel backward with you while you’re on the move in a swift motion.
Remove the stick and treats
After a couple of months of training at regular short intervals, your pooch should be able to heel backward on the move, on command, and without any treats.
The Using a Lead Method
Learn the basics
Before learning this trick, make sure your pooch knows both heeling forward and a sitting heel really well.
Get your pooch on a lead
Make sure your pooch is lead trained; you’ll be using the lead instead of a heeling stick to stop him from going in the wrong direction.
Get him to heel
Get your pooch to sit at your heel. Give him a reward for being a good boy and sitting.
Start moving backward
Start moving backward with your pooch still at heel and use the voice command ‘heel’.
If he goes in the wrong direction and starts trying to turn, give him a gentle correction with the lead to stop him from going in the wrong direction.
The Treats Method
Start with your pooch in the sitting heel position.
Give a treat
Give your pooch a treat for sitting to heel and staying.
Keep a treat in hand
Keep another treat in your hand, so your pup is interested and can smell it, but don’t give it to him just yet.
Guide him with the treat
Get your pooch to move backwards slowly, by keeping the treat in your hand and moving backwards yourself, keeping the treat in line with and just above his snout.
Use the word "heel"
Introduce the command as you’re doing the previous step.
Gradually remove the treat so that he isn’t reliant on it, you’ll only be able to do this once you’ve conditioned him into moving backward with the treat over a few weeks. For example, start by giving one treat at the start of the command and one at the end and see how he responds. Eventually you should be able to remove the treats completely, with your pooch responding to just the voice command and actions.
By Catherine Lee-Smith
Published: 11/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021