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If you plan on leash walking your Labrador puppy, training him to heel while he's still little is a great idea so when you have an older, much larger Lab on your hands he will understand your expectations. Your Lab can have great leash manners and will be walking beside you at your pace instead of running ahead pulling on the leash or allowing himself to become distracted, chasing something along your path. Training a dog to heel is imperative for dogs who are going to be walking with their owners on leashes often.
Once your Labrador puppy understands the heel command, you can take him out on walks around your neighborhood, through parks, hiking, and even near other dogs or animals with a realistic expectation that he will know how to behave and will stay with you on command. Train your Labrador puppy to heel while he's a puppy and set him up for a lifetime of beautiful walks together.
The 'heel' command is not a difficult command. However, it does take a lot of practice and some maturity from your puppy. Maturity will develop as you are practicing together and your puppy grows and ages. Training the 'heel' command can happen a few different ways, from inside away from all distractions, to outside, or walking along a wall or a fence so your dog has nowhere else to go on leash. You can even train your puppy to heel off-leash if you want him to stay near you but without the confines of a leash. Puppies are great candidates for learning commands such as 'heel' because they are young, eager to please, and highly energetic. Don't expect your puppy to be able to go on long walks with you while leashed because he probably won't have a long attention span for a few more months. This short attention span makes short burst training perfect because you will have his attention long enough to train a command in short sessions and reward him for positive behaviors.
Before you begin to take your Labrador puppy out for walks, be sure you have an appropriate leash and collar for his size. If your Labrador puppy is going to be larger than you can handle as an adult, consider putting him in a harness now as a puppy, so he is used to the way this feels when he's older. Harnesses make walking strong, overpowering dogs much easier on the owner than having a leash attached to only a collar. You will also need to be prepared with lots of little tasty treats when you train your puppy on your walks together. Put these in a bag attached to your leash or person so they are handy for quick rewards. Because of your pup's attention span, keep your training sessions with him short.
The Fence or Wall Method
Get your Lab pup excited to go for a walk and put his leash on him while talking up going for a walk. Once he is leashed, give him a treat.
Wall or fence
Take your puppy to an area either within your home up against a wall, such as a long hallway or outside near an exterior wall or a fence, for his initial walks on a leash.
Place your lab puppy on your left side between you and the wall.
Take a few steps forward and say the word "heel". This will be the command you will use to give your expectations to your dog anytime he's on a leash.
Take a few steps
Walk a few steps and then give your pup a treat. Repeat this for the entire distance of the wall, treating every few steps.
Turn and repeat
Once you get to the end of the wall or fence, turn around and repeat. Only this time because you're going in the opposite direction, you're going to keep your puppy on your left side and the wall will be next to you. If your little guy tries to get away, start over on the other end, leaving your dog between you and wall.
Practice that several times using the wall to keep your dog close to you and without the wall so he understands he needs to be by your side walking at your pace anytime you ask him to heel.
While your Labrador puppy is learning the 'heel' command, be sure to give him lots of treats and rewards while walking together. At the end of each walk be sure to let him know what a good boy he is and give him another tasty treat as a reward.
Short and long
Practice this often on short walks until you trust your Lab to go on longer walks, understanding and performing the 'heel' command. Continue the rewards each time you take him out for a walk.
The Clicker Heel Method
Leash up your Labrador puppy and be prepared to go for a walk. If your dog is new on a leash you may want to make this walk somewhere free of distractions and familiar to your little guy. Your first few walks can be in your backyard or in your house. Try to avoid going places where there are lots of children and other pets, which can distract your pup.
When you train your little guy to heel he should always be on your left side. You will need to have treats readily available and a clicker in your hand as well.
Before you begin walking, have your Labrador sit. When he sits, click your training clicker and give him a treat for obeying the command. This will set up training to come since he now knows you have treats he can earn.
After he's earned a treat for sitting, start walking. After a few steps, give the reward of marking the positive behavior with the click and a treat.
Once you’ve marked the good behavior and given him a treat or two, begin to use the command to heel. Continue walking, say the command, take a few steps, then click and treat. You will need to remind him of the command every so often to condition him to understand this is the word he will hear when you're walking together and your expectation is that he walks at your pace by your side. When he succeeds you will click and treat.
Training your little guy to heel will take lots of time, so be patient and give him lots of practice. Get him used to 'heel' in a quiet, distraction-free environment such as your house or your yard before you take him out on longer walks around the neighborhood. When you are ready for longer walks, be sure to take lots of treats with you to reward him along the way.
The Off-Leash Heel Method
Start with a leash
Since your little guy is a puppy, even though you want to train him to heel while he's off leash you may consider starting training with a leash so you can control where he goes.With lots of practice, you can eventually let go of the leash and then eventually stop putting it on him altogether.
Start in a 'sit'
Always have your Labrador start 'heel' in a 'sit' position.
Hold on to your leash but keep it as loose as you are comfortable with.
Treat and command
Take several steps and then give your little guy a treat and use the command to heel. Practice this several times rewarding him often for staying with you.
Add some distractions to your walks with your little guy to see how he handles them while maintaining the expectation that he will walk with you when you use the 'heel' command. Practice this a lot before you take your dog off leash expecting him to heel.
Let go of leash
With lots of practice with your little guy on the leash and in your control, start to let go of the leash so you can grab it should he get away. This gives your pup the independence to walk without being leashed. Repeat the steps above by walking with him using the 'heel' command and offering him treats as long as he stays with you.
Again, with practice, your Labrador should be able to go off-leash and stay with you as long as he spent enough time learning the expectations and the command to heel with positive reinforcement training and lots of treats for a job well done.
Written by Stephanie Plummer
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/21/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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