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Imagine walking through a festival with your dog. There are so many people that it is hard to see more than ten feet in front of you. There are booths, other dogs, children, a band is playing nearby, an announcer can be heard somewhere nearby on a loudspeaker. You glance down at your Poodle. He is focused and happy. You continue to move through the crowd, looking for someone you know, and your dog takes it all in stride, weaving through the activity with you like a champion.
When your dog knows how to heel it is easier to take him places. Instead of feeling anxious and frustrated by his pulling, the two of you can enjoy the outing together, moving along like a team. Your dog is safer in the 'heel' position, is more focused on you and ready to listen, and is more likely to be welcomed into places.
Having a dog that knows how to heel can make walks much more enjoyable. It can allow you to take your dog to more places, which is good for his ongoing socialization. It can prevent you or him from becoming injured from pulling and careless walking. It can provide a great foundation for therapy work, service dog work, hunting work, canine sports participation, or search and rescue work. Heeling is an essential skill for just about any form of advanced training and work. Having a dog that knows how to heel is also a source of great pride.
Because forward movement towards something that your dog is interested in is a reward in and of itself, it is extremely important that you are consistent with the training, and do not allow your dog to get to whatever he is approaching until he is walking in the 'heel' position to get there. If pulling can get him what he wants then he has no real reason to heel, but if heeling gets him where he wants to go then he will be motivated to walk in the right position.
Because the desire for forward movement is such a strong urge in your dog, expect this training to take time, especially when you introduce distractions. Be patient with your dog. He will need a lot of practice and instruction to learn this, but he can learn it with your help, and it will be well worth the effort. Just imagine years of wonderful walks and being able to take him to lots of places.
While training this, expect walks to take place close to home for a while. It is completely normal while training for your entire walk to take place in your own front yard, in the form of right and left turns and stops. If your dog is focusing on you during the training and walking lots of steps in your yard, then he is being exercised both mentally and physically. You will eventually be able to take him on normal walks again. If you get tired of your own yard while training this, then try taking him to a nearby, calm park with an open field or a paved area, where you can practice heeling.
Remember to tell him when he is doing the right action. When he is walking nicely beside you for several steps, or looks up at you, or sits when you stop without being told, or adjusts his pace to match yours when you turn, praise him! Let him know when he gets it right so that he will learn and be motivated to continue. After he understands what he is supposed to be doing, then as he improves, gradually decrease the number of treats that you give him. Begin to only give him treats for doing especially well at something. That might mean giving him a treat after passing five houses while heeling instead of just four, or giving him a treat for continuing to heel while you pass by another dog, or sitting when you stop without having to be told. Pay attention to his improvement and reward him for doing even better than he did before. Expect to reward him more frequently again whenever you introduce new distractions though.
To get started will need lots of small, easy-to-eat treats. Choose something that is soft or dissolves easily since he will be moving. You will also need a small plastic bag or a treat pouch. You will need a calm, spacious location to practice this in, and if you are using 'The Treat Lure Method' then your location will need to be safely enclosed, such as a fenced-in yard. You will also need a six-foot leash. Do not use a retractable leash for this. You will also need lots of different locations to practice this in, with progressively more and more distractions. Finally, you will need good timing, a positive and upbeat attitude, ample praise, patience and persistence, and a good sense of humor.
The Treat Lure Method
To begin, grab lots of small, easy to eat treats that your pup loves, and place the treats into a small Ziploc bag in your right pocket or into a treat pouch on your right-hand side. Go to a calm, safely enclosed area, such as a fenced-in yard, with your dog.
Grab a couple of treats from your bag or pouch with your left hand, show the treats to your dog, and hold them against your left leg. Encourage your pup to stand on your left-hand side, where the treats are, and then praise him and give him one of the treats.
When your dog is standing by your left leg then command "Heel", and begin to walk while you continue to hold the treat against your left leg. Every three seconds that your pup remains by your leg while you walk, praise him and give him a treat. Do this without stopping.
Add a right turn
Tell your pup to "Heel" and then turn right at a ninety degree angle, patting your leg as you turn to encourage him to catch up. When he gets back into position by your leg then praise him and give him another treat. Whenever you run out of treats in your left hand then grab more from your pouch or bag on your right side.
Add a left turn
When your pup is beside you again, then tell him to "Heel" and speed up a little bit, then turn left at a ninety-degree angle, so that you are walking right in front of him and he has to slow down. When he slows down and gets back into position, praise him and give him a treat.
When your pup is beside you again, then walk several feet forward, then stop in place. When he stops, tell him to sit. If he does not stop then pat your leg to encourage him to come back to your side, and when he is at your side again tell him to sit. When he sits, praise him and give him a treat.
Move out of 'sit'
After you have given your pup the treat, then tell him to heel again and continue to move forward.
Put it together
Practice heeling with your pup, taking left turns, right turns, stopping and commanding him to sit, and walking forward. When he can remain by your side for all of it, then move the treat from your leg to the left side of your face, beside your eye. Hold the treat there while you practice, lowering your hand to give him the treat when he does something well. Do this so that he will learn to look at your face while heeling.
Remove the treat
When your pup has mastered heeling and watching your face, then remove the treat from your hand and let your empty hand rest beside your left side or behind your back. Pass a treat from your right hand into your left hand whenever you need to reward him. Whenever he looks up at your face without your hand there praise him and offer him a treat.
Go somewhere new
When your pup will stay beside you when you turn, stop, and walk straight, and when he will look at your face without a treat there, then he is ready to practice around distractions. If an area that you wish to practice at is not safely enclosed then attach a six-foot leash to him. Take him to easy locations first, with fewer distractions. Great options might include your front yard, your neighborhood, and calm parks. As he improves, gradually increase the number of distractions in his environment, until he can "Heel" wherever you go.
The Stop and Go Method
Get set up
To begin, place small, easy-to-eat treats in a small bag in your pocket or into a treat pouch. Attach a six-foot leash to your dog and go somewhere calm with lots of space, such as your yard or an empty park. Do not use a retractable leash for this.
Position your dog
Position your dog at your left-hand side, with his face beside your left leg but not in front of it. Command him to "Heel" and take a step forward. If he lunges ahead when you take a step, then stand in place and let the leash catch him. Pat your left leg until he returns to your side. If he will not return to your side when you pat your leg then take a couple of steps backward until he comes toward you.
When your dog is by your side again, repeat taking a step forward and then stopping. Do this until he will stay by your side during the step, instead of rushing ahead. When he stays by your side then praise him and give him a treat.
Add left turn
When your pup will stay by your side then take one step forward, command him to "Heel", and then take one step in front of your dog, at a ninety-degree angle, so that he has to slow down to stay by your side. When he adjusts his pace to stay beside you then praise him and give him a treat.
Repeat left step
Repeat the step forward and left turn until your dog can stay beside you during the turn.
Add right turn
When your pup can stay by your side during the left turn, then take one step forward, tell him to "Heel", and turn and step to your right, at a ninety-degree angle, so that your pup has to speed up to stay with you. Repeat this until he speeds up to stay with you during the turn. When he does so then praise him and give him a treat.
When your pup can stay with you during right turns, then take three steps forward and stop. When you stop, command your pup to sit. When he does so praise him and give him a treat.
After your pup eats the treat, command him to heel, and walk forward again to release him from the 'sit'.
Put it together
When your pup can do a left turn, right turn, stop and sit when told, and walk forward a couple of steps without pulling, then put it all together. Practice heeling with your pup, taking left turns, right turns, stopping, and walking forward. Praise and reward your pup for staying with you during turns, for sitting when you stop, especially if he does it without being told, and for staying beside you while you walk forward. Practice this until he can heel in a calm area.
Add more distractions
When Fido has mastered heeling at your current location, then go to new places to practice. Start with easier locations, with fewer distractions, and as he improves, go to locations with more and more distractions. Practice until your buddy can heel anywhere.
The Turns Method
To begin, grab lots of small, easy-to-eat treats and place them into a small zip-top bag or treat pouch. Attach a six-foot leash to your dog, and take him to a calm location with lots of space, such as your yard or a calm park.
Position your dog
Place your dog on your left side, so that his head is beside your left leg but not in front of it.
Tell your dog to "Heel" and walk forward. As soon as he begins to move his head past your left leg, speed up and turn to your left at a ninety-degree angle, directly in front of him. If he adjusts his speed and stays by your side, then praise him and give him a treat. Continue to walk forward and turn in front of him whenever he starts to move in front of your leg.
Add right turns
Whenever your dog begins to lag behind, wander away from your leg, or if he gets too far past your leg to turn in front of him, then command him to "Heel" and turn to your right at a ninety-degree angle, so that he has to speed up to stay with you. If he stays with you during the turn then praise him and give him a treat. Continue to walk forward and turn to the right whenever he lags behind, wanders away from your leg, or gets too far in front of you to turn to the left.
Every once in a while, stop walking. If your pup stops when you do, then command him to sit, and praise him and give him a treat when he does so. If he continues past you then allow the leash to catch him, and when he realizes that you are no longer beside him pat your left leg to encourage him to come back to your side. When is by your side again then tell him to sit and praise him and reward him when he does so.
Release from 'sit'
After your pup eats his treat, tell him to "Heel" and begin walking forward again.
If your pup is lagging behind then speed up and act excited. Reward him for staying with you while you walk, and for looking at your face.
Practice heeling with your pup until he has mastered it. Practice turning to the left whenever he tries to move in front of you. Practice turning to the right whenever he lags behind, moves away from your leg, or gets too far ahead to be able to turn left. Practice speeding up whenever he is walking too slowly or not paying attention to you, and practice stopping and having him sit occasionally. Practice all of this until your dog will stay with you.
When Fido has mastered heeling in a calm location, then go to other, more distracting locations, and practice heeling there. Do that until your dog has mastered that also. Start with easier locations, with fewer distractions, first, and as your dog improves work up to harder and harder locations until he can heel anywhere.
Written by Caitlin Crittenden
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 04/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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