Here are the basics. These are the bare-bone facts your dog must understand and you must learn how to teach him. I’ll walk you through each command one step at a time. I suggest you practice each command five minutes a day.
Your dog may pick up certain things quickly and take weeks to learn others. That’s how it usually goes, so don’t get frustrated. Think of what you’re accomplishing. You’re teaching another species your language. Be patient. Dogs learn best from an understanding teacher.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch: a dog standing calmly at his owner’s side, walking when he moves and sitting when he stops. Yes it can happen to you too if you’re patient. Though it takes a while to synchronize, eventually you’ll be maneuvering through crowded streets and calling your dog to heel at your side from a distance. Sound miraculous? It all starts with one small step. Use the exercises described next to train your dog to stay at Heel.
How many ways were you taught to sit at the dinner table? One. Guess how many ways there are to sit at Heel? You’re right—one! Picture this: your dog at your heel, toes aligned, heads facing in the same direction. Such a pretty picture!
Practice this heeling exercise in a non-distracting environment (it can be indoors or outside). Clear an area to walk in a circle. Position your dog in the starting position: sitting straight at your left side, toes aligned, your heels ahead of the dog’s front paws. You’re ready to begin!
Relax your arms, let them hang straight at your side, and keep your thumb behind your thigh. Use a snap correction the instant your dog wanders from the heel spot.
- Command “Name, Heel” as you begin to walk in a counterclockwise (dog on the inside) circle.
- Walk in a forthright manner—head held high and shoulders back—to communicate leadership.
- Praise your dog for watching you or snap the leash to encourage focus.
- Stop after each circle by slowing your pace and reminding “Heel.” Place your dog into a sitting position. (To position your dog when you stop, grasp the base of the leash [where it’s attached to your dog’s collar] with your right hand and use your left hand to position his hind quarters.)
- Practice five circles twice a day.
Float the Finish:
When you’re preparing to stop, lift your left foot high in the air (like you’re marching) and stamp it lightly on the floor. This will give your dog an added clue that he’s suppose to stop and sit.
Change Your Pace:
Move faster by trotting. Slow your pace by lengthening your stride. Make sure you change gears smoothly and indicate the change by saying “Easy.” Remember your dog’s a dog, not a Porsche!
At normal speed, command “Heel” and pivot to the right. To help your dog follow you, slow down as you turn and cluck, bend your knees, or slap your leg. Make it interesting!
Avoid choking him through the turn—that’s no fun! Walk on six paces and stop and hug your dog—good job!
Big Time Heeling:
You’ll know you’re ready to practice the Heel command in everyday situations when your dog responds without pressure on his collar. Then, try it in new situations.
For example, keep a short lead on your dog around the house. Pick it up and command “Heel” as you’re walking around. Have your dog finish in the proper sitting position. Then release him by saying “OK” and give him a big hug! Or, practice heeling for 1/4 of your morning walk. Keep your hand behind you. No sniffing or lunging at neighborhood pals. Finally, you can practice in a parking lot. Make sure it’s not too crowded.
Do things get out of hand when you’re in public? If so, calm down! If you yell “Heel, Heel, Heel” and jerk your poor dog back and forth, of course he’ll get excited. Wouldn’t you? Ask yourself, “Am I asking too much too soon? Does my dog need to exercise more before we practice in public? Is my left arm straight and behind my back?” If your left hand is in front of your thigh, your dog will be too. Then he’s the leader, not you!