How To Teach Your Dog To Walk To Heel

Once you have reached the level in training your dog where he is not fooled by distractions or temptation, you are then ready to proceed to the next level of training – how to heel correctly.

If your dog cannot walk comfortably at your side, there is no way you’re going to teach him anything about being obedient. He must learn to heel properly and focus his full attention to you.

You will be using a six-foot leather training leash for this phase. During this stage of training, you will teach your dog to walk beside you like a gentleman. He will learn to automatically sit at your side when you stop.

No Punishment Needed

The right attitude cannot be achieved if your dog is mistreated or abused. To restrain or choke the dog on a short, tight leash, to hit him in the chest, or to smack his face with the end of the leash while trying to teach him to heel will result, among other things, in a completely negative attitude in the animal.

Starting Position

To begin, you will notice that your leash has a loop in one end. Place your right thumb through that loop. With your left hand, grab the leash at the middle section and place it in your right hand. Notice that the dog is on your left side, but that the leash is held in your right hand. This will seem a little awkward at first, but your left hand will be doing other things.

Do not form the habit of trying to restrain your dog at your side by holding him up close with the left hand on that leash. Remember, you want to train your dog, not restrain him. Forget about everything that you were told or read about restraining a dog tugging at your side in the hope that he will get the idea that this is where you want him to walk. That idea will never occur to him.

There is an important characteristic of an untrained dog on a leash that will become obvious to you during this stage of training. This dog wants to feel a tight leash! If there’s a slack in the leash, he has no way of calculating its exact length. On a tight leash, he can lunge and pull and go through all kinds of twists and turns, because he has the security of feeling where the other end of the leash is. Therefore, it is very important that you don’t give in to your dog’s wishes by walking him on a tight leash.

As you begin, position your dog at your left side while keeping the leash short. Leave a belly of reserved slack, with your right hand, look at your dog, say his name, then command “Heel”!

Begin walking, starting with your left foot. Walk briskly in a straight line, with confidence in your movement. Your dog will lose confidence in you if you wander aimlessly.

Remembering his experience on the long-line, your dog may walk alongside you fairly comfortably, but the odds are that since there are now only five to six feet connecting the two of you, he will react in one of the two following ways:

1. He will either rush forward past you in an attempt to keep a tight strain on that leash, or
2. He will hold back and be hesitant to walk with you at all. After all, this six-foot training leash is new to him.

If your dog is one that takes off like a marathon runner in a race, either surging ahead or out to the side in an attempt to keep the leash tight, simply open your right hand, release the slack you’ve been holding in reserve, and immediately do a right-about turn and walk in the opposite direction. When your dog is back in the proper heeling position, give him praise and a pat on the head with your free left hand. If you have a small dog, bend over to his level and give him his pat while continuing to walk.

Each time he surges ahead, release the slack as you do and definite right-about turn. Without slowing your pace, pick up some reserve slack and place it once again in your right hand in preparation for his next heedless charge. Your left hand is free to reach down and give him a pat on a head when, and only when, he is in the proper heeling position. That is, at your left side with his head and neck area about even with your left leg. Each time you place the reserve slack in your right hand, be sure to leave a belly of slack in the leash between you and your dog.

An Alternative Method For The Introvert

If your dog has an introvert personality, one that is reluctant to walk with you, you will need a slightly different method. The introvert dog just doesn’t quite understand what’s going on with this new piece of equipment and he’s as reluctant to get involved as a person being taught how to play a new instrument. This type of dog needs a little encouragement and a show of enthusiasm on your part, and don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

Use your free left hand to pat your leg as you give your dog a little talk of encouragement. Use short, forward snaps on the leash to help inspire your dog to walk with you. Watch closely as he begins to discard his reluctance, praise him enthusiastically and warmly. This shows him three things. First, that you are pleased. Second, that everything is alright. And third, that he has made the right decision.

Dog Training: Correct Heel Methods (3)

There are two extremes of personalities in dogs – the introvert and the extrovert. However, there are many degrees in between those two extremes as there are dogs in this planet.

Regardless of where your dog’s personality lies on that scale, once you have given the command to heel you must start walking and continue walking. Encourage your dog to accompany you if necessary. Correct his heedless rush with absolute right-about turns if necessary. But, you should never, ever give in if your dog decides to not follow your command and just “sit this one out”.

Dogs learn by associating their actions with a pleasing or displeasing result. Therefore, the dog who tries to take advantage of the new shortened leash by surging and keeping a strain on it comes to a sudden discovery that you still have the situation very much under control. As soon as he can cause the leash to tighten, he will take his eyes off you, only to feel the sudden jolt of your right-about turn.

By using the reserve slack in your hand properly, your dog will realize that the leash is no different than the long line, except that he must pay even closer attention since the six-foot leash gives him less time to react than the fifteen-foot long-line. He’ll realize how much more pleasing it is to walk at your side so that he can see which way and when you’re going to change direction. Your left hand giving him a pat on the head when he’s in the correct heel position is also more pleasing than the sudden jolt that he gets when not in the proper position.

On the other hand, your introvert dog, one that stands as if he had feet glued to the cement, suddenly feels the slightly displeasing effect of the short, sharp jerks of the leash. Hearing your enthusiastic tone of voice and seeing your left hand pat your leg invitingly will do wonders to make your pet choose the more promising alternative. The moment he does, he will discover the warm, affectionate praise and pat on the head to be far more enjoyable than the series of sharp jolts he experienced as a result of his initial reluctance to walk with you.

You may have to spend each of your fifteen-minute training sessions for the next four days in this simple leash introduction so the introvert-type will walk without any reluctance or fear and to stop the extrovert’s heedless rushes by your unannounced change of direction.

Don’t Be Afraid To Use Too Much Pull

Let me describe a scene of what an extrovert dog may do when prompted with a distraction. Picture a dog tied to a tree on a twenty-five foot rope lying in loose coils on the ground. He is sleeping comfortably under the tree when a cat walks by past the dog at a distance of about twenty-seven feet.

The dog wakes up, spots the cat and rushes recklessly to pounce on the poor cat. The dog will be stopped two foot short and very abruptly too. After regaining his composure, he will still strain and tug to try and get the cat. But, unless he’s a total fool, he will not make that reckless rush a second time – not while still tied to a tree. But does he blame the tree? Of course not.

You are not as firm as a tree, so don’t be worried about hurting your pet. Your objective should be clear. Your dog should walk at your left side, neither lagging behind nor surging ahead.

Always remember that the leash should be slack. Eventually, you’ll be heeling your dog without the leash and you will realize the importance of that slack. If your dog is used to feeling a tight leash restraining him in the heeling position, he’ll be long gone when you walk him without the leash later on.

Dog Training: Correct Heel Methods (4)

When it comes to obedience training, there should be no “half-way action” accepted. In other words, it’s all or nothing from your dog. And a crooked sit must be considered as something less than your dog giving his full potential.

Not only does it look shabby, but it also prevents the dog from accomplishing his full measure of discipline and character. You can prevent your dog from developing the bad habit of crooked sits simply by using your free left hand while heeling.

As you prepare to stop during a walk, make sure that your left hand is in a position to place on the dog’s rear in such a way as to prevent him from moving around in front of you after you have come to a complete stop. If your dog succeeds in sitting in a crooked way, hold back the praise until you have straightened his sit. As your left hand drops to his rear, keep your left thumb pointing toward your left leg. This will ensure that you do not accidentally place your dog in a crooked sit.

You do not have to push down heavily on your dog’s rear. You need to simply press lightly to help guide him into the proper sit position. It is more the right hand pulling the leash upward than the amount of pressure on the dog’s rear that will place him easily and quickly in the proper sitting position. Putting heavy pressure on your dog’s rear may stimulate him to resist, which is an unwanted action.

In these learning steps, the less resistance you have, the better off it will be, both for you and your dog. Also keep in mind the importance of a positive attitude.

Recap Of The First 10 Days Of Correct Heel Training

Your first ten days of obedience training should consist of proper leash introduction, getting your dog to walk confidently and happy. This is achieved without lagging or straining as he walks at your left side in the response to the command “Heel”. The first ten days of obedience training also consists of the introduction of the command “Sit” in which you place the dog in the sitting position each time you stop.

Once you are confident about placing your dog in the sitting position, which took one full week, you are now ready to bring your dog to a higher level of discipline, intelligence, and response.

You must decide to never place your pet in the sitting position again. You have spent one full week showing him exactly what sit means, and it only takes four days for the average house dog to learn the average thing. Now, it’s time to show your dog that he must do it for himself and that you will not be leading him by the hand all of the time.

Dog Training: Correct Heel Methods (5)

When you feel that you have sufficient control of your dog while walking, usually within four days of his initial orientation to the leash, you are now ready to go to a higher level of control.

Give your dog the command to heel and begin walking, remembering to start out on your left foot, in a straight line. Make a few right-about turns as necessary to make sure that you have his full attention. Then, as you prepare to come to a stop, shorten your hold on the leash just a bit. As you stop, not after and not before, pull up the leash with your right hand and press gently on the dog’s rear as you say the command “Sit”!

As soon as he sits, praise him and give him a pat on the head. Remember, dogs learn by associating their actions with a pleasing or displeasing result.

Next, give the command “Heel” and begin to walk briskly in a straight line. As you prepare to stop, shorten your hold on the leash. When you stop, pull up on the leash, pressing gently on the rear with your free left hand, at the same time giving the command “Sit”.

Always follow a correct behavioral response by your dog with praise, even if you caused the behavioral response. Even though you are placing your dog in the sitting position, this should still be followed by warm praise.

This will be the pattern throughout the course. You will show your dog what he needs to do and follow it with praise. After the learning process has taken place within the mind of the dog, then will you correct for disobedience.

Your training program at this stage should still be limited to fifteen minutes per day and consist only of the commands “Heel” and “Sit”. Give the command to heel, walk about ten feet, do a right turn, then come to a stop, placing the dog in the sitting position while giving the command to sit. Follow each sit-placing with warm praise.

Dogs with above average intelligence will absorb what you are trying to convey in less than four days and will begin to sit by themselves before you have a chance to place them. However, you must be firm with your decision that, regardless of how fast your dog appears to be catching on, you will continue to place him in the sitting position each time you stop for a period of one week.

Dog Training: Correct Heel Methods (6)

Now it’s time to find out if your dog has truly learned how to heel and execute an automatic sit.

Give him the command “Heel” and make any necessary corrections for poor heeling or lack of attentiveness to bring him up to the proper mental level of awareness. Come to a stop and command “Sit”. Watch your dog do it all by himself. Get down to his level and praise him enthusiastically.

For the stubborn or uncooperative dog who would rather be helped for the rest of his life, you’ll be surprised to see that he is going to graduate from being spoon-fed whether he wants to or not.

How do you do this? When you come to a stop and command “Sit”, silently count to three. If your dog is not seated by the time you get to three, place both hands on the leash, making sure that there’s a little slack in it, and jerk straight up! Your dog will immediately sit if you make the correction strongly enough. Don’t forget the praise when you’re done.

If he still refuses to sit after the initial correction, consider that correction ineffective. An ineffective correction is inhumane because it means that you will have to keep doing it. This is unfair to your pet and will only create resistance. If you simply tighten the collar around his neck by pulling up slowly on the leash, the only thing you can accomplish is constriction of your dog’s breathing, and you have caused your dog’s training collar to turn into a choking chain.

This is your fault, not his, and he is going to wonder why you have suddenly decided to choke him. So, in all fairness to your dog, make a humane correction by an emphatic and upward jerk of the leash using both hands. Make the correction properly the first time, and chances are you will not have to make it again. Remember to follow the correction with loving praise the moment your dog has responded correctly.

The heel and sit combinations should be continued for one week, after which time you will notice that it’s no longer necessary for you to command “Sit” every time you stop. Your dog will realize that this is what is expected when he is out on a walk and you suddenly come to a stop.

At the end of a week, you can begin dropping the command “Sit” since he will be doing it automatically anyway. Be sure, however, that anytime he fails to sit, make the correction immediately, followed by praise.

Congratulations!

Now you have the proper tools to teach your dog to walk beside you and to sit automatically at your side each time you stop. Why is this crucial? In addition to getting your dog’s attention, which is necessary in order to take him to more advanced levels of training, it will make all the difference in the world when you take him for a walk down a busy street or a crowded place.

Should you stop to talk to someone, your dog is trained to sit at your side patiently, rather than jumping on the person you’re talking to or wrapping the leash around your legs and making a nuisance of himself.

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