How to Teach a Dog to Heel With This New and Easy Method

Teaching our dog new tricks can be fun, and good manners when other people are present. If your dog is an eager eater, you can even teach him how to wait for food! Are you wondering what the heel command is? This article will tell you more about how to teach your dog to heel.

Each dog training trick has its purpose. For example, if you often cross busy intersections with your dog or go through busy plazas, you may want to teach your dog how to heel.

When your dog is walking in a heel position, he is walking right next to you, which may be safer in some situations. Training your dog to heel is also a great mental stimulation as it requires your dog's attention.

There are many dog training tips out there. Today, I will teach you how to use the hand target technique to make the heel position easier for your dog to learn. You can then practice at home or on your way to the dog park.

What exactly is heel?

Heel is a cue you can teach your dog to walk directly next to you, traditionally on your left-hand side, instead of behind or in front of you. Heel position requires your dog to keep pace with you, only stopping when you stop and walking when you walk.

As you may imagine, walking on a loose leash next to you and avoiding sniffing and peeing requires a dog's mental concentration. Therefore, heel training may not be appropriate as the first cue command to teach your dog. However, it could be a great fit after your dog knows how to sit and how to stay.

It may require several training sessions for your dog to master heel walking.

What does it mean to heel on a leash?

To heel on a leash means that your dog is on a leash and walking at your pace by your side. Please remember that dogs should not heel for entire walks, as this command is best used when you need to keep your dog safe by your side.

Whenever possible, allow some leash room to let your dog explore freely around you, sniff, and, yes, pee. This is heaven for your dog.

Why should I take the time to teach my dog to heel?

How to teach a dog to heel may not be the most important command to teach. However, it's one of the most useful to keep your dog and other people safe in certain situations.

Whether you are crossing a busy avenue or walking through a loud and busy plaza, leash manners such as heeling can avoid various issues. On top of that, it's also great mental stimulation for your dog, and it keeps him sharp!

To heel or not to heel

You may still be wondering: should my dog heel for the entire walk? While this is a personal choice, your dog should still be somewhat free to sniff around for part of the walk. You may also practice the heel command while your dog is still learning and then only use it when needed.

This does not mean that when your dog is free to sniff around, he should pull on the leash. Instead, find a balance between sniffing time and heeling time to make the walking experience fun both for you and your dog.

Before you get started

Before you practice walking, you will need a couple of things, primarily for positive reinforcement.

Have lots of treats ready

Whenever you want to train your dog, you will need lots of treats. They don't need to be big; it's better if they're small because you will be giving out many. You can get dog training treats or cut up regular treats.

Get ready to mark a behavior

You probably have heard about clicker training. A clicker can be an excellent marker because you can click at the exact moment you want to reward your dog for good behavior. A clicker is one of several possible markers.

If you don't have a clicker, you may also use a consistent word such as "yes." Whichever marker you choose, stick to that one alone and mark the very second you see the behavior you want to reinforce so your dog learns faster.

Teach a nose-to-hand target

This is where things get exciting and fun! Before beginning training, your dog needs to understand the nose-to-hand target. Nose-to-hand target means that your dog's nose touches your hand.

  1. Stand next to or sit in front of your dog. Stick your arm out towards him and offer your hand, holding it sideways, with your palm open and fingers flat about 6 inches from your dog's face, at eye height. Please do not push your dog's face with your hand as he will not like that.
  2. Leave your hand slightly away from him, so he must move forward to touch it. As soon as your dog sniffs or boops it with his nose, mark (click) and reward with a treat. After rewarding, immediately remove your hand and place it behind your back or at your side.
  3. If your dog is initially unable to boop your hand, you may reward him (click and treat) for getting close to your hand and gradually increasing the criteria until he touches your hand with his nose.
  4. Once your dog understands what to do, start holding your hand further away and at your side. You can use a verbal cue such as "touch" or "nose" right before holding out your hand and click and treat the moment his nose touches your hand.

4 steps to teaching your dog how to heel on a leash

Now that your dog understands the nose-to-hand target and that your marker means something positive, we can move on to teaching your dog to heel. Ready, dog treats, go!

Step 1: Click and treat your dog for attention

Since we will need your dog's attention to have your dog follow your pace when walking, we first need to train your dog to pay close attention to you. Let's start rewarding your dog as soon as he offers attention without using any cue word or doing anything to get it.

Have your dog on a loose leash and start practicing inside, with as few distractions as possible.

Stand in front of your dog and click and treat when he looks at you while remaining standing.

Once your dog is comfortable doing that, start clicking and treating only when he stands to your side in the correct position, either your left side or your right side.

Step 2: Click and treat for hand targeting

Let's up the stakes. Please always remember quickly to reward when your dog displays the correct behavior.

With your dog still on a leash and standing by your side, begin to take only one step forward and then offer your hand to target. Once your dog's nose boops it, click and treat. Repeat a few times.

Whenever your dog gets ahead of you or doesn't touch your hand, try taking a step backward and click and treat the instant he begins to follow you. Then, turn and walk forward again and click and reward when your pup steps into heel position.

Step 3: Increase steps between hand targets

Instead of just taking one or two steps forward, gradually increase the distance with your dog close to you before you ask for a hand target. If your dog loses focus, stop walking and wait for his attention. Click and treat when he looks up to you, then take a step back and click and treat again the instant he returns to heel position.

Tip: Click and treat while your dog is walking, which helps reinforce the walking in heel position.

Step 4: Fade the hand target

You can start increasing the distance and reducing the use of the hand target.

  1. Start only using the hand target when you need to redirect your dog away from smelling something or leaving your side.
  2. Keep using clicking and treating but with more distance between each reward, only a few times over the distance of a few houses on your street.

Additional tips

Don't expect your dog to heel for an entire walk. It is incredibly hard for your dog, but it may also take the fun out of the walk.

Start adding distractions as your dog gets better. For example, start walking and have a friend or family member create a distraction.

There are several ways to reward your dog. Of course, treats are important, but so is verbal praise and petting.

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Written by Leo Roux

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