Teaching your Dog to Heel: Training Techniques for Puppies and Older Dogs

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Teaching your Dog to Heel
Positive Reinforcement, Clicker Training and More

“The best way to teach a dog to heel is by starting when your dog is young.”

Teaching your dog to heel isn’t that difficult if you know how to do it. Get started early. Be consistent. Use positive reinforcement and never give up.

If you’re like many people, there have probably been times when your big dog has tried to pull your arms off during a walk. Or perhaps your little dog has sat down and refused to move. Maybe your dog has simply run circles around you and tied you up with the leash? Whatever the case, many dogs seem reluctant to walk calmly on a leash.

Where To Start

The best way to start teaching your dog to heel is by starting when your dog is young. Leash training a puppy is usually a little easier than leash training a reluctant dog.

You can start by choosing a collar and leash for your puppy. Most people prefer a nylon collar with a flat buckle to go with a leash. A puppy will quickly outgrow anything you buy him at this age so you may not want to spend a lot of cash on leather collars or other expensive items.

For proper fit, be sure you can slip two fingers between your puppy’s neck and their collar. The collar shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. Most people get a leash to match the collar. It should be about six-feet long.

Whether you have a puppy or dog, you can let them get used to the collar by wearing it in the house for a while. This way you can watch them and make sure that it fits properly. You can also make sure they don’t get it hung on anything that could choke them.

Once you’re sure the collar is a good fit and they have adjusted to it, then you can attach the leash, also in the house, and let them drag it around for a little while. This will let your puppy or dog get used to feeling something tugging on the collar.

Do keep an eye on your puppy or dog while the leash is attached so they won’t get it hung on anything that could cause the collar and leash to choke them. Make sure you remove the leash before allowing your puppy or dog to go outside. They can continue to wear the collar if you prefer.

Teaching Your Dog to Heel – Three Options

Teaching Your Dog to Heel
Photo by Lindsey Higgins

Once your puppy or dog is used to the collar and leash you can move on to some dog obedience training. Most people teach some basic obedience commands such as sit, sit-stay and come before they start teaching their dog to heel, but there is no definite order in which to teach the commands.

Sit is probably one of the easiest commands for your puppy or dog to learn so it’s often taught first. Come is one of the most important commands for your puppy or dog to learn since knowing this command can save your dog’s life. If your dog should ever get away from you, for example, if he knows the come command well, you can call him back to you. This can prevent him from running into the path of a car or getting lost.

There are several ways to start teaching your dog to heel. You can decide which way will work best for you and your dog. Here are some of your options:

*Attach your puppy or dog’s leash to your belt or waist. Your dog can walk on either side of you. Your hands will be free. This method is good for clicker dog training since you can keep your clicker in your hand and you’ll have access to your treats.

Your puppy or dog will need to stay within just a few feet of you since the leash is tied to you. Give the “heel” command and as soon as your dog is close to where he should be. If using a clicker, you can click and give him a treat. You should ask your puppy or dog to get closer and closer to where you want him to walk as he gets better at this exercise. Clicker dog training is usually a very good method for teaching your dog to heel.

*With your puppy or dog on your left side, by your knee, you can give the heel command. You will have a large wooden spatula loaded with peanut butter in your left hand. When your puppy or dog walks in the correct position you can periodically let him take a couple of licks of the peanut butter, then hold the spoon up and keep walking.

You will need to hold the leash in your right hand for this exercise. Most puppies and dogs learn the heel command very quickly with this exercise, which is also a form of positive reinforcement.

*Teaching your dog to heel using the traditional dog training method. In traditional dog obedience training classes this method usually uses a slip chain collar, but you can use it with the flat buckle collar like the one your puppy or dog will be wearing. You can set off walking with your puppy or dog on your left side, at knee level.

When your dog pulls ahead or lags behind you should give slight jerks to move your dog back to the proper position. Praise your puppy or dog for walking in the correct position. If you repeat this exercise enough times your puppy or dog will understand where he’s supposed to walk. At the end of each exercise you should offer your puppy lots of praise and some treats.

These are the basic methods of teaching your dog to heel. As mentioned, it’s usually a little easier to teach a puppy than an adult dog. Leash training a puppy is usually very easy. If you start working with a puppy that’s a few weeks old they should learn very quickly and remember the lesson always. An adult dog may take a little longer to learn or, perhaps more accurately, to overcome any bad habits they already have.

Teaching your Dog to Heel – For Problem Dogs

If your “best friend” has dog behavior problems when it comes to walking on a leash, there are some ways to overcome them. If your dog pulls when you go for a walk, for instance, you can reassert your control. You don’t have to do this in any macho kind of way. Instead, when you’re walking with your dog and he starts pulling, you should simply freeze. Become a statue. Don’t move at all.

Your dog should quickly realize that the walk has stopped and he should return to see what’s going on. When your dog comes back to you, then you can proceed with the walk. If your dog starts pulling again, you should freeze again.

Do this every time your dog starts pulling. It doesn’t usually take long for a dog to figure out that if he wants to walk he has to do it on your terms.

If your dog continues to try to pull you or causes other problems, you can take him to an open area and walk in a zig zag pattern. Walk with your dog for a minute and then completely change direction. Do not let your dog guess which way you may be going.

Walk for another minute or so and change direction again. Keep changing direction every minute or two so your dog has to pay very close attention to you. Your dog can’t pull you because he doesn’t know where you’re going.

You should only keep this exercise up for about 10 minutes because it’s very tiring for your dog when he has to concentrate so hard on what you’re doing. If you do this exercise every day for a few days your dog should completely stop pulling.

Teaching your Dog to Heel with Positive Reinforcement

If you have a dog who lags behind or sits down on a walk, you will need to use positive reinforcement to get him moving. Clicker training can work well in these cases, but you may just want to use praise and reward.

Take your dog for a walk when he’s hungry. Have some tiny treats with you. Start walking. When your dog sits and refuses to move, you should offer your dog a tiny treat. If he makes any forward movement at all you can give him a small reward.

Teaching your dog to heel may be simple, but not easy. Keep going. Reward for any positive movement. Give lots of praise. Remember to use very tiny treats so your dog won’t fill up. It can take some time for this method to work, especially if you have a very spoiled dog, but it does work. With the right approach your dog should start moving more and more before getting his treats.

Final Words

These are some ways to overcome problems with dogs who won’t heel. Teaching your dog to heel isn’t that difficult but you do need to keep working at it. Don’t give up when your dog is a brat.

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