Teaching the heel - Part 1

Author: John Lockett|Print|Return
The number one obedience question I'm asked is "How do I stop my dog from pulling?" First, why do dogs pull? Dogs pull because they get satisfaction out of it, be it getting to the on coming person, dog, cat or place. The dog has learned from a puppy to pull, push and shove to get what it wants. When we teach the heel, we have to reprogram this train of thought and teach him that the reward will come from not pulling or pushing.

The Heel

In the heel position your dog should be in the same place throughout the heeling pattern, which is his/her shoulder 4-6" from the side of your left leg at your heel so to speak. During the heeling pattern the dog should stay at this 4-6" while walking, running and when you come to a stop. When stopping and starting heeling, the dog should be in what is call the basic position: a sit position at the same distance from your leg.

In my article Understanding Obedience Training I explain the three phases of dog training: Motivational Teaching, Correctional and Proofing. The Heel is one of the few commands that break this rule.

What do I mean?: Be it heel for Sch., Ring Sports and/or pet heeling (in all three the dog gives a diffrent look but I start the training the same) I don't teach the heel command until the dog is old enough to handle a correction.. The dog learns what the command means by recieving corrections for non-compliance first, followed by a reward when the dog gets into the correct position. Remember even though the correction is coming first, if you're not fair or you're unkind, it will show in the overall look of your dogs work. That being said, it takes a reverse skill set to apply proper timing when correcting and giving praise. In this article I will try to give you the tools needed to start your pet/companion or compition dog on your way to teaching you dog to heel properly.

Getting Started

Lets start off with the proper equipment you will need:

  1. 6' leash
  2. Pinch collar: Important it does not matter how big the dog is, if your dog is a short haired use a small pinch collar, if it long hair a middle size collar. The collar should fit right below the dogs ears, not falling down the dogs neck
  3. A pouch with a food reward.
    Note: Before you start training make sure your dog goes to the bathroom. It's hard to get a dog to heel if it needs to potty.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is making training session to long. Contrarry to belief practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Keep your training session short, start with five minute session, three or four times a day and slowly increase them as the dog truly shows understanding.

Teaching the Heel Possion

The first thing we have to do is teach the dog the start position for heeling. In competition it is called the 'basic position'. It starts with your dog standing by your left leg. You should have the leash in your right hand loose enough to see a J shape from the dogs collar to your hand. Your dog should already know how to perform the sit command. With your dog standing by your side give it a "heel/sit" command followed by a quick but light nagging correction. This is very important, once your dog sits at your side, give him/her a "Good Heel" followed by a treat and praise. You will be reinforcing the heel command, teaching the dog that when you're standing still, the Heel Command means to sit by your side. The next step is to leave the dog in a sit/stay, then take one or two steps to the front or side of the dog and give the heel command with a correction. Once the dog gets to your side if it does not sit, give a second correction and the sit command. When the dog gets in proper position, always give praise to bring the dogs mood back up. This should go on for 20 to 25 sessions before moving on to the next step.

In the Part 2 of this article I will go into the moving heel and turns.