The heel command is an important part of K9 dog training. All dogs that are going to enter competitions or dog shows need to know this very basic command. During the ‘heel’ position, your dog walks on your (the handler’s) left side close to your legs. He must also keep his head up and eyes on your face. Your dog’s shoulders must be level with your legs and he must stop walking when you stop walking and immediately sit straight facing forward. The basic requirement for training a puppy to heel is to teach him the basic of leash training or the ‘walk nicely’ command. Let us study some tips and tricks to get your dog in heel position.
Basics of dog training for Heel position
Your dog needs to know how to walk on leash without pulling or showing leash aggression. You may want to carry some of his favorite treats like chicken or cheese. Some owners/handlers have seen success with clicker training. Alternatively, you can use the word Yes! Set aside 10-15 minutes daily for this command. You must also practice in an area without distractions; so avoid a dog park where your pet could get distracted.
Mind your body position
The handler (or trainer), in this case let us assume it is you, must pay attention to his own body language. Since it can be difficult to know how our body position is when training our dog, it helps to record a video of each session. This way, you can take a look at the video later and make corrections or changes in your position, if needed. In all other command training, your body can assume any position like you could sit in a chair, or even lie down and give the commands. But when it comes to the dog ‘Heel’ position, your own position is of utmost importance too.
Walk straight with your shoulders straight
Each time you do your K9 dog training for heeling command, you must walk straight and keep your shoulders straight too. This is the same position you must assume when training your dog. But when you are training, you are bound to stop and look down at your dog to see if he’s in position. This is a different position and it will teach your dog to sit farther back as he needs to back up to look at you. When you look back up straight with face forward, and shoulder straight, it will look like your dog is lagging a bit behind your leg. But that is because you trained him like that by turning and moving your left side further back.
Steps to teach the Heel command to your dog
Step 1 – Placement of treat
Keep the treat in your right hand. Place your right hand over your dog’s head approximately two inches from it. Your hand should be close to your left leg.
Step 2 – Walk
Now, with your dog on your left side, your face facing forward and your dog facing forward as well, say your pet’s name and then say heel. Begin to walk. Take just a few steps but each time your dog obeys till this point, praise him plenty and give him a treat. Use gentle tone of voice and sound upbeat. Do not scold, shout or rebuke your dog. Training works best when it is kept positive.
Step 3 – Praise/treat
When your dog heels and you find him in the position you want him to be in, praise him and give him the treat. Use words like ‘Good boy!’ and ‘Very good’!
Step 4 – Increase training time
Slowly increase the ‘heeling’ time to 30 seconds. If your dog appears distracted or starts drifting off, you may want to reduce the number of steps and increase the reinforcement through tone of voice, change in direction of walking or clicker training and treating.
Step 5 – Slowly ease off the treats
Each k9 dog training session should eventually be done without treats. Your pet needs to listen to you even when there is no inentive involved. So give fewer and fewer treats when he obeys but continue praising him greatly.
Key points to remember when teaching your dog to heel
Physical health of your pet
In the heel position, your dog is required to look at you sideways. Repeated training can put pressure on his joints and sprain his neck. So avoid repeat performance of this command in order to prevent neck pain.
Clicker training steps for the Heel command
Clicker training is very handy when teaching your pet to heel. Just remember not to get carried away and avoid too many repetitions. Here are the steps:
- Cue sit at your left. Bend your left elbow and place your left hand at your belt buckle.
- Face forward. You may have to peek down to see if your pet is obeying.
- If after a couple of steps your pet is in heel position, click stop and give him a treat.
- It might take a few more tries but that is okay. Walking briskly and with purpose can get your pet’s attention. Most dogs that are used to clicker training learn to expect clicks and treats that follow.
- After delivering the treat, start walking again. Click and treat every time your pet heels. After about 10 clicks, end the training session. It is very important not to over work your dog, especially in this training position.
In the heel command, your pet should not look at the floor or sniff around. His attention should entirely be on you.
Keep sessions short and upbeat
We cannot stress this enough. For any training to be successful, keep it short and sweet. That is also why you must phase out the treats in a way they last for the duration of the training session.
Do not punish or scold
Do not use punishment tools like prongs or choker collars. Your pet must look forward to the session.
Walk in straight line
In the initial few sessions, walk in a straight line and avoid too many exercise maneuvers. Slowly you can start turning left and right. You can also walk in a square pattern or between cones as changing direction can keep your dog’s attention. You might also find that, in the beginning, your dog is in heel position but he does not look at you. Looking at you while heeling is often hard for your dog. If your pet is distracted with sniffing or fails to look at you in heel position, click and treat. Eventually your pet will stop sniffing and learn to only look at you. When that happens, start clicking and treating him only in heel position while he looks at you. Slowly this will get ingrained in his routine.
What does heel mean to a dog?
You must understand that the heel command in K9 dog training is one of the most difficult commands. There are many pitfalls in it and your pet could even find it difficult to train for prolonged periods. Therefore, it is important to not use the heel command each time you walk your dog. The main thing is that your dog should understand ‘let’s go’, and that he may lead, but pulling is not acceptable.