Many times when people take their dog for a walk, they are actually dragged along behind the dog, instead of leading it. A dog that pulls, or even a dog that lags behind, has not been properly trained to walk in unison with its owner. Heeling is such a comfortable way to walk with your dog, not against it, that it is worth your while to teach your pup how to do it. Anyone can train a dog to heel with repetition and patience, along with some simple techniques.
EditLearning How to Train Your Dog
- Find a quiet place to train your dog. You want to eliminate distractions, so that your dog can concentrate on you easily. If you have a backyard, that is the perfect place to train your dog. Otherwise, find a quiet corner of a park with few other people or pets. If outdoors is too distracting, start inside. Gradually increase the amount of distraction as the dog learns, and be sure to practice in different places, so that the dog understands that "heel" means "heel" everywhere, not just in the backyard.
- Teach the dog to watch you. This can be accomplished by simply associating a cue such as "Watch me" with a treat. Your dog will quickly learn to look at you when you use the word, as they will expect a treat. Once this has been accomplished, give treats randomly, not necessarily for every occasion, but don't stop completely.
- Don't rely on the leash to physically move the dog. The leash is for safety, not a means of communication. Practicing off-leash in a safe location is ideal.
- Choose a release cue such as "okay", "free", or "break" to communicate to the dog that it's okay to break heel position or get up from a sit.
EditTraining Your Dog to Heel With Positive Reinforcement
- Teach your dog proper positioning. The proper way to walk a dog is with the dog on your left side. However, this is only necessary for formal obedience and some other sports. For pet dogs, choose whichever side is best for you, but be consistent and stick with the chosen side.
- The dog should walk with its head or shoulder even with your hip.
- You are not holding the leash tight to keep your dog in place. The leash is slack between you, with no contact.
- Teach your dog to position itself correctly. "Right Here" is a useful command to teach your dog when standing. If your dog is not close enough or is confused about which side to sit at, slap your hip and use the command "Right Here". If needed, lure your dog to your side with a treat. As your dog learns, slowly fade the lure by using your hand without a treat, then just your hand, then more general. The lure can become a hand signal (moving your hand to your hip).
- Get your dog's attention. The key to heeling is having your dog's attention. Start standing still with your dog sitting beside you in the correct position. Get your dogs attention by calling its name, tapping on its head, making noises, or using your pre-taught "watch me" cue.
- When the dog looks up, slap your left hip with your hand and say "Right Here". This is a command. Your dog can learn to look where you indicate, and in this way you are giving your dog a reference point for where he should be while heeling.
- Set your dog up for success. Try your best to avoid asking for more than your dog is capable of.
- Remember, the key is getting your dog's attention. This can be the most difficult thing. Also, though it takes some work, while getting your dog's attention you can teach your dog to look at you when you say "Watch me" or whatever your chosen cue is. Remember to reward with a treat when your dog responds correctly.
- With your dog in position, take one step. Reward your dog. Increase to two, then three, and so on.
- Once your dog is reliably heeling, introduce speed changes and turns.
- Consider every walk you have with the dog a training session.
- Heavily reinforce your dog for good behavior with whatever they enjoy most - treats, play, petting, praise, etc. Treats are usually the most favoured and easiest option. You should positively reinforce your dog when he obeys your commands correctly. Avoid using punishment to train.
EditUsing Corrective Methods
- Use corrections with care. Many people train their dogs with all positive, reward-based methods, which require a lot of patience and consistency. Corrections can get quicker results sometimes, but it can also backfire by damaging your relationship with your dog, creating anxiety and confusion in the dog, and resulting in more unwanted behavior.
- Think of the leash as an extension of your arm. With this in mind, do not correct your dog unless he or she needs correction. Giving mixed signals to your dog will only complicate and inhibit successful training.
- Keeping the leash slack (not correcting constantly) means that when you actually do pull on the leash, your dog is much more likely to listen to you.
- When you praise your dog, do not let it disobey your command until you release it. For instance, if you tell your dog to sit, it obeys, you praise it, and it gets up, immediately stop the praise. If your dog does not sit down again by itself after a few seconds, firmly put it into place, then praise again.
- You do not need to repeat the command. Enforcing it is much more effective. You may want to give the dog another chance to obey properly.
- Reinforce that your dog cannot forge ahead. Most dogs forge ahead. To correct this, keep your dog on a leash that is tight enough to allow you to step across in front of him. When he tries to forge ahead, turn sharply and step directly in his path, making a 90 degree turn and heading off in a new direction. Once again, turn sharply, as if walking along a square.
- The dog will be used to leading you, and may be surprised or confused. Walk in a straight line again, until the dog tries to forge past you. Pull the same stunt. Doing this for 5-15 minutes a day is enough. Some dogs learn after the first session, but some dogs who have been used to leading you for years may take longer.
- Train your dog not to lag as well. Most dogs lag consistently if they feel afraid, neglected, unwanted, or abused but many dogs lag occasionally if they are sidetracked by smells or activities. The way to stop lagging is similar to stopping forging. All you have to do is let the leash hit your leg every time you step as you walk.
- Your leash should once again be in your right hand, and a lagging dog would be on your left side behind you, with the leash crossing in front of your legs. This will cause a jerk when you step forward with your left leg, and if this isn't enough to make your dog want to catch up, you can slowly reel in the leash while your leg is bumping it.
- You should use a command while doing this "Get-Up-Here" and/or "Right Here"; with your left hand slap your hip. Speak this command, and your dog's name, using "Hey" to get his attention if needed. Once your dog is next to you, praise and let the leash slack. Most likely he will lag again, but all you have to do is repeat.
- Try placing your thumb in your pocket to secure the lead at a length you feel comfortable working with. The abrupt stop or changes in direction at the consistent lead tension seem to direct the dog well. Sometimes with your hands free you can tend to allow too much slack allowing the dog to roam while you daydream. The thumb trick keeps them firmly in place.
- Use a thick collar. Thinner collars are more severe than wider collars, as pressure is not displaced over a larger area, making corrections more severe.
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