One of the basic obedience commands that all dogs should learn early is to heel both on and off the leash. Heel is one of the most difficult techniques for puppies to learn but the rewards make it worthwhile.
What is walking to heel and why should puppies learn it?
To heel means your dog will walk neatly and obediently to one side of you while keeping pace with your strides. Walking to heel enables us to keep a dog under very close control without pulling, getting tangled up in your feet or bounding off altogether. It also provides mental exercise as the dog has to stay concentrated and constantly alert to its handler. Pups are normally taught to take the left-hand side when walking to heel though that originates from hunting dogs that allowed right-handed owners to carry their gun. It doesn’t matter which side you prefer, as long as you maintain consistency at all times. As with most aspects of dog training, it’s best to start early and teach puppies to heel. If a dog has gotten used to running riot on a leash it can be an arduous affair to rein them back in to obey the heel instruction.
A focused heel is very different to loose leash walking with the dog at your side and is a level above what we might think of as ‘pet dog heeling’. An essential skill for police dogs, protection dogs, guard dogs and security dogs, focused heeling is where the dog is looking upwards towards its handler and is completely concentrated on them. Most pet dog owners don’t need to teach their companion how to perform a focused heel. However, it can be good fun to do so and it’s useful to know that your dog will be able to perform it in short bursts, particularly when in environments with a lot of distractions.
Simple steps to begin heel training
You can start to teach a puppy the basics of walking to heel at home and begin to introduce the following steps into your daily routine:
Repeatedly encourage the dog to come to the side you prefer with a ‘come’ or ‘here’ command word and treats.
Begin to only hand out the treat after the dog arrives beside you and you both walk a few steps while giving the command ‘heel’.
Repeat, reward, repeat and reward as you increase the steps you both take before food is handed over.
With puppies, regularly use the instruction to ‘heel’ as you walk so that it becomes recognised as both a command and a reminder.
The above will teach puppies the building blocks for learning how to walk to heel but taking classes will both speed up the time it takes for dogs to master heeling and do it more effectively.
Total K9 offer residential and one-to-one training whether you’re just starting out teaching a dog to heel or are seeking to incorporate focused heeling as part of more advanced obedience techniques. Get in touch to find out more.