In cases where your dog could get into danger, such as by a busy road, it is a good idea to keep your dog on lead as well as practising your heel. Even with well-behaved dogs, it is a big risk to rely on a heel alone in these situations. It only takes a scary noise to startle them, or a cat on the other side of the road, and you’ll be glad you had a lead on.
If you are in the process of training a heel you might suddenly come across something that is extra distracting, or that you just need to get past quickly. In these cases, rather than resorting to dragging on the lead or ruining your training, go back to a proper lure and use it to get your dog past quickly.
Collar or harness?
If you are going to train both a heel and loose lead walking – it is useful to have both. You might want to have your lead clipped in different positions for each one as it can help your dog distinguish between the two.
What is it useful for:
- When you need your dog to stay right next to you rather than on a loose lead
- Help your dog to stop pulling on the lead
- If your dog is off lead but you need them to stay closer to you for any reason
First of all you need to choose:
- Your cue for heel, this could be a word such as “heel” or “close”, a whistle, or even a hand signal
- Your “turn” cue for when you want to signal to your dog that you are going to change direction and want them to stay in the heel position, this could be “turn”, “lets go”, or a hand signal like tapping your leg
- Your end cue for when you want them to stop heeling, this is important as just stopping abruptly may tell your dog they can just stop heeling whenever they like as well, you could use “off you go” or “finished”
- Your training area, start somewhere your dog knows well with space to move around and fewer distractions, like a garden
- Your reward, food rewards work best here as you want something you can gives lots of quickly, so pick something very small and tasty, but you can also use a favourite toy.
Key skills: Luring
Most dogs will follow a reward like a treat or toy, so you can use them almost like a magnet to get your dog’s attention and pull them into the position you want. If you are using a lure make sure you give your dog the reward fairly often, especially at first, so they don’t get too frustrated.
Always remove the lure and stop the session if they get too close and start nibbling at your hands. One way to help with this is to use a secondary reinforcer like “good” before giving them the reward, so they know to just follow it until that cue, at which point you will give it to them.
How to do it
Before setting off, lure them into position next to you, giving them a reward once they are in the heel position.
Before setting off, get your dogs attention with a treat and position them next to you, giving them the reward once they are in the heel position.
Start walking forward, keeping your dog interested in the treat so they stay beside you, after a few steps of them staying in position reward them.
Your dog should still be in position but if not lure them back into place and continue walking, repeating these step 2 every few paces.
While keeping your rate of treats high, introduce some turns, always signalling this to your dog with your turn cue so they start to learn that as well.
As your dog starts get the idea, you can gradually increase the time in between rewards.
When you decide to stop practicing, give your end cue and scatter a few treats as a reward and to break the heel position.
Once you have done a few heels this way, you can start practicing your heel for short periods out on walks. At first make sure that you choose to do it in areas with less distractions and if you don’t have a solid recall yet then always keep your dog on lead.