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How to Train a Dog to Heel

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Sheltie Dog Walking On a Loose Leash - Leash Training Dogs to Walk on Leash
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Walking with your dog at a heel is more formal than walking your dog on a loose leash. Training a dog to heel involves training him to stay close to your left side while walking whether on or off leash. It's more advanced than a loose leash walk, but not too hard to teach with persistence. Here's how to do it:

What You'll Need

You can train a dog to heel with or without a leash. Just make sure if you're working with him off leash that you're in a safe area for your dog, such as a fenced in yard. You'll also need to have some treats on hand. I use small pieces of a dog's favorite treats. For more stubborn dogs or small dogs that make it difficult to bend down and give treats while in the heel position, I use a wooden spoon coated with peanut butter, cream cheese, or wet dog food.

Treat Continuously at First

Start off with your dog sitting on your left side. Hold a handful of treats or the wooden spoon coated in something yummy close to your dog's nose, and tell him "heel." Begin to walk. For the first few tries, just take a few steps and give your dog treats continuously.

Be sure to stay in an area with little distraction, such as your backyard, for your first attempts. If you go somewhere where there are too many other interesting things going on, the treats may not be enough to hold your dog's attention.

Treat Less Often

Once you're able to walk with your dog at a heel for several yards while giving continuous treats, it's time to start cutting down on the amount of treats you give. Start off with your dog sitting at your left side, and give him the command "heel." Give him a treat and then take a step before giving him another. Be sure to give him a treat before his interests wander. Again, keep the distance you walk with him at a heel fairly short, and gradually work up to walking a yard or two between treats.

Add Distance

Once you're able to walk several yards with your dog in a heel with only a few treats, it's time to start adding some distance to your walk. You can give your dog treats, but begin to slowly fade them out. If your dog is continually breaking out of a heel at any point, you may be moving ahead too quickly for him. Go back and repeat the distance and number of treats where you were last successful in keeping him at a heel.

Add Distraction

Once you're able to walk a fairly long distance with few treats with your dog at a heel at your side, it's time to add some distraction. You can work at a park or take walks through your neighborhood. When you first begin this, you may need to go back to treating your dog continuously and only taking short walks until he understands what's expected from him. Again, slowly work up to longer distances and fewer treats.

Fade the Treats

After practicing walking with your dog at a heel for long distances, you should be able to stop using treats altogether. Slowly add more and more distance to the walk with fewer treats given. Your dog should soon be able to heel without getting any treats or giving only very occasional treats.

Troubleshooting

It's not uncommon for dogs to break out of the heel, especially early on in learning this command. There are a few things you can do to fix this problem:

  • Go back a step or two. One of major reasons dogs seem to forget their training is because we move to the next step of the process before they're ready. If your dog makes several mistakes in a row, simply go back to giving him more treats and walking a shorter distance. Take your time, and slowly build back up to having him walk at a heel for longer distances.
  • Keep a close eye on your dog's body language. You can often learn to anticipate when your dog is about to break away from a heel position. His muscles bunch or he fixates on something besides the treats. If you think your dog is about to break out of the heel, give the "heel" command again, and pivot to the left and walk in the opposite direction. Your dog will quickly learn that it's important to pay attention to you.
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