How To Teach a Dog To Heel

Reprinted by with permission of Dr. Ian Dunbar and James & Kenneth Publishers

Heel 1. Practice off-leash heeling in a safe area (indoors, or in a fenced yard). Use a lure in your left hand to position the puppy on your left side when in motion, and transfer it to your right hand to signal the puppy to sit when you stop. (Or hold lures in both hands.) With your pup sitting on your left side, say “Joe Pup, Heel” and give a hand signal by moving the lure in your left hand from left to right in front of your dog’s nose. 2. Walk briskly forward in a straight line, waggling the lure in your left hand and praising your pup as you go. 3. Transfer the lure from left to right hand in preparation for the sit signal. 4. Say “Joe Pup, Sit,” and while in motion, give a sit signal in front of your pup’s face with your right hand. 5. Then come to a halt and praise your puppy as soon as he sits: “Good Heel-Sit Joe Pup. Good Heel-Sit.” 6. Well, since that was so good, how about a friendly pat of encouragement before proceeding on the next Sit-Heel-Sit sequence.

Teaching your puppy to heel with precision is the most complicated of all training exercises. To make the process as easy as possible, break down heeling into a series of simpler exercises. 1. Teach your puppy to sit quickly and reliably. 2. Teach your puppy to come and sit in heel position. 3. Teach left-, right-, and about-turns in place. 4. Teach straight-line, sit-heel-sit sequences. 5. Combine all the exercises and make turns while in motion.

Before heeling anywhere, make sure that your puppy sits reliably. If your puppy does not sit promptly when requested, you will become frustrated and quickly ruin your pup’s desire to heel by repeatedly nagging at your puppy to sit after he heels well.

Teach your puppy precise heel position while stationary. Say, “Puppy, Heel,” and use a lure in your right hand to lure your puppy to sit by your left side. Take one step in any direction (forwards, backwards, right, or left), or pivot in place (90˚, 180˚, 270˚, clockwise, or counter-clockwise), and then stand still, say, “Puppy, Heel,” and lure your pup to come and sit in heel position again. Repeat this process over and over in a number of different distracting settings — in the house, the yard, and the dog park.

Practice heeling turns in place. Instruct your puppy to sit and then pivot on the spot, using your left-hand food lure to guide your dog around, and your right-hand lure to get your puppy to sit again, facing in the new direction — sit-turn-sit. Practice turning both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Each heeling sequence begins and ends with the dog sitting by your left side. To keep your pup in heel position when in motion requires continual attention and repeated enthusiastic feed-back. Consequently, think of heeling as short sit-heel-sit sequences. Each sit allows you to catch your breath and regain composure.

Make sure you always start each sequence with the pup in the correct position, i.e., sitting by your left side. Use the lure in your right hand to position the pup by your left side. Say “Joe Pup, Sit,” and give a hand signal by moving your right hand across your body — upwards and backwards in front of the dog’s nose. Transfer the lure to your left hand in preparation for heeling. 1. Establish your composure with your pup sitting in heel position. 2. Heel rapidly in a straight line for a very short distance. 3. Have your pup sit again to re-establish your composure.

For turbo-pups, maybe start with single-step sequences. Your pup will pay much more attention after a series of short, staccato sit-step-sit sequences. Now try for two steps between sits. Then try three, five, eight, and ten steps at a time. Repeat the short heeling sequences, gradually increasing the number of steps between sits. Soon you will be doing long straightaway heels.

Initially, walk as quickly as possible so that your puppy has to walk a straight line in order to keep up. If you amble along, your puppy will have ample opportunity to serpentine from side to side. Initially, heel only in a straight line. Keep your puppy’s attention by frequently changing pace. Say “Quickly” before speeding up, and say “Steady” before slowing down. Your pup will quickly learn the meaning of these two very useful instructions. Remember to make it fun. Praise your puppy frequently, and occasionally dispense a food reward after an exceptionally good bit of heeling, or after a stylish, or lickety-split sit.

When you are ready to turn, instruct your puppy to sit, and then turn in place — sit-turn-sit. Then heel away in a straight line in the new direction. After no time, you will be able to begin negotiating turns while moving.

Moving Right Turns 1. To avoid your dog taking a shortcut behind you on right turns, say “Quickly!” 2. Move your left hand forwards to speed up your pup so that his head is in front of your left knee before you turn right. Speed up to encourage your puppy to complete the turn quickly. 3. After the right or right-about turn praise the puppy when he comes back into heel position.

Moving Left Turns 1. To avoid bumping your puppy when making left turns, say “Steady!” 2. Slow down and move your left hand behind your left knee to slow down the pup. 3. After the left or left-about turn, praise the puppy when he comes back into heel position.