Basic Training: Command HEEL

In the wild a dog can roam free and exercise himself.

In the city you have to make sure he gets enough exercise by walking him and Playing with him. Professional dog walkers are fine, but if you walk your dog yourself, the experience will be far more rewarding.

A six-foot leash is fine and its purpose is not only to keep your dog from running away, but also to teach him that he is to stay by your side. Every client is taught how to walk his dog properly. The dog should walk and not pull you down the street.

Ideally, your dog should now know enough to sit and stay when he’s told to. But what’s to keep him at your side when you’re actually walking him? If you can’t answer that one, you are in for some unpleasant experiences.

One woman’s two great Danes pulled her down the street three times a day until the dogs saw a cat on the other side of the street. A strikingly beautiful girl, who never owned even one dog bought two English setters to promenade in the park. One day both dogs headed for the same telephone pole, and each dog opted for a different side…

Heeling is as important for your dog as it is for you. Which of us hasn’t seen a small dog straining against his leash at a 45-degree angle, choking and gagging at his collar, his feet slipping against the pavement? And if there’s too much slack in his lead, a dog can move far enough away from you and put himself right in the midst of traffic.

You have to drum into your dog’s head that he can’t cross in front of you. When you say “sit” at a curb, your dog simply must do as you say, because some day there’s going to be a car coming by. Care enough about your dog to discipline him.

Before your dog learns to heel, he should already be used to wearing a leash indoors, and by now he should have had a good indoors grounding in the commands of “sit,” “stay,” and also “come.”

Remember that you cannot take your dog out until he has had all his puppy shots. The first time you do take him out for a walk, you’ll find he displays one of two possible reactions: Either he’s absolutely terrified of the outside world, and you have to drag him along, or he’s overanxious to explore it, and you’ll be constantly pulling him back. No dog will naturally stay beside you unless you have trained him to do so.

Heeling on the Leash The correct position for heeling is to have your dog standing on your left side, and close enough to you that his shoulder is just barely touching your left leg. When you are walking him, you should almost be able to feel his body right next to your leg at all times.

Make sure you use his regular training leash. Don’t invest in a chain leash. Such leashes are usually too heavy for training puppies.

Put the six-foot training leash on your dog and place him on your left side in the heel position. Then make him sit. Hold the end of the leash in your right hand. With your left hand grasp the middle of the leash and pull so that your left hand hangs freely at your left side.

Make sure that your left thumb is in a forward and downward position. You should not be exerting any pressure on the leash at all, and it should have a little slack to it.

When you feel comfortable about the grip you have on the leash and your dog is settling in the right position, take one step forward with your left foot and jerk the leash straight forward, giving the command “heel.”

This will start your dog walking. As soon as you stop, jerk the leash straight backward saying “heel” again. This will cause your dog to stop. If he is not in the exact heel position, place him there and then praise him.

At the beginning, you must stop after each step and jerk him into a heel position, or he will never learn it. You must also stop every time you jerk the leash. Most people make the mistake of walking and jerking at the same time. The dog has no idea what you’re talking about unless you demonstrate very methodically. Take a step and then stop, say “heel” and jerk the leash at the same time. Remember not to pull on the leash, as this does nothing. You must jerk fast and release the pressure immediately. Continue to do this step by step, jerk by jerk, constantly using the command “heel” every step of the way.

It’s important to jerk the leash every time the dog moves an inch out of line. One elegant woman was having great difficulty in learning to walk her dog. “She holds the leash like it’s tissue paper,” her son pointed out. It was later learned that she didn’t want to break her carefully manicured fingernails.

People often don’t Want to jerk the leash, because they think it hurts their dogs. Actually it doesn’t hurt one bit. it’s just a way of telling your dog that you’re in charge, and he’s going to follow whatever you say. There’s no need to speak to the dog, just jerk the leash. He’ll get the message if you give it to him. It will help him to stay alive in a very dangerous, busy environment, the city.

Some people are too embarrassed to warn their dogs, or even give them a good reprimand in front of others. One woman was horrified at the thought of giving her boxer “a boot in the behind” when he mis behaved outside. “It’s not ladylike at all,” she complained.

“Sometimes, though, I’d like to take a club to him.”

Controlling your dog in the outside world is part of dog ownership. One Weimaraner had a problem walking with his mistress.

She was not firm enough with him and didn’t jerk on the leash properly. So the dog felt he didn’t have to toe the line and pulled her all over the place. I instructed her to establish her dominance before leaving the house by putting her dog through some basic commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” This worked for her, but a proper jerk would have been easier.

It is very important that you do not turn around to your dog.

Keep walking in a straight line. If you turn to face your dog or go off course, he will become confused as to where he is supposed to be when heeling. The point of this exercise is to teach him where to stand and walk in the heel position, and that is close at your side. So, make it simple, keep both of you on one straight path until he gets some kind of idea as to what is expected of him. also, make sure you stop at every corner and make him sit. Let him know that if anything distracting happens, you expect him to trust you and wait for your command, jerk the leash back and say “sit.”

Then use your hand signal to say “stay.” If you don’t do this every single time you walk him, he won’t sit every single time you stop. It’s that simple.

One dog had a bad habit of running into traffic after his owner told him to sit at the curb. This is a situation where house keys come in handy. The dog was led right up to the curb and told to stay. If he moved, the keys were dropped in front of him. If he stayed, he was praised. Dogs do understand this small amount of pressure from their master, and the keys were only needed a few times as reinforcement.

At first you should exercise him in heeling for short intervals only (twenty-five to fifty feet). If you haven’t got the time to continue working with this exercise, then don’t give him the command.

Once you tell him to heel, you must follow through. Even though you expect him to do it constantly when on the leash, it is a command just like all the others. So take it easy in the beginning and gradually build up the exercise until he is stopping at your side without your jerking the leash. Then start walking him and see if he will stay at your side. If he does, fine. But if he doesn’t, then stop and repeat all over again until he stays at your side.

If you find that your dog pulls out in front of you, then stop short. Let him pull to the end of the leash, letting it slip out to the full six feet. Don’t let go of the leash with either hand but grab hold of the end with both and jerk him hard several times saying “heel.”

Make sure you jerk the leash to your left side, not toward you.

One of my clients was walking his dog in the park, with a six-foot lead. When his dog moved out ahead of him, he yanked back on the leash, striking himself squarely in the groin, and fell to the ground doubled up with pain. Stand your ground and make him come back to you, don’t you go to him. Once he comes back, praise him.

If he pulls out to the side, repeat the same procedure. If he lags behind, jerk him forward in a series of short, firm jerks. If he pulls across in front of you, knee him and jerk him back, while continuously walking a straight line yourself. Never change your position for him, but make him come to you.

When you feel that he is proficient at heeling in a straight line, then you can start teaching him to heel in other directions.

Eventually the jerking of the leash becomes a means of guiding him, so always jerk the leash in the direction you want him to go. This is basically quite simple once he understands the “heel” command.

After a dog can heel forward in a straight line, he can be taught to heel as you walk backward. This means that the dog has to walk backward also. The way to do this is to back up step by step, jerking the leash straight back and saying “heel” on each and every step, just as you did in teaching him to heel forward.

After a dog can do this, he should be taught to heel as in a side step, both to the left and to the right. When stepping to the right, jerk the leash to the right, and as you are stepping to the left, push him sideways with your leg. On each step say “heel.” jerk or push until he is perfect and learns to watch the direction you’re moving in and to heel on command.

When making a right turn, give the leash a series of quick easy jerks guiding him to the right. When making a left turn, just hold the leash and come around him. Once he follows these maneuvers with ease, you can start heeling him in circles, zigzags, figure eights, and any other way you want.

Heeling perfectly on the leash means that your dog is right at your left side at all times. In other words he must learn to follow your movements. Once you feel that he is perfect at heeling on the leash, then you are ready to start working without it.

Heeling Off the Leash To allow their dogs off the leash out side seems to be the ultimate hope for dog owners. Very few trainers will attempt this off-the-leash training, simply because they’re afraid to take the responsibility. A trainer should be thorough enough so that the owner can trust his dog implicitly, and the dog should obey all commands.

A well-trained dog should be allowed off the leash as a reward, so that he can feel free and totally independent. If you are a nervous person and tend to panic easily, don’t attempt to heel your dog off the leash except within a confined area. Before attempting this exercise, make sure that he responds perfectly to the “Come” command outside as well as indoors. He might be perfectly controllable on the leash, but many dogs will take advantage of freedom when they see it. This is why it is so important that he obey the “Come” command completely and why you must work him in a confined area when he’s first off the leash.

Make sure he is perfect here before trying him without restrictions.

Work with him step by step, as you did when you first started to teach him the heel command. Place your dog at your left side in the heel position and, instead of jerking the leash, slap your left thigh with your left hand and give the command “heel.” If he refuses to heel, then put the leash on him and heel him with the leash. After you feel he is ready, try him once more. Then, increase heeling off the leash in the same way you did heeling on the leash.

Test the HEEL Command

Test #1: Changing Pace

Changing your pace is one of the easiest ways to test to see if your dog understands the HEEL zone. Walk at a normal pace, and without signaling to your dog, change pace. He should immediately match your new pace and probably look up at you.

As long as you have good health, there are five paces for you to use for pace changing: jog, quick, normal, slow, and baby steps. To effectively change your pace, you will need to change your stride. If you like to walk for exercise you will need to pay special attention to pace changes. If your knees have trouble with jog and quick, don’t bother with them. Compensate by being really clever with your slower pace changes.

Test #2: Changing Directions

If your dog moves ahead of you while you are both moving forward, step forward on your left foot and pivot completely around so you face the opposite direction. If your dog turns with you, praise. If not, correct with NO and re-command HEEL. Do not turn your dog with the leash; make sure he turns on his own. Praise when your dog returns to the HEEL position.

Right circles and right squares. Right-hand circles and squares will require your dog to keep a close eye on you, as your body will not be there to steer him. You may be required to give several small corrections at first, but enthusiastic motivating (patting your left leg) will encourage your dog to follow you.

Left circles and left squares. If you find your dog drifting forward, many small left-hand circles will motivate your dog to keep at your left hip. Avoid the temptation to hold your dog back by the leash. Correct backwards with NO (and re-command HEEL) as long as your dog’s head is in front of your left thigh. Also, don’t try to get in front of your dog’s head; make your dog slow down to match your pace and turns. Left squares will help keep your dog’s head in the correct position.

Figure eights are an excellent test of focus and following. Start slowly and maintain a slack leash. Only use the leash to correct (with NO) when required. Motivate by patting your side and using your voice. Walk slowly at first and increase speed to a normal pace.

Test #3: Stationary HEEL

With your dog in a SIT at your side, step forward a few paces and stop. Your dog should have remained in the SIT position. Pause for a few moments. Without taking any forward steps, give your dog the HEEL command. Your dog should move to the HEEL zone and SIT. Praise heartily. Perform this test exercise from all positions around your dog.

If your dog can successfully maintain a HEEL position with a slack leash for the prior three tests, you can begin working on segment walks described in chapter “Creating Manners“.