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How To Teach a Dog To Heel

dog listening to a heel command

Every pet parent envisions peaceful walks where their dog stays close, attentive, and responsive to their every cue. It can happen, but it comes with a good amount of work and patience. To achieve the magical “heel” command, you and your dog will need to put in some time together.

Teaching your dog to heel is about more than just having them walk beside you — it’s about fostering a connection, ensuring safety, and effectively communicating with your dog during outings. 

Let’s look closely at how you can teach your dog to heel, the equipment and tools needed, and common mistakes to avoid during training.

How Trainable Is My Pup?

Before diving into the actual training, it’s important to understand your dog’s unique personality, quirks, and learning pace. Dogs, like humans, have diverse temperaments and attention spans, and what works for one might not be effective for another. Some dogs might grasp commands rapidly, while others might need repeated, gentle guidance. 

Be patient, observant, and consistent. Recognize the signs when your dog is engaged and when they might be feeling overwhelmed or distracted. This initial understanding forms the foundation upon which all subsequent training sessions will be built.

What Equipment Do I Need To Teach My Dog To Heel?

Before embarking on your training journey, it’s essential to equip yourself with the right tools. Start with a sturdy, comfortable leash and collar or harness. While many trainers prefer a short leash to keep the dog close during initial training, make sure that whatever equipment you choose doesn’t harm or cause discomfort to your dog. 

Ensure the collar or harness is snug without being too tight, and avoid collars meant to cause pain, such as choke collars or spiked collars. Gentle is best, and remember that your goal is building trust and positivity, not fear-based obedience. Opt for tools that prioritize your dog’s safety and comfort. 

If you are not experienced in training, enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer can be invaluable. They can explain the method and teach you how to teach your dog. They also can interpret signals from your dog, which is important to understand. Your veterinarian or local pet store can most likely provide a list of reputable trainers in your area or online resources to utilize. 

What Are the Initial Steps When Teaching My Dog To Heel?

Teaching a dog to heel begins by ensuring you have their undivided attention. The outside world is filled with exciting scents, sights, and sounds that can easily distract your canine companion. To get your dog’s attention you can employ the following methods. 

  • Name Recognition: Begin by reinforcing name recognition. Call your dog’s name and reward them with a treat or praise when they look at you.
  • Focus Exercises: Hold a treat close to your eyes and use a cue like “watch me.” When your dog makes eye contact, reward them. This helps in redirecting their attention from distractions back to you.
  • Engagement Play: Use toys, play, and treats to engage your dog. The idea is to make yourself the most exciting thing in their environment.
  • Consistent Cues: Use consistent words or gestures for commands. If you use “heel,” stick with it instead of interchanging with “come” or “close.”

As you work through these steps, remember to approach each session with patience and understanding. Each dog’s pace of learning varies, and the key is to make the training process positive and rewarding.

How Can I Teach My Dog To Heel? A Step-By-Step Guide

The “heel” command is a cornerstone of dog obedience training. To instill this behavior in your dog, follow this approach.

Step One: Choose a Side

Consistency is crucial, whether you prefer your dog on your left or right. Most trainers recommend the left side, but it’s a matter of personal preference.

Step Two: Positioning

Start with your dog sitting beside you. Hold a treat in the hand on the side you want your dog to heel, keeping it at their nose level to capture their attention.

Step Three: Initiate Movement

With the treat in hand, take a step forward. If your dog stays by your side, give them the treat and praise them with a cheerful “Good heel!” or simply “Good!”.

Step Four: Continuous Movement

As your dog gets the hang of it, try walking longer distances. Use the treat to lure them into the correct position by your side. If they pull ahead or lag behind, stop walking, regain their attention, and start again.

Step Five: Reinforcement

Whenever your dog successfully walks by your side without pulling or getting distracted, reward them. This can be with treats, praise, or a combination of both.

Step Six: Adding the Cue

Once your dog seems to understand the behavior, you can start using the “heel” cue. Say “heel,” pause for a moment, then step forward, encouraging them to walk beside you.

Remember, this process takes patience. Every dog learns at their own pace. Try to remain committed and consistent in your training. 10-15 minutes at a time is plenty as they get tired and lose focus with longer sessions. 

What Are Common Mistakes When Teaching Dogs To Heel?

Training is a journey; along the way, there are bound to be bumps in the road. Recognizing common mistakes can ensure a smoother path. 

The following section explores some of the most common mistakes pet parents make when training their dogs to heel and how to avoid them. 

  • Inconsistency: maintain uniformity in your cues and rewards.
  • Overloading the Session: Keep training sessions short and engaging. Long sessions can tire out and bore your dog.
  • Neglecting Distractions: Once your dog masters heeling indoors, practice outdoors with more distractions. Gradually increase the complexity of the locations.
  • Losing Patience: Training requires patience. If a session isn’t going well, it’s okay to take a break and try again later.
  • Not Seeking Help: If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behavioral expert.

Your journey with your dog is unique. Celebrate the small victories, and remember that every moment spent training strengthens the bond you share with your dog.

How Can I Maintain the “Heel” Command With My Dog?

Consistency in reinforcing behaviors is crucial when it comes to dog training, and the heel command is no exception. Regular practice remains vital, ensuring the behavior is second nature to your dog. 

Over time, as you and your dog venture out for daily walks, reinforcing the heel command in different settings helps solidify the behavior. Positive reinforcement, such as verbal praises or treats, strengthens the bond between pet parent and dog, instilling the desired behavior more deeply.

Sometimes, a return to basic training can also be beneficial. No matter how advanced your dog’s training becomes, revisiting foundational commands ensures any minor behavioral issues are addressed before becoming ingrained habits. 

You can also try the heel command in different environments. A well-trained dog in a controlled environment might behave differently in a bustling park filled with distractions. Socialization, then, is another key component. Ensuring your dog is familiar with various environments and other dogs can help them generalize the heel behavior across settings.

Wrapping Up

Teaching a dog to heel enhances your walks, strengthens your bond, and ensures safety. With dedication, understanding, and the right techniques, every pet parent can achieve this rewarding milestone in their dog’s training journey.


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Improving dog training methods: Efficacy and efficiency of reward and mixed training methods | PLOS ONE

A single dose of cannabidiol (CBD) positively influences measures of stress in dogs during separation and car travel | NIH

Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans | NIH