How to Teach Your Dog to Heel

How to Teach Your Dog to Heel

Walking is one of the greatest bonding experiences you can have with your dog. Here's how to teach your pet to heel.

When we think about the experience of owning a dog, one of the first things that come to mind is walking together with your pet. This is one of the greatest bonding experiences you can have with your dog. In addition, walks are exercise for your dog and opportunities to introduce your pet to new environments. You should also think of walking your dog as an opportunity to establish your role as pack leader. The best way to determine whether you are your dogโ€™s leader (or your dog is your leader) is to look at where you and Fido walk in relation to each other. I will give you a hint โ€“ the leader leads!

Think about the last time you took your dog out on a leashed walk. Did your dog walk at your side with a loose leash? Did you enjoy the walk? Did your dog enjoy the walk? If you answered no to any of these questions, read on to learn how to teach your dog to โ€œHeelโ€ so that both you and your dog can enjoy your walks together.

Nobody enjoys being dragged around, especially when itโ€™s their dog thatโ€™s doing the dragging. Despite what you may think, your dog doesnโ€™t really enjoy dragging you around either. Not only is the constant pulling and tugging difficult physically on your dogโ€™s hips, neck, and throat, but it is stressful for your dog to fill the leadership position. It is your job to teach your dog to โ€œHeelโ€ so you can both walk comfortably and happily.

Command โ€œHeelโ€

โ€œHeelโ€ is the position in which your dog is facing the same direction you are with the collar lined up with your left leg (โ€œSideโ€ is the same position on your right). Your dogโ€™s front toes ought to be in line with or behind your own toes.  Your dog should be parallel with you in a straight line, not sticking their rear end out or crossing in front of your path.

Begin teaching your dog to โ€œHeelโ€ at mealtime. Take your dog and their bowl full of kibble into a controlled environment (with or without a leash) and feed one piece of kibble at a time. The key to feeding the kibble is to take each piece with your left hand and bring it down to your dog exactly in the position where you want Fido to be. It is essential that your dog does not lunge for the kibble or receive it if he is out of position. Each time you give the kibble, smile at your dog and say โ€œYes! Good Heel.โ€

The next component in teaching Fido to โ€œHeelโ€ is being a responsible leader. Now that you have stepped into the leadership role (much to your dogโ€™s relief), you need to be a clear and communicative leader. This means telling your dog each time you are going to begin moving from a stopped position, rather than just starting to walk and expecting that your dog catch up. The command we use is โ€œLetโ€™s Goโ€. Each time you are going to begin walking, just before taking that first step, remember to tell Fido โ€œLetโ€™s Goโ€ and then take off. Eventually, Fido will understand that โ€œLetโ€™s Goโ€ means it is time to start moving and you will both take that first step together. Your dog will appreciate the warning and should be already in a โ€œHeelโ€ position when you take the first step together.

During the teaching process, offer the kibble while you are walking in an area with minimal distractions, as well as when your dog is seated in a proper โ€œHeelโ€ position. In the beginning, offer a piece every 2 steps.  Take 2 steps and bring down a piece of kibble while continuing to walk.  Take another 2 steps and pause, asking your dog to โ€œSitโ€, and giving a piece of kibble while seated in the โ€œHeelโ€ position. Repeat this process until the meal is complete.  Eventually, you will be able to increase this to every 5, 10, or even 50 steps.

Another key tool in teaching this command is to never ever let your dog walk even one toenail ahead of you.  In the event that Fido gets out in front of you, PLANT YOUR FEET! Ground yourself until you can get your dog back into position (use kibble, treats, or even a favorite toy to lure him back). You are teaching Fido that we only move forward if he is in the proper position. If your dog has been dragging you around for weeks, months, or years, this is going to be quite the shock to him.  

It may take some time for Fido to realize that you only move when he is in position, but if you are consistent, your dog will figure it out. If you are in a rush or inconsistent, Fido is going to get frustrated with you for not reinforcing the โ€œHeelโ€ each and every time you walk together and your dog will never develop a solid โ€œHeelโ€ response. This may mean shortening walks or limiting distractions for a while until you can master a good โ€œHeelโ€ for the duration of your outings.

By teaching your dog to โ€œHeelโ€, you are opening a world of enjoyable walks and outings together. You are also reinforcing your position as the leader. Both you and your dog are going to enjoy the walking experience much more once you have mastered these commands.

How to Teach Your Dog to Stay and Sit

Have you ever wondered why your puppy, who is perfectly behaved most of the time, seems to forget their manners at the most inappropriate times? For example, you are having guests for dinner, and upon their arrival, they are expecting to be greeted by your perfect puppy, Fido, that you have been raving about. But instead of sitting and waiting to be acknowledged, Fido is jumping all over them. Or when you are on a walk and another dog passes, Fido is insistent on pulling you over to meet his new friend. We at ECAD believe there are two possibilities for why well-trained puppy might forget their manners: lack of leadership by the pet parent and the petโ€™s boredom.

Lack of leadership by the pet parent often causes inappropriate behaviors to become progressively worse. For example, if Fido barks when a strange car pulls into the driveway and this behavior is not corrected, the barking can lead to growling. Alternatively, if Fido jumps when greeting people at the door and this behavior is not corrected, this can escalate to nipping or biting. Combat lack of leadership by following through on every command. Every time. No exceptions.

The petโ€™s boredom can show itself in behaviors including nuisance barking, digging, chewing, licking, eating poop, raiding the garbage, eating plants, counter-surfing, whining, escaping, jumping, chasing, and much more. To combat boredom, use commands! Learning skills and tasks, social skills and manners, and overall self-control keeps your puppy thinking about being with you, not thinking up mischief!

For todayโ€™s lesson, you will learn how to effectively teach your dog to โ€œSitโ€ and to โ€œStayโ€. These two commands allow you, the pet parent, to remain in a leadership position and combat your petโ€™s boredom behaviors in unpredictable situations.

Command 9 โ€“ Sit

โ€œSitโ€ tells your puppy to place their rump on the ground.

Teaching Method:

Step 1: Start by holding the treat between your thumb and forefinger, closing the rest of your fingers into a fist. Allow Fido to see and smell, but not have the treat.

Step 2: Now that you have Fidoโ€™s full attention, move the hand with the treat over his head and say, โ€œSit.โ€ This will cause Fido to raise his head to follow your hand and his rump will go down naturally.

Step 3: The second Fidoโ€™s rump hits the ground, reward with the treat and an enthusiastic โ€œYES!โ€  

Step 4: Repeat steps two and three for a minimum of three consecutive times before you reduce the amount of hand motion over Fidoโ€™s head causing him to sit.

Step 5: As you decrease the hand motion, add gentle scratching and petting his chest when Fido sits. This reinforces that sitting not only provides food and verbal reward, but also offers a physical connection.

Once you are confident that Fido understands what you want when you tell him to โ€œSitโ€, you can begin to use this command as a controlled position. This means that anytime Fido is excited or seeking your attention, use the command โ€œSitโ€ and when he sits, you can engage with him. โ€œSitโ€ is a great command that allows you to remain the leader, while eliminating Fido from wandering in boredom. However, there is one more phase to this command that will put you in full control: โ€œStay!โ€

Command 10 โ€“ Stay

โ€œStayโ€ tells your puppy to remain in its present physical posture and place. โ€œSitโ€ followed by โ€œStayโ€ tells Fido what physical posture you want him to hold for an extended period of time.

Teaching Method:

Step 1: Start with your puppy in a โ€œSitโ€ position, give the command โ€œStayโ€ and slowly begin to walk around Fido in a circular motion with one hand remaining gently on his back. The hand on Fido will remind him that you are there, and if he attempts to stand up to follow you, you have the opportunity to immediately correct with a firm โ€œNoโ€ and gently push Fidoโ€™s rump back down.

Step 2: As soon as Fido is able to stay in a seated position while you make a complete circle, you can now practice making the same circle without touching him. Remember, every time a circle is completed you must praise, saying โ€œYES!โ€ and then rewarding your pet.

Note: As Fidoโ€™s skill level and patience increases, you can begin to move farther way and turn your back to your dog. Do not forget the positive reinforcement with an excited โ€œYes!โ€ and reward when Fido has achieved each increasing difficult level of self-control.
Step 3: Now that Fido has demonstrated a โ€œSit-Stayโ€ while you are visible, increase the skill by extending the duration of the โ€œStayโ€ with you out of sight. This is done by giving the โ€œStayโ€ command, and then walking into another room, returning immediately, and then praising and giving a reward. Increase the time by counting to 5 before you return, Then count to 10. Always praise and reward when you return. Now you can count to 15, 20, 30โ€ฆ until you have completed a full minute.

Step 4: Practice makes perfect! Add more variables, go to different rooms, and add distractions. Do anything you can think of that might cause Fido to lose focus on staying.

It is important not to move too quickly through the steps of the โ€œStayโ€ command. Always remember your training session must end on a positive note. Make sure you consider different elements such as your puppyโ€™s maturity and age, how tired or playful they are, and how long your training session has lasted so that you and Fido end on a happy moment!

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How to Crate Train a Puppy

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How to Teach Your Dog to Stay and Sit

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All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.

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