Walking has many health benefits and when you have a companion it becomes a perfect way to relieve stress. Long walks with your dog are beneficial to both you and your dog. Not all dogs know how to follow their owners. They depend on you to learn the correct way to heel or follow while on a walk. Once your dog learns it, both of you can live a happy and healthy life for many years.
What Is the Meaning of Heel?
When you train a dog to heel with you, you are simply asking him to walk with you. The dog should neither walk ahead of you or behind you. This command is meant to make him keep up his pace with yours and stop only when you do and start walking as soon as you walk.
Is It Necessary for My Dog to Learn to Heel?
Dogs need to walk regularly to stay fit and healthy. It is the only form of exercise that both you and your dog can enjoy together for a long time. If your dog keeps wandering on a walk with you and you feel like he is the one taking you for a walk instead, then this should absolutely be on your to-do list. There may be days when you do not want to take a walk. Above that, if you have a dog who is tugging and pulling you around, then a simple walk can become too tiring. You may not want to take your dog outside the house at all. But once he is trained to heel you can enjoy your time with your companion.
A leash can help control the dog for some time, but it can cause you a lot of discomfort. It is, therefore, necessary to train your dog to a respectful walk buddy.
Is Training My Dog to Heel Worth My Time?
If your dog is trained to heel, he will understand that during a walk you are the one in charge. If you plan to walk your dog outside without a leash, then this skill is absolutely necessary. Once he knows that he has to follow your lead, you will save yourself a lot of time and effort. A walk with the dog and a leash on can also be comfortable when he is trained to heel. You will enjoy the walk instead of just trying to keep the dog under control or running in whatever direction your dog decides to run. You will also be in control of the pace.
How to Teach the Dog to Heel?
There are a lot of methods out there that many professionals suggest for training your dog. The best method to train your dog to walk next to you is to lure him and then reward. Since this is a complex skill to master, you need to ensure that the dog first understands the basic commands like sit, come, stay, and focus. Only if the dog understands the basic command will you be able to teach this difficult command to him. Another important aspect of this skill is to be consistent with the training.
If you wish to see the results faster, then clicker training can help you effectively. You will also need to have some treats ready for the dog. The treats that he does not receive too often but loves the most will do the trick. The continuous reinforcement is the key to training him to heel. Begin with carrying a clicker in your right hand and enough treats for training in the left hand. You might also need to keep a few extra treats in the pocket if your training session continues for a longer time.
The training should ideally be done in a familiar and non-distracting environment where the dog is comfortable. Your living room with lots of space, backyard or a basement will do just fine initially.
For the actual training, position the dog on your left and ask him to sit. Once he is in the sitting position, tell him to stay. When the dog obeys your commands reward them by clicking and then a treat. Let him stay there till you are ready to walk. Keep a gap between the stay command and walking to make sure the dog is following your command. Only when the dog is calm and is following your initial commands, can you be sure that he is ready for advanced training. His focus should be on you and with the clickers the dog will know that he is successful in meeting with your demand at that time.
With a handful of treats, in appropriate portions, you need to begin the training. Start walking slowly ahead and say the command heel aloud. Your dog should automatically start walking beside you. Hold the treat closer to the dog’s face. The intent here is that the dog smells and sees the treat and the treat will act as a guide for him to walk. After every couple of steps give a piece of a treat to the dog after a click. You can also use verbal praise along with treats; this is more effective. To not overtire yourself, use the verbal praises and clicker interchangeably. Since this is the beginning, the dog might get distracted and shift his focus somewhere else. The dog may also start running ahead of you. At this point, stop immediately and call your dog to sit next to you. Repeat by asking him to stay and once he is back in the position and focused, start walking again.
There are also special gears that can help in training the dog to heel. A lot of professional trainers have recommended martingale collars.
After a week’s practice with the initial training, your dog is ready to go through the advanced training. For this, you now need to minimize the treats. Walk with the treats in your pocket and your left hand freely by the side. Start walking with the dog beside you, when he does so calmly take a treat from the pocket and give it to him. For the first few walks, offer a treat at alternating steps, then only after 5 steps and successfully increasing the steps in multiples. Walk-in different directions, add obstacles in the path or walk back and forth taking pauses to make your dog get used to the walk.
When you are confident enough that your dog is following the heel command correctly, stop giving treats for every walk. Praise him verbally and reduce the training treats slowly, but always carry them around with you. To practice this in a more natural and safe environment, take the dog to a dog park. Remove the leash and let him walk around with you.
If you follow the above steps correctly, we are sure your dog will learn the heel command in no time. However, since this command is an advanced training command, both you and your dog need to be patient with the process. There may be times when you get frustrated or the dog is in no mood to listen to you. Take some time out and start over with the method in a few hour’s time. Remember: Consistency is the only key to master this skill.