How to Train Your Dog to Heel – Walking with your dog in a “heel” is a must when it comes to good leash etiquette. While a form of loose leash walking, walking with your dog in a heel position is a little more advanced than simply training your dog to not pull on the leash because you are teaching them to walk at a specific location in relation to you. Here’s how to train your dog to heel, step-by-step.

How to Train Your Dog to Heel

Introduce the Cue

To teach your dog how to heel, you just need you, your dog, and training treats. If your dog is already clicker trained, you can use their clicker as well. You can teach your dog to heel on leash or off leash.

If your dog gets overly excited when you get their leash out, they may be too excited to focus and learn. In this instance, teaching them the cue and then introducing the leash once the cue is learned might be easier than teaching on leash from the get-go.

How to Train Your Dog to Heel

Start by standing and using the treats as a lure to get your dog to stand at your left hip while giving the verbal cue “heel.” It is important to only give the verbal cue and allow your dog to get the treat when they are in the heel position.

This uses the positive reinforcement aspect of operant conditioning. By pairing a treat with the behavior of your dog getting into a heel position when you give the verbal cue, you are positively reinforcing (the addition of the treat) your dog to stand next to you when you say “heel.”

Quick Tip

If your dog has food allergies or is on a prescription diet, you can use pieces of kibble or even a mixing spoon with canned food on it as the treat reward.

Start Moving Forward

Once your dog is proficient at getting into the heel position when given the cue, slowly start walking forward. This is when continuous verbal cues and continuous treating at the beginning is helpful. With each step forward give the cue and treat for your dog walking forward to stay at your hip. It’s important to start off in a controlled environment, so start in your yard, or, if your dog is reactive or you’re teaching them off leash first, your home.

Treat Less Often

As your dog learns how to walk a few steps in a heel, treat less continuously and more intermittently. If your dog starts to stray, repeat the cue and treat them when they return to a heel position.

How to Train Your Dog to Heel

Add Distance

Once you are able to take a few steps without continuous treating, slowly add some distance to your walking. Keep the distance short in the beginning and slowly work your way up to longer distances. This will set your dog up for success. So start small and work your way up. This will help prevent your dog from losing interest quickly. Some dogs may pick up the behavior more quickly than others, so don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer to add distance.

Add Distractions

Once your dog is able to reliably walk in a heel for a good distance, begin to add distractions. If you were training off leash, begin to phase the leash in by giving the cue so that you can easily clip the leash on their collar.

Take your dog out of the controlled environment of your home or yard and take them to a park. As your dog gets distracted by other people, pets, or animals in the park, keep their focus by giving the cue and treating them for coming back to a heel. When you first do this, you may need to start from just a standing position and slowly add in walking and distance. However, this will be immensely easier for your dog to grasp and figure out if they have already learned and become proficient with the cue without distraction.

Phase Treats Out

As you add distance in the midst of distraction, you should be able to slowly decrease the frequency of treats, to the point where you may be treating so infrequently, you only need a few here or there, if at all.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

Even the most well trained dog can be distracted out on a walk. Your patience with them while learning the heel cue, as well as consistency in pairing the cue with a reward, whether a treat, head pat, etc. is of the utmost importance. If you’re unsure, go slowly. Oftentimes, dog owners will move to the next step before the dog is ready for it. If you fear you’ve done this, don’t fret. Simply go back to the previous step or the step your dog had a firm grasp on and try again.

How to Train Your Dog to Heel

Learning your dog’s body language and their behavioral cues can also help. If you know your dog has a weak spot for squirrels or if you can see them turn their attention to something in the environment (this can be as subtle as them turning one ear to hear a distraction better) give the cue to reign them back in before they completely lose focus.

It is not recommended to walk dogs off-leash in most public settings such as parks or public walkways as this puts them in danger for encounters with other potentially aggressive animals, motor vehicle accidents, and/or fearful people and children who may react unpredictably to an off-leash dog.

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