Teaching your puppy or older dog to heel can be easy and fun. Use this directed shaping technique to help your dog learn to love to walk beside you.
- Get a lot of yummy treats, cut up into small pieces. Start inside the house and walk around a spacious room or up and down a hallway.
- Call your dog’s name and point to the side that you want him to walk on (whichever side you choose but left is in the traditional heel side).
- As soon as your dog comes alongside you, use a clicker or say “yes,” then reward. Do this a couple of times, then stop calling him and pointing your side and allow your dog to willingly come up beside you. Mark and reward for each time your dog comes into position.
- Pretty soon, you will need to increase your pace, turn, or zig-zag in an effort to “lose” him so he can find his position again.
- As he gets better and better at this, start adding eye contact (“Look” or “Watch Me”).
- “Heel” is traditionally on your left side for obedience and rally competitions.
- Hold your treat hand at your chest. This will prevent luring (dog just following the food) and jumping while walking if your treat hand is just out of reach.
- Be sure to treat with the hand next to your dog to prevent him from crossing in front of you to get the treat.
- Always tell your dog when he is correct with a click or a “yes.”
1. Off-leash Work: The first exercise that I like to do is actually with my dog off leash. It is great to do this outside in a fenced in area, but if you do not have access to one, then inside the house, in a hallway, will work too. I first walk around and ignore my dog. Then, I will call them while being very excited. When they come to my side, I will reward them with a small treat.
While I continue to walk, I will talk to my dog in an upbeat voice encouraging them to stay at my side. Every couple of steps I will reward my dog with a small treat. After about 10 to 15 steps, I go back to ignoring my dog allowing them go back to whatever they were doing previously. After a minute or two I will call them back and repeat the process. I like this exercise because it gives the dog a chance to take a mental break after working hard with me. By doing this, your dog will soon learn that great things come when they are walking with you at your side.
2. Out on A Walk: The next exercise should be done while you are out on a walk with your dog. When your dog pulls they are doing so because they want to move in the forward direction. So when your dog starts pulling, you should stop and take several steps backwards.
While stepping backwards, call your dog in a cheerful voice and reward them when they return to your side. By doing this, you are taking the dog away from the forward direction in which they were trying to go. Start moving forward again. If your dog continues forward at your side then reward them every 3 to 4 steps with a treat. If they begin to pull forward again, repeat the above steps. Your dog will learn that in order to move forward, they must not pull on the leash.
As your dog becomes better at this exercise, start increasing the number of steps taken before giving the reward for staying at your side. Once your dog is able to walk politely by your side, continue to reward but do so at random intervals to keep them guessing.
Remember that in order for this training method to work, you must do it every time your dog pulls. If they are allowed to pull on some occasions, then it will only confuse them.