Rather than jumping right into direction, when helping owners clean up their walk with a good “heel” directive, I like to see what they’ve been doing first and how they already work together without influence. From that point, I can help tweak things here and there to help the owner reach their goal, be it with a directive such as heel or another desired behavior.
When teaching heel, you can break the guidance down to two simple basics:
1. Reward the exact position (and only reward this position) the moment when your dog is in it.
2. Remove reward when the dog is not in the position that you want.
To expand on this, when your dog’s nose is at your knee or slightly behind, this is where you offer verbal and/or food reward to signal to your dog that they are giving you what you want. If your dog pulls in front of you or to the side creating tension on the leash, move the opposite direction, (also known as 180) without hesitation. Once your dog is back in position, offer reward.
Now mark it! Add in saying “heel” when they are in the desired position. Repetitively using this marker at the exact time they are in the correct heel position, (along with keeping this a positive experience for your dog) will help engrain the meaning of this word with the action you want from your dog.
Now practice, practice, practice with consistency! As you begin to walk, make an exaggerated motion and ask your dog to “heel”. Practice multiple times a day until they get it down, then add in length of time you expect them to heel, followed by adding in smaller, then larger distractions while expecting them to maintain a heel.
Lastly, don’t forget to give your dog a little freedom every once in awhile. It’s important that you differentiate when it’s “free time” – AKA go ahead on the leash, sniff about and check your doggie messages, potty, etc. – and when it’s walk time – AKA nice heel with a loose leash, checked in with the owner. Checked in doesn’t mean staring at you, (though be sure to reward your dog for giving you eye contact), but that your dog will change directions when you do, or not try to run off at the sight of a squirrel because they are paying enough attention to you despite their surroundings.
If you aren’t quite to the “heel” portion in your training because your dog pulls you – start with my video The Perfect Walk to learn how to get to the point of a loose leash and for homework to help get you there by practice. Then pop back over and work on your “heel” skills together!
○ The Perfect Walk: https://youtu.be/n2SFE1n8maI