How to Teach Your Dog to Heel

A proper, competition dog heel is defined as having your dog on your left side even with your leg looking into your eyes. Since this is an uncomfortable position, a competition heel may not be necessary in your daily life. However, it can be a useful skill to teach.

Heel vs. Loose-Leash Walking

If your only goal is to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash, you don't need heel. The command "heel" is overused as a command that means "don't pull." However, the word isn't taught, just repeated until it loses its meaning with the dog. Don't fall into this trap.

To teach your dog to walk nicely on leash, don't use a command. Stop walking when the leash gets tight and wait for your dog to respond. When he makes the leash loose, immediately say "good" and start walking.

Teaching Heel

To teach a competition heel, start by teaching it as a stationary command. With your dog on-leash in a non-distracting environment, place a food lure in front of your dog's nose with your left hand when he is out in front of you. Use that lure to lead him toward you as you pivot backward with your left leg.

When your dog's rear is even with your stationary right leg, move your left leg back even with your right leg, which will pivot your body forward. Your left hand should always move in tandem with your left leg, always at the height of your dog's nose. This movement should cause your dog to turn his body so his front end is now even with your legs. At this point, say "heel," praise and give the treat.

Use a release command to let your dog know he may leave that position. Repeat two or three times with the food lure and then move to just a hand signal with no lure. The reward should then come from your pocket. Practice until your dog is responding reliably to the word.

For a competition heel, lure the treat up to your eyes before rewarding.

Now, with your dog in the heel position, take one step. If your dog stays by your side, praise and reward. Once your dog can do that well, take two steps. Then three. Build up to as far as you would like to go.

Practical Applications

The heel position is excellent for teaching your dog polite greetings or controlling a reactive dog. If your dog jumps, cue him to move to the heel position before greeting. If he cannot stay seated and calm, he cannot greet. Release him to greet only after he has calmed down.

For a reactive dog, place him in the heel position when you see a distraction. This puts you in a position of control and protection. Cue him to look at you instead of the distraction and reward profusely for compliance.

A competition heel is a difficult skill that must be broken down in small steps. Move slowly and be patient. If you make it fun, your dog will learn the benefits of being at your side.