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There are a number of different ways to train Heel. There is the option to hold a treat by your leg, a toy by your chest, change directions, stop and wait when the dog pulls, yank on their leash, use a training collar, wave a stick in front of them, step on their paws, bump them with your foot, shout “heel” loudly and that doesn’t even name them all. Not sure which one to use? If you would like to read why there are so many different methods for training a dog to walk well, take a look at the article on the Heel Debate.

When we first get a dog we often think we will go for a walk to exercise the dog and train them to walk well.  When beginning training it is easier if the dog is exercised first and then trained to walk on leash.

This is tough to explain in words. The videos give a better visual of what we are talking about. We will try and make this as clear as possible. Discussing all the different tips for all the different dogs will take a big article. The more difficult a dog is to work with the more of this article a person will need to read. Here is the outline of what you are trying to achieve and below we will go into more detail. You can click on the links to take you to that part of this article or read it all the way through:

  1. Goal - Your goal is to have your dog walk a half step behind you on the right or left side. See the article on Heel Debate to learn why we train dogs to walk on the right.

  2. Core Rules Applied - There are Core Rules we use that help with different behaviours in training. We will list the core rules that apply to Heel.

  3. The Steps and Techniques - To get the dog back into position when they get out of position requires a few different techniques. Here we will show them to you.

  4. Leash Handling and Preparation - We use a 6 foot leash to start. We connect it to the front of the dog’s anti-pull harness which helps spin them back toward you if they try to take off. We will also explain how to grip the leash.

  5. Square Area Training - It is easiest for the dog to understand to begin training in a square area. Here you will be using left 180° and 90° turns to teach the dog not to pull. We will explain why.

  6. Using a Wall - To help train the dog to walk in the correct position, in our case the right side a half step behind, walking next to a wall on your right helps train the dog to stay in the right position.

  7. Between Walls - Eventually you want to walk places where there are no walls. A simple A to B Step is to walk from one wall to another. We typically use a parking lot. Going from one parked car to another is like going from one wall to another.

  8. No Walls - Here we attempt walking where there are no walls to see if the dog understands to stay in position. If they do you are ready to increase Distractions.

  9. Increasing Distractions - The dog has essentially passed Level 1 and they are ready to progress to Level 2 which means increasing Distractions. Here you basically repeat Steps 4 - 8 until you have a dog that walks well in all distractions.

  10. Distraction Training - (Clicking this link will take you to the Distraction Training Article). More often then not a dog will walk well with no distractions but if you increase distractions the dog may get extremely excited, reactive or aggressive. While training Heel we also do Distraction Training during that same time period (roughly 3 weeks). As the dog progresses in Loose Leash training, the distraction training will help ensure the dog does well walking on a leash while distractions are present. There is an entire article on Distraction Training as most people find their dogs will listen well in no distractions but as soon as distractions are present all listening and obedience go out the window.

  1. The Consequence - Some dogs know you want them to walk a half step behind you on the right side but they don’t necessarily want to respect that command. This will be more likely to happen with Betas and Alphas. We discuss different consequences you can use to help achieve your goal.

  2. Common Mistakes - We have trained a lot of people on this technique. There are certain mistakes that many people tend to do when first training their dog to heel. Once you know them it will help you minimize them.

1. Goal

Most people would love the idea to go for a walk with their dog and be able to pass any distraction and the dog would ignore the distraction and keep on walking. How a dog is Socialized will play a big role into this. See the article on Socialization to find the ways that seem to help the best for training Heel. A person may also find they socialized their dog in a way that will add difficulty to training.

Note: A dog that walks well on leash is also showing respect for their handler. Omegas will naturally walk very well on leash. Betas and Alphas will try to get in front. Walking is a part of Pack Structure Rules. Following all Pack Structure Rules will help with Heel.

2. Core Rules Applied:

1. Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired) - You want your dog to be a bit, not a lot, but a bit tired for training Heel. Long Line Recall, Fetch, Tug, etc can be used to exercise before hand.

2. A to B Rule - Start in low distractions and build your way up. We start inside a building and then go to our training pen (like a fenced in yard although some people's yards are super distracting with neighbouring dogs so you can jump to the next level). Then we go to a Parking Lot and start at the back and work our way to the front of the Parking Lot. Then we integrate sidewalks in after success in the parking lot.

3. Training Phase vs Management Phase - A dog that is a Beta or Alpha will test a lot to get in front of you. If you used a training tool such as a Training Collar or Bitter Apple to achieve your goal you will want to continue using it for at least 1 - 3 months of perfect behaviour. See article on Training Phase vs Management Phase to know how long your dog requires.

See diagrams below of Core Rules:

3. The Steps and Techniques

The goal was to keep the dog on your right side a half step behind you. When you start, the dog will tend to be anywhere but where you want them. You can’t explain to the dog where you want them to walk so you need to use your body language and guidance through light force (this is why we use an anti-pull harness to begin training) to teach your dog where to walk.

Keeping Things Simple as Possible

  • Dog goes Left, Right or Lags behind - You go the opposite direction of the dog. Do the manoeuvre in a fluid motion while continuing forward.
  • Dog goes left - You go opposite - step right, pull the dog to just behind you, step left back onto your path and keep moving forward.

  • Dog goes right - You go opposite - step left, pull the dog next to you, step right back onto your path and keep moving forward.

  • Dog lags behind - Take a quick step forward and pull the dog with you. Resume your regular pace. The quick step often gets the dog following and the dog resumes walking. If you put constant pressure they will sometimes fight you in the opposite direction. That is why it is a quick pull forwards and back to a loose leash again.

  • Dog passes you - There are 4 different techniques used here. It will depend on how fast the dog is trying to pass you for which technique to use.  
  • Dog is moving quite fast to pass you - Say your dog’s name 1 second before they reach the end of the leash. Turn 180° to your left and walk in the opposite direction. The dog will be spun towards you since they are hooked on the front of an anti-pull harness. The dog will typically try to pass you again quickly so you will need to make another 180° turn left.
  • Dog is moving not as fast as before but too fast to step in front to block - Here you will turn 90° to your left and walk a straight line. If the dog tries to pass again at the same speed make another 90° turn left.
  • Dog is following well but you notice them speeding up and they will pass you in 3-5 seconds - For this you need to walk next to a wall on your right side. When you notice the dog speeding up to pass you, you will take a step to the right so you are next to the wall. This will block the dog. You will then step back onto your path and continue forward. Do this in a fluid motion, don’t stop, always keep moving forward.
  • Dog is doing very well, just barely catching up to pass - Here you will suddenly do a slow step. This warns the dog to slow down with you. As the dog gets beside you, you will tap back on the leash with little taps. The dog will typically stop and look at you, you will then quickly resume your pace thus getting back in front of the dog. It depends on the dog as to how soon you can use this technique. Some dogs it can be right away and others will be a few days before they respect you enough to watch where you are going.

The techniques feel awkward and not natural at first. I was quite confused the first time I used them. We found it best to write out the steps on a sheet of paper that made sense to us. We would go practice, make some mistakes, take out the sheet of paper, review where we went wrong and continue.

If you look at this from the dog’s point of view it really uses your body language to teach the dog where you want them. By following these steps it also helps ensure you don’t habituate the dog to a collar correction (you know the dogs that are on a choke chain collar and still pull till they cough and never learn).

Heel is one of the most difficult things a person may set out to train their dog. If you find treats don’t work for your dog and you don’t want to yank your dog around on a choke collar, then this works great.

4. Leash Handling and Preparation

We find that more of a modified Force method works best for training Heel. Since the dog will need to be pulled into position a few times it is best to have the dog on an anti-pull harness. This is a harness that connects to the chest of the dog. It causes the dog no strain or discomfort to be pulled on this harness. It is also better than hooking the leash to the dog’s collar as it can cause stress or cause the dog to choke. Hooking to the collar can also habituate the dog to the feeling of being pulled on the collar.

If you are first working with a young puppy then the best method is Reward where you use a piece of food and walk forward while holding the piece of food down on your right hand side just behind your leg. This will help motivate the puppy to follow along with you. It also helps the puppy overcome “opposition reflex” which means if you pull the leash one way, the puppy will pull the opposite direction. To overcome you can often pull the leash a bit till the puppy resists you. Then hold a piece of food 1 foot in front of the puppy and maintain pressure on the leash. The puppy will often come forward to collect the food. This helps train the puppy that if you pull them in a direction, you want them to follow in that direction.

Holding the leash - Using a 6 foot leash that is connected to the front of your dog’s anti-pull harness, you will put the loop of the leash on your left thumb. The leash will drape down your palm on your left hand. Now close your left hand over the leash. This will give you a good grip on the leash. To begin teaching the dog not to pull, you will typically be holding your right hand just below your left hand on the leash. See picture below:

Picture of anti-pull harness.

Picture of leash handling

5. Square Area Training Pictures of Square Areas - Picture of Square Area Crossed out

Staying away from sidewalks or pathways for the first 2 weeks can be very helpful. Some dogs may be ready sooner but on average we stay away from sidewalks or pathways for about two weeks. Think of practicing in a square area such as: garage, basement, backyard, skating rink, schoolyard, parking lots etc.

If the dog is still hyper or reacting on leash you need to try one of the following (some dogs will still be quite hyper the first 15 minutes of training even with exercise):

  • Exercise more - See article on Exercising a Dog for more ideas.

  • Practice in a lower distraction environment.

  • Make it easier for the dog to get it right (walk a square pattern in a room, back alley, garage etc.

  • Distraction Training - Many dogs will do well away from distractions. You may need to do Distraction Training before you can achieve your goal of Heel.

No Pulling Taught First

Teaching your dog not to pull is the first step. Once the dog is not pulling, you can then begin training your dog to walk on the right side a half step behind you. Pictures of Turns

  1. Low Distraction - Start in a low distraction area such as your basement, garage, living room, backyard, etc.

  1. 180° Turns - Gripping the leash like mentioned above with your right hand under your left. When your dog goes to run out in front of you, say your dog’s name and turn 180° to the left. This will automatically put the dog back on your right hand side a half step behind you.

  1. Walking forward a step or two the dog will typically want to pass you again. Repeat the 180° turn to the left. The 180° turns are done when the dog is trying to quickly move in front of you. If your dog is passing you but not super fast you can do a 90° turn left instead. This is where a square area for training is handy since on a sidewalk you would be stepping out onto the road.

Why not just pull back on the leash?

It is common to think that pulling back on the leash when the dog passes or even holding the dog in place with the leash is the right tactic to use. The thought is that eventually the dog will learn to stay in position.

We don’t use this to start because of Core Rule: Training Every Second. If you pull back on the leash often or hold the dog in position, most dogs learn to get used to the tugging on the leash. They may only stay in position if they are held there. Once slack is given the dog may try to pull again. Pulling back on the leash is a Force Technique. Force Trainers will tell you, you are better off using a really hard correction a minimal amount of times rather than a light correction hundreds of times. This is to help ensure the dog does not habituate to the correction being used. It does work for a lot of dogs but it is falling out of favour and doesn’t look the greatest in public. It also doesn’t work for all dogs.

The technique of stopping when the dog pulls often teaches the dog to stop, sit and wait. But as soon as you begin walking again the dog will pull forward. There are many people who have had success with that technique but we found it doesn’t work for all dogs.

Exercising first and changing directions gets the dog paying attention to you.

6. Using a Wall

Once your dog stops pulling so much and is getting quicker about following you or even stays close to your side, you should begin walking around a wall. You can start this in your house, then walk along the fence in your backyard and then go to a parking lot.

  1. Dog Passing - Keep an eye over your right shoulder to watch your dog. If the dog is speeding up to pass you, take a right step toward the wall to block the dog. Keep moving forward so your next left step is back on your path. It is just a quick step to crowd the dog out of the way and continue moving forward.

  2. Dog Goes Behind to Your Left - If your dog tries to cut behind you, take a step right, pull the dog on the leash to behind you and then while always moving forward step left back onto your path. The dog will now be in position again.

Tip: When we say step left or right we don’t mean turn left or right. The step to the right or left is while you are still facing and walking forward. Imagine you are walking and see a puddle. You are just stepping up and to the right or left of the puddle and then continuing back on your path.

Insert Picture Walking Next to a Wall or Vehicle

7. Between Walls

Pretty soon the dog will start walking well next to a wall and not try to pass you. If the dog is trying to pass you a lot, you may need to use a consequence. Take a look at the end of this article.

When the dog is walking well next to a wall you will want to start walking where there is no wall. That is sometimes too big a step so to break it down via the A to B Rule you can walk from one wall, to a space, to another wall. The best method is walking between two parked cars in a parking lot. Picture walk between cars

The dog may do very well or the dog may:

  1. Try to pass you - No wall to block the dog with so make a left 180° turn and return to your wall. You could also try speeding up so the dog can’t pass you and as soon as you are at your next wall you can step to the right in front of your dog to block your dog.

  2. Cut behind you to the left - You can side step to the right, pull the dog on leash to just behind you and then step left back onto your path to keep going. You also have the option to do a 180° turn to the right. Walk back toward your first wall and try again bridging between the two walls in another minute or two.

  3. Wander off to your right - Do a quick side step left and pull the dog toward you. Then all in one fluid motion step right back onto your path and keep going forward.

  4. Puts the brakes on and doesn’t want to go - First make sure it isn’t health related like a sore paw or the dog is super tired. Pups are the most likely to do this. The best thing to do is take a quick step forward and pull the dog with you. Get the dog walking again. If you felt you needed to stop you can end the walking on your terms. Otherwise if you stop when the dog wants to stop they can learn to control the walk by putting the brakes on and not continuing. This especially sucks when you have a big heavy dog and they act like a sack of potatoes to get their way.

8. No Walls Picture no wall walking area

Here is where you test to see if your dog is understanding they should stay on your right side a half step behind with no walls present. You do this in a low distraction area first which could be your house, backyard or the back of a parking lot.

In a parking lot we practice this at the back of the parking lot in an area where there are no cars. You may come across some curbs from time to time. We tend to walk a big square pattern here. If the dog gets out of position you make the necessary counter manoeuvre to get the dog back in position.

9. Increasing Distractions Picture closer to distractions

Once the dog is walking in the correct position about 70-80% or better of the time, you will then increase distractions. In a parking lot that means you will go a bit closer to the front of the store, closer to people. You may also be moving closer to other dogs or people. Even moving closer by 10-20 feet the dog can start making mistakes. The dog may get quite excited, reactive or aggressive.

You may need to do Leash Manner Corrections again. This is where you grip the leash by your chest, say your dog’s name 1 second before they hit the end of the leash and turn 180° to your left to get them back on your right side. Quite often you don’t have to do this as much as when you first started. The dog often gets back to walking well with you fairly quick (not always, but usually).

As your dog does 70-80% or better at this new level you will then increase distractions again.

10. Distraction Training

There is a whole article on Distraction Training explaining this. Many people only struggle with their dogs when distractions are present. Doing Distraction Training during the same time frame as you are teaching Heel will definitely help your Heel training goals. The magic formula for Distraction Training is: to have your dog focus on you while distractions are present. Heel is one of the worst ways to distraction train. There are other exercises that are far better covered in the distraction training article.

11. The Consequence

A dog can understand where you want them to walk but they don’t always want to walk there. In our years of training dogs we have seen dogs that have been through Reward and Force training. When it comes to walking well on a leash, Force tends to produce better results. There are of course negative consequences that can result from Force but it has been the main method for training a dog to walk well on leash long before Reward Training showed up. Take a look for yourself. Go observe a reward training class and watch how well the majority of dogs walk on leash. Watch a force training class and see how well the dogs walk on leash there.

The reason we suspect why is that walking nicely next to or behind a handler is a respect thing. A dog that is respectful of another dog will walk behind the respected dog. Using a hard force based correction like a yank on a choke or prong collar is often enough of a correction for a dog to realize that the handler is demanding respect out of the dog otherwise there is a consequence (in many cases they can learn to fear the handler but fear and respect are closely related. As an example you may have respected your parents because you feared the outcome if you crossed them). If you read the article on the Heel Debate you will see all of the Negatives that can result from Force training.

Picture Bitter Apple Spray

A Solution - Now the dog may need a consequence but not all of us are willing to yank our beloved friend around on a choke or prong collar not to mention some dogs don’t even seem to care if you do yank them around on a training collar. One technique we have found works very well (especially for Pit bulls) is the use of Bitter Apple Spray. When the dog tries to pass, you step in front and give a squirt of Bitter Apple towards the front of their mouth. It is amazing how many dogs walk like perfect angels after that bitter apple correction. Keeping in mind all of the above steps have already been followed to teach the dog where we want them to walk.

The other thing that works well is the Prong Collar. It doesn’t have to be yanked on hard like it was originally intended. We have found for some dogs that once they are pretty good with walking but want to test a little, the prong collar can help polish up their walking skills. You can do tiny little taps on the leash with the prong collar on. Many dogs find that to be very itchy. We call this Grandma’s Christmas Sweater Principle. If they walk nicely, the collar remains loose and is not itchy. Some dogs find it way too itchy and don’t want to move period, they just stop and itch. Other dogs don’t find it itchy at all. The smaller link Prong Collars work better, the bigger ones are quite rounded at the end so they don’t itch as much. The bigger the dog, the bigger the links for a prong collar and the less itchy they are. A person could try smaller links but more of them to fit the bigger dog to aid in itchiness or they could use bitter apple spray as a correction instead.

Tip: If a certain consequence does work for a dog, then once they listen well the handler must keep that consequence present or on the dog for 1-3 months of perfect behaviour before removing it. This will set the good habit in place and at that point the handler is usually able to remove the training collar or not carry bitter apple spray and the dog will remain good. This is a part of Core Rule: Training Phase vs Management Phase. Many people skip out on the management phase and it will cause them a lot of headaches with training if they do, especially if they have a high level Beta or Alpha type dog.

Before jumping up from the harness to the prong collar we usually go from harness to flat collar, to martingale, to prong collar and for some dogs to a Dogtra IQ remote training collar. But now for some dogs, even the ones that want to test a lot we find that just the harness and bitter apple spray does the trick. You will have to experiment with your dog to see what works. It is interesting to see how well Bitter Apple works as it does not hurt the dog but it tastes terrible. We have worked with Pit bulls where prior to seeing us the people were using spiked collars and yanking so hard they were breaking the collars off the dog’s neck and the dog didn’t care. But if you squirt that dog with bitter apple for getting out of position they would walk like an angel. We call bitter apple “Kryptonite for Pit bulls”.

12. Common Mistakes

These are the most common mistakes:

  • Pulling back on the leash when the dog passes - You don’t want to do this to start otherwise you run the risk of habituating your dog to the feeling of a tug on their collar. Tugging back is a Force correction. If you are going to start with that a force trainer will tell you to do a really hard correction with a training collar. If you don’t like that method then pay close attention to the steps we listed above.

  • Practicing on sidewalks - Sidewalks are often too intense a distraction to begin training in. Starting in a house is often easiest. Something like a basement or garage. Backyard is next easiest providing you don’t have crazy dogs for neighbours. Then the parking lot is next on the list. The bulk of training will be taught at the parking lot. On a sidewalk you only have the option for 2 directions (one way or the other) whereas a parking lot you have multiple directions. You can also duck between parked cars with people coming whereas it is hard to duck distractions on a sidewalk.

  • Not Exercising the Dog First - Tiring the dog first means they will pull less on leash before learning where you want them to walk. Do yourself a favor and tire your dog out a bit first. You don’t want them so tired that they just want to sit or lay there. You are looking for a dog that is happy to walk along. Many people think “I exercise my dog by taking them for a walk. If I can’t do that, then what do I do?” Take a look at the article on Exercising a Dog for a bunch of different options.

  • Not Using a Correction - Some dogs really seem to need a consequence otherwise Bank Robber Principle comes about and the dog thinks “what is the downside if I pull in front of you?” If you are not a fan of using any corrections, and your dog really likes to pull, you may want to look into pulling sports such as dog scootering, skijoring, bikejoring, or canicross. Even if you are going to use a consequence to teach your dog not to pull on a walk it is still really fun to do pulling sports. Teaching your dog to pull in a pulling harness and walk nicely on leash is very doable. You may think that if you train the dog to pull they will be terrible on leash. However if after you let the dog pull on a pulling harness and the dog is tired you can then immediately work on Heel on an anti-pull harness or collar. We do this all the time with super hyper dogs. You would think Core Rule: Training Every Second would prevent success. The key difference is when using a completely separate harness for pulling than you do for a nice walk the dog differentiates between what you want.

Dog goes left

Dog goes right

Heel right step 1 Heel right step 2 Heel right step 3 Heel right step 4 Heel left step 1 Heel left step 2 Heel left step 3 Heel left step 4

Dog Moving fast (180° turn)

Dog is moving ¾ speed (90° turn)

Dog is ½ speed (blocking)

Dog is ¼ speed (slow step)

Leash manners 1 Leash manners 2 Leash manners 3 Leash manners left 90 turn 1 Leash manners left 90 turn 2 Leash manners left 90 turn 3 Heel blocking step 1 Heel blocking step 2 Heel blocking step 3 Heel slow step 1 Heel slow step 2 Heel slow step 3 Heel slow step 4 Heel slow step 5