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:
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.
1. Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired) -
2. A to B Rule -
3. Training Phase vs Management Phase -
See diagrams below of Core Rules:
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-
Keeping Things Simple as Possible
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.
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-
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 -
Picture of anti-
Picture of leash handling
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):
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
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Once the dog is walking in the correct position about 70-
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-
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.
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 -
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-
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”.
These are the most common mistakes:
Dog Moving fast (180° turn)
Dog is moving ¾ speed (90° turn)
Dog is ½ speed (blocking)
Dog is ¼ speed (slow step)