Dog walking directly next to their owner

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Are you wondering how to teach a dog to heel? Dogs are capable of learning a wide variety of commands, and the heel dog command is one of the most popular. If you want your dog to be right next to you when you’re on a walk, then you need to learn how to train a dog to heel.

If you have successfully taught your dog other commands, then teaching your dog how to heel should be relatively straightforward; However, even if you’ve taught your dog other commands, there are a few tips that can make the process easier.

Learn how to teach heel below, and watch your dog become not only your best friend, but also an obedient companion.

The heel command teaches your dog to walk directly next to you

What is the Heel Command?

Before we go into how to teach a dog to heel, you might be wondering, what is the heel dog command? The heel command teaches your dog to walk directly next to you on your left or right, rather than in front or behind you. 

With this command, you should notice that your dog does a good job keeping pace with you, only stopping when you stop and walking when you decide to walk. You might even notice that if you come to a complete stop, your dog will sit down next to you.

There are plenty of situations where the heel command might be useful. For example, if you feel like your dog tends to aggressively walk in front of you and you feel like you’re constantly being dragged down by them, you might want to incorporate the heel command. This will ensure that they walk at the same pace as you. 

You want your dog to get plenty of exercise, but it might be too much work if you feel like you can't control your dog on a walk. If you successfully teach your dog how to heel, it should be easier to take your dog for a walk because you’ll be in control the entire time, rather than the other way around.

Tips to teach your dog to heel

Tips to Teach Your Dog to Heel

It is not unusual for dogs to have a difficult time learning how to heel, but there are a few tips that can make the training process easier, such as: 

  • Use food or a toy: You may want to start by teaching your dog how to follow a piece of food that you have in your hand. If food does not motivate your dog, you may want to use a toy. Hold the food or toy in your left hand, hang it down by your side, and teach your dog how to follow your hand by tracking the food or toy.
  • Practice start and stop: Now that you have your dog's attention, you should move forward gradually, starting and stopping along the way. For example, you may want to start by walking 10 steps, then stop. If your dog stops to keep pace with the food in your hand, make sure you praise him or her. You can gradually increase the number of steps you take to get your dog used to walking next to you.
  • Reinforce positive behavior: The goal of this exercise is to teach your dog that good things will happen when he or she walks next to you. For example, you may want to start this routine by saying your dog’s name, followed by the word “heel,” and then tap your side as you start to move. This should get your dog’s attention and encourage him or her to follow you.
  • Start doing the exercise without food: Once you feel like your dog is in a nice rhythm, you can start to do the exercise without food. 
  • Move the exercise to the sidewalk: After your dog has started following you consistently, you can try the exercise on the sidewalk. You should make sure that you are in a safe location, and do not take your dog off the leash until you are absolutely certain that your dog will follow you at all times. This is an important safety issue.

You may notice that there are some issues if you move your dog to the sidewalk or the street, as there are more distractions. Your dog may have a difficult time staying focused, so remember to be patient with him or her as they learn how to heel in different situations. 

Tips for using the heel command during off-leash walking

Using the Heel Command During Off-Leash Walking

Even though you are probably focused on how to teach your dog to walk on a leash with the heel dog command, this is also a command that can be beneficial if you want to walk your dog without a leash. That way, you don't feel like your dog is unnecessarily restrained, and you don't have to bring your leash with you everywhere – be sure to check your local laws to ensure you’re following off-leash laws.

Some of the most important points to keep in mind if you want to use the heel command off the leash include: 

Train basic commands first

You may want to start by training basic commands first. For example, you can start by teaching your dog how to sit. Then, you may want to teach your dog how to stay. You may even want to teach your dog how to roll over before you try to teach your dog how to heel. The heel command can be a bit more challenging when compared to some of the other commands, so try to teach your dog the sit command before you try this one. 

Teach the value of staying close

You should also use the heel command to teach your dog how to stay close to you. If you are walking your dog off the leash, there are several reasons why this command is important, such as:

  • You do not want your dog to stray too far from you, as it could be a significant safety issue. 
  • You don't want your dog to attack another dog or child, and you don't want your dog to run in front of traffic.
  • You want to minimize stress when you take your dog for a walk, and that means keeping your dog close to you. 

For all of these reasons, make sure your dog stays close to you when you take him or her for a walk. If there’s any doubt that your dog cannot be controlled off-leash, continue to only walk them on leash.

Monitor their behavior

If you decide to take your dog for a walk without a leash, you must make sure that you have complete control over them. There are some dogs that experience a significant behavioral shift when they are taken off of a leash. Your dog has certain expectations that have been imbued into him or her when the leash goes on, so don't be surprised if your dog has a bit of a personality change when the leash comes off. You need to watch your dog closely to make sure the behavior is appropriate.

You should also monitor your dog’s behavior on a walk to make sure they’re doing okay physically. For example, if you see your dog panting heavily, that’s probably a sign you should stop the walk and go home so they can rest.

How Long Should it Take to Teach My Dog to Heel?

Every dog is different, so it takes dogs different amounts of time to learn how to heel. In general, your dog should grasp this concept in a few weeks, but it depends on the type of dog you have, the training techniques you use, and the consistency with which you teach your dog. If you feel like your dog is struggling to grasp the concept, you may want to reach out to a professional who can help you. 

Is it Too Late to Teach My Dog to Heel?

It is never too late to teach a dog a new command. That includes how to heel. No matter how old your dog might be, he or she should be able to learn this command. At the same time, you may find that it is easier to teach your dog how to heel when he or she is younger. Therefore, if you have the opportunity to do so, you should start training your dog as early as possible. 

Dog walking next to their owner looking up at them

Can All Dogs Learn to Heel?

Yes, all dogs are able to learn how to heel, but some dogs may struggle with this command more than others. For example, if your dog has a health condition, such as anxiety, it may take your dog a bit longer to learn the command. You might want to learn more about the signs of dog anxiety. If your dog has chronic health issues, it may require a bit of extra assistance for them to master the command.

How Do You Teach a Stubborn Dog to Heel?

You may find that your dog does not want to learn how to heel, but there are a few tricks you can use to make the process easier. They include:

Stop and sit training

You may want to start by teaching your dog stop and sit training. When you stop walking, you will put your hand in front of your dog. You do not want to use a verbal cue, but your dog should understand the sit hand signal, stop walking, and sit down. If your dog knows how to automatically sit on command, this may help them understand the heel command.

Clicker training

Positive reinforcement is critical if you are teaching your dog how to heel, and one form of positive reinforcement training is using a clicker. The clicker will communicate the exact moment when your dog follows your command, teaching him or her what you want him or her to do. You may want to incorporate this into your training technique for the heel command. 

Final Notes

If you are looking for veterinary professionals who can help you teach your dog how to heel or answer other pet health questions you may have, look no further than Dutch. Dutch is an online pet telehealth service where pet owners can connect with licensed veterinarians from home.

With Dutch, we provide you with access to experts who can help you with a variety of issues, including dehydration in dogs and dog seizures. Or If you have questions about caring for your pet, like how to bathe your dog, we can also help you with that. Contact us today to speak to a member of our team, and explore our resources that can help you be the best pet parent possible. 


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