Updated: Aug 8
By: Allaire Burke
March 28th, 2023
In short, the answer is no, not always. However, the benefits are incredible if you strive to live an active lifestyle alongside your pup, heel is a fundamental we teach to every client. Every dog is capable of heeling, regardless of age or the level of obedience they are at. Dogs who understand heel are more focused on their handler, more confident in the task at hand, and are able to be more reliable in their behaviors because everyone upholds and understands the same expectations. To teach heel there are a few steps - as with any training, you should start in the lowest distraction area and move beyond as you progress. We always want to build incrementally so your dog has the highest chance of success in their new skillset.
Firstly, we need to start with the right materials- you will need a 6' long, 1/2" wide, flat leather or biothane leash. We love these two as they have a nice grip and last forever. You'll need a high-value treat, we recommend low sodium hot dogs or freeze dried treats! The chicken ones from purebites are a house fave, they also have salmon if your dog has a chicken allergy. Now for collars - you've got options, if you're going out on your own to teach your dog new concepts, we recommend a martingale collar (with a side-snap buckle). We like this one, it isn't the trendiest thing on the market but, its a great option for teaching your dog leash pressure and the side release buckle is a total game changer. Be sure your collar is two-finger tightness, I typically advise people to size down.
Now, lets get down to the good stuff. The first step is teaching your dog position, you'll put your treat in your left hand and get your dog interested. Once they're actively trying to take the treat, you will guide them to your left side, both of you facing forward, and give the "heel" command in a motivating tone, reward once they're in position, it should resemble this-
Once your pup is in position, you can take a step forward and say heel, reward as they move with you. Heel is largely lure - based, this means that you use food to guide the dog into what you're expecting of them, you reward once they complete the action. The goal is to move freely and continuously reward the dog as they follow along on your left side. Be sure to only reward when their right shoulder is behind your left leg and they have all four paws on the ground, this ensures you're getting the correct position.
If your dog is a little chaotic or if you're having an issue keeping them from wandering off - you can put the leash on with the handle over your right wrist and continue to reward with your left hand. If you're having issues keeping them interested in your treat, you can work outside of feeding times by working with them before breakfast or dinner when their food drive is a bit higher. If your dog keeps getting ahead of you - get them nice and interested in the treat, make a 180 degree right turn and guide them along with you with your treat, once you complete the turn- you can reward.
We recommend practicing any new skill set firstly in the home, then to the yard, then to a field then to real life experiences. Dogs, much like people, do best with incremental growth and learning, think building blocks. Do what you can to advocate for your dog and work within their learning habits. Every dog is different and each one requires a different "recipe" for success. Be patient and have fun!
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