It’s a generally accepted unwritten rule for dog-owners to regularly take their pets for a walk or a run. But as much as it brings the fun in both the owner and dog’s lives, it also poses problems for owners.
Doggies, especially big ones, are too excited about the walking activity that they end up pulling on their leash. A long-term means for solving this particular problem is to teach your dog how to heel.
You might be wondering, “how exactly do learning how to heel, stops them from pulling on the leash?”
To make it simple, when your furry best friend is at the heel, he or she is walking alongside you. Therefore, pulling on the leash is the least problem you would experience. If you’re quite fond of watching dog competitions, the typical example of a dog at the heel that you’d be able to observe is when one is taking steps beside its owner (with its head and neck situated in line with their owner’s leg — sometimes watching the owner as it does so.) Pretty cool trick, right?
Once your dog learns how to be a heel, you can take better control of it because of your closer proximity. Plus, the foremost part of it is that there would never be times that you need to chase after or fight off your dog’s strength and energy during walks. You, now, would have the chance to take him out without making the leash too narrow for your dog’s neck or to walk with your dog leash-free.
You must train your dog how to heel first, before those things occur. Below are the ways to teach your dog to heel. Get ready because it’s going to be a long list!
What to do before the training your dog to heel proper
1. Choose the perfect training spot
Since it’s still learning time for your pet, it’d be best for both of you to erase all the external factors that may distract it from the goal. Some of the places that you may want to consider are your garden or backyard, a town plaza, a calm park, an empty lot, or a quiet street.
I’m telling you it’s going to be so hard to teach your dog if other things attract it’s attention, especially if you’re only starting to train him or her. Puppies, most especially, are curious about absolutely everything. That’s cute but not during a training session. You can relocate to a busier place or gradually add distractions as you get far along with the practice.
2. Make sure your dog knows how to watch you
Use some keywords that would be associated with your dog as a cue to look at you. It is highly suggested that you use treats to teach your dog. Once your dog has become accustomed to seeing you say the words, don’t stop the practice completely, but randomly.
The reason for this is because leash should not be treated as the only way to tell something to your dog. The leash should only serve as a material to keep its safety and not as something to be used as a puller — it may cause pain to your dog if you pull on it every time to make him or her look at you. You probably don’t want an agonizing dog with an ouchie.
3. Settle on a sign for a release or at ease for your dog
Just like in the previous step, you should choose and use a phrase or word to associate with your dog’s heel release. To make it clearer, when your dog is in a heel position, make sure that it doesn’t move out of that position by itself. Before doing so, He or she should wait for your signal.
What to do during the training proper
1. Acquaint your dog to the appropriate position
To make it easier for your owner-to-pet training, make sure your dog knows if you want to have him left or right by choosing only one specific spot. Whatever you choose or decide, should always be what you use whenever you walk with your pet. You should know they get easily confused.
The proper way of a heel is to have the length of the leash slightly loose rather than using it to control the dog’s position. Normally, the proper body posture of the dog at the heel is with its head or shoulder in line with your hip. Although, this may still vary depending on the dog’s size because it’d be kind of funny to a Chihuahua in line with your hip, isn’t it? You may adjust it to your preference.
2. Teach your dog when to adjust to the accurate position
Communicate with your dog using ways to tell it, that it’s in the wrong position. You may use treats to guide him or her to an accurate position or make gestures to get the message across. But remember, don’t rely on treats too much and decrease its usage gradually because if a treat is always used as a lure, then it won’t be training anymore – it would be simply feeding time for your dog.
3. Make sure your dog is attentive to you
As simple as it sounds, getting your dog’s attention is a rather hard thing to do. You can use the cue you taught it when you want it to look at you as a means to get his attention.
This is an essential step because without its attention on you or the training you’re doing, it would be for nothing and no results would be achieved at all.
4. Start walking one step at a time
Once your dog is all set, positioned in the right place, attentively, you may start doing the actual walking part. Heeling for dogs can only be verified if it’s walking beside you or on the position you taught him, not by just simply staying there.
A key here is not to push your dog to do what you know he or she is still not capable of. Don’t expect that it’d be that fast and that proper positioning is the only important part. When training your dog to walk at heel, you should start by taking one step at a time. At each step, you may either praise your pet or give it a treat as a reward. This is to let your dog know that it’s doing a good and successful job.
5. Proceed to turns and accelerations during walks
The training only gets more challenging, so hang in there! Once you accomplish the previous step, then your dog is already capable of heeling but only when doing straight or forward walks.
What you got to do next is to teach your dog how to continue to heel amidst the turns and accelerations that actual walking requires. This can’t be completed by a few pieces of training only, use the walks that you and your dog partake in as additional practices.
6. Do not forget to reward your dog
Never, ever, disregard the power and utmost importance of praises and treats to dogs. It makes them positively happy and knowledgeable about the success that they accomplish. It can also motivate or inspire them to follow more of your instructions and commands. They also tried their best, didn’t they?
Praising, petting, or rewarding your dog with some treats are done after they follow you accurately and accordingly. The method shows them what is right to do, and will guide them to continue doing those things. Keep in mind that rewarding your pet for doing something right is better than punishing them for doing something wrong.
What to do to further correct your dog
1. Be gentle when correcting your dog
As mentioned before, punishment doesn’t work all the time effectively. It may even make it worse between you and your pet. Too much correction may turn into a bad thing because it may cause some conflicts in your relationship with your dog. It’s just like a parent to a child – as a parent, don’t mess it up!
Dogs are not mystical beings that are exempted from experiencing mental stresses. They could also develop depression, anxiety, or other mental instabilities if you keep pushing them too hard. Be patient and gentle because nobody’s perfect — even your dog.
2. Treat the leash as your arm
The leash is your arm — an arm that can only be used to pull if there’s something to correct on your dog. Don’t pull at random times because it might create confusion on the things that your dog has been taught. Remember, keep it loose and don’t use it to keep your dog in place. Pulling on it, at improper times, would only hinder your training’s success. Also, it would decrease the chance of your dog listening to you when you pull on it as a signal.
To make it more fun, how about a little mantra? So you get used to it too. Try telling the leash “this is my arm” until you believe it yourself. A little weird but effective though.
3. Remind your dog that praises are not equal to release cues
Sometimes, dogs tend to release themselves from a heel position once you praise them. Most dog owners would tolerate this, but it is not advisable because you lose your control over the dog.
When your dog does it, stop the praises and wait for your dog to go back to the spot, it needs to be in or put him back to the proper position. After that, start praising your dog again and repeat if it happens again.
4. Use the 90-degree sharp turn
This method is usually done if the dog goes ahead of you. It should be corrected because it forgets the position that it should be.
This is done by making a sharp right-angle turn whenever your dog gets ahead of you or leads you. If it’s in the proper position, continue moving forward and make the turn again as soon as it leads you again.
5. Lagging is also a no-no
As much as getting past ahead of you should be corrected, your dog lagging you requires corrections too. You may bump on the leash to make soft jerks that will make your dog want to catch up or gradually reel up the length of the leash while doing the bumps. You can also use the signals you taught him about proper positioning.
6. Get thicker collars than thinner ones
When training your dog, you should also take note of his or her body. A thicker collar decreases the pressure of the pulls you make during the training or corrections. A thinner collar may leave marks and may cause pain to your dog.
Some of the dog-owners around the world don’t even know that heel exists for dogs. It’s such a shame, isn’t it? Since it’s a big thing to have your dog learn about it especially on occasions like walking around the town or just strolling around the mall.
Of course, before reaching the goal, you and your dog have to get through all the training. It’s not an easy process but definitely worth the while! You never know, your dog might be the next Dog Obedience Competition champion. But then, there’s no shortcut to that – just like everything else.
The steps above can serve as your guide for the dog’s heel training plan. Keep in mind that those steps are only the content of a training’s outline, but the additional touches that would make it more personal for you and your fuzzy bud would ultimately rely on your relationship.
Just a reminder, don’t stress it too much. Enjoy the fun of the training because it can also help in building connection with your pet.