Introduction to Teaching Your Puppy to Heel
Heel is a behavior you will see most often in competition obedience but is a nice behavior to utilize when you are in an environment where a high level of control is necessary. I would not recommend you go on casual walks while heeling as it will not be fun for either you or your puppy.
Heel position for the puppy is him sitting along your left side, facing the same direction you are with his ears lined up along the seam of your pants.
The action of heeling always starts and stops with the puppy sitting in this particular position and while you (the handler) walk; your puppy walks with you maintaining the position of him being on your left side, ears lined up along the seam of your pants.
To teach the puppy heel, I line the puppy up in heel position and then show him I have a treat. I, personally, hold the puppy’s leash in my left hand and use my right hand to hold the treat in front of the puppy’s nose. It works well position wise for me but, if you have a small puppy, you may want to consider getting a dowel and attaching a clip to the end to hold a treat so you don’t have to bend over so far.
To get your puppy to start moving forward, use the command “heel”. I always start moving forward with my left foot to give the puppy a physical indicator that we are heeling. Since I usually step off with my right foot at any other time, starting off on my left foot looks different and cues the puppy to heel.
Pay attention to where your treat lure is while you are moving forward. Since your goal is to keep the puppy in a specific position, your treat must stay stationary in relation to your body to keep the puppy in good position.
If you notice your puppy is too far forward, backwards, or sideways from you, check your treat position first. Most likely, your treat is in the wrong spot and therefore is moving your puppy out of position.
I like to keep my leash and my treat along the left side of my body towards the front of my leg to keep the puppy’s head in good position. Also, try to keep your leash somewhat loose. If you have a tight leash, you are not really allowing your puppy to find heel position; you are forcing them to be there and they will never learn where to be on their own.
Let your treat do the work for you and your leash will not even be necessary after a while.
Now, you are moving along with your puppy in good heel position and you want to stop. At this point, slow to a stop and tell your puppy to “sit”. If you need to use your treat lure to get them to sit, remember to lure it up and slightly over the top of the puppy’s head.
Telling them to sit every time you stop will develop muscle memory in your puppy and they will eventually sit automatically without you having to say the command.
From this position, you are ready to work heel again.
In the beginning only work two to four steps in a row so that your puppy can be successful. Gradually increase the distance you walk as your puppy is doing well. In another lesson, you will learn some changes of pace and direction to incorporate into your heeling. Remember to add distractions slowly and expect an initial regression in your puppy’s heeling skill.
The most common problem you will have is your puppy moving out of position while walking. Other than the position of your treat lure, the cause could be the distractions around you. If you are moving towards a distraction that your puppy is not familiar with, your puppy may forge forward. To counteract this problem, either move to a quieter environment or turn around and work heel in the opposite direction.
Your puppy is telling you that the level of excitement is too much to keep him focused and therefore, he needs more work. Also, if you are not using a high powered treat, your puppy will blow it and you off and drop his head to sniff or forge ahead or even wander off out to the left. Up the quality of treat (like cheese or hot puppys) and your puppy should pay better attention.
Your puppy may also move out of position if you have worked heel for too long a distance or time so, keep your training sessions to about 5-10 minutes. End the session with your puppy wanting to keep working.
Another problem you may encounter is a crooked sit when you stop. Your puppy may be swinging his rear end out to the left most likely because he wants to be able to sit in front of you and look at you. To correct the crooked sit, practice heeling and sitting automatically with your puppy between you and a wall.
Don’t put your puppy so close to the wall that he is touching but close enough that he doesn’t have the option to sit crooked. When you feel your puppy is sitting straighter, try moving a few feet away from the wall and see if the problem is corrected.