Current Lead Time: 2-4 weeks


What Does Heel Mean in Dog Training?

What Does Heel Mean in Dog Training?

I have lost count of the number of dog owners who have come to me at their wits’ end because simply taking their beloved pets out for a walk had become an ordeal. If your dog constantly pulls on its leash or strays under your feet when you go out for a walk, teaching him or her the heel command will change everything. In this article, I will cover the process of training your dog to heel correctly and walk calmly at your side. I will also discuss how you can get results more quickly and turn your training sessions into happy times by showering your dog with positive reinforcement and rewarding their good behavior.

Definition of Heel in Dog Training

Understandingthe meaning of heel training is essential for any dog owner looking to enhance their pet’s obedience and safety during walks. In this section, we will explore what the "heel" command entails, how it positions your dog during walks, and why it is a crucial component of basic and advanced dog training.

What Does Heel Mean?

The “heel” command teaches your dog to walk along your side at a distance no greater than 6 inches. Not behind or in front of you but by your side. You prepare the dog for the command by first leashing it and getting it to sit at your side. Dogs are traditionally taught to sit at their owner’s left side, but you can train them to heel at your right side if you prefer. 

A well-trained dog will sit by its owner’s side with its front paws just behind its owner’s heels. 

When your dog learns to sit in this position, its head and shoulders will be in line with the seam of your pants on your left side. This position helps with making valuable eye contact and providing positive reinforcement. 

Whichever side you choose, you should walk in a way that places you between your dog and traffic. If you train your dog to heel to the right, walk on the right side of the road. I prefer to train dogs to heel to the left because I think walking on the left side of the road and seeing approaching traffic is safer. If you walk your dog on the right side of the road, traffic will be approaching you from behind.

Importance of Heel Training

A calm dog is a happy dog, and we all want our dogs to be happy. When you teach your dog to heel, your walks will be less dramatic, and you and your dog will have more fun. Heeling can also make walking through a crowded area or crossing a busy streetsafer and far less stressful. You should not keep your dog in the heel position constantly, as this would make going for a walk less enjoyable. Your dog should be able to enjoy the environment and its scents when you take it for a walk, but it should return to your side immediately and without fuss when it sees the heel command.

Basic Training Concepts for Heel Training

Teaching your dog to respond to the heel command will be much easier if you turn each training session into a time of fun and reward. To get the most out of the training session, you will need:

  • Endless patience.
  • An abundant supply of small treats.
  • A clicker that gives your dog an audible signal.

The clicker is important because it lets your dog know it has been a good boy or girl. You can use a word instead of a clicker to send this message, but choose a word that you would not usually use and say it in a special way. If you say “bravo” or “kudos” instead of “yes,” your dog will know that you are happy and that they are being praised.

Time and Attention in Heel Training

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and dogs aren’t trained in an afternoon. If you go into the training process with realistic expectations, you and your dog will enjoy the sessions, and results will come more quickly. Your dog wants you to be happy but has a puppy brain and cannot understand what you say. Your dog takes cues from your body language, tone of voice and general demeanor, and it will be distraught if it senses frustration or anger. If want your training sessions to be productive, fill them with praise and positivity.

Proper Position and Body Language for Heel Training

Dogs learn to heel by following visual cues, so your position and body language are really important. Standing in the correct position establishes you as the leader and lets your dog know it’s time to pay attention. Your sessions should begin with your dog sitting and you standing and facing it. Once you have established eye contact, you can use your right or left arm to guide your dog to your side.

Importance of Positive Reinforcement in Heel Training

You respond better to a pat on the back than a tirade, so why should your dog be any different? If your dog does not respond to your commands, it just means that he or she does not understand what you expect. Instead of becoming angry with your dog, lavish him or her with affection and positive reinforcement. If you do, results will come very slowly and then all at once. Once your dog figures out what you want, he or she will see your commands as an opportunity to make you happy.

Steps to Teach Heel Command

You will have three goals during heel training. Your initial sessions will be devoted to teaching your dog to come and sit at your side when it hears the heel command. Once your dog has learned to obey the verbal command, you will train your dog to walk by your side for a few steps. You can focus on heeling for longer distances when your dog has mastered these skills. It is best to teach your dog how to heel after it has learned to obey simple obedience commands like "sit" and "stay."

The following steps illustratehow to train your dog to heel:

Step 1: Establishing Attention and Focus

Before you can teach your dog how to heel, you have to get its attention. Start in a quiet room to minimize distractions. Ensure you have a good supply of small treats, avoiding large treats or biscuits to keep your dog focused on the training. 

Avoid large treats or biscuits because you want to keep your dog focused on the training. If it takes your dog 10 or 20 seconds to eat its training rewards, the spell will be broken. With your dog sitting in front of you, grab some treats and extend your arm. Showing the treats lets your dog know you want something and will reward good behavior.

Step 2: Teaching the Correct Heeling Position

You will teach your dog the correct heeling position by moving your hand and the treats it contains out to the side and then slowly behind you. Your arm should be pointing toward the ground at about a 45-degree angle as it makes this wide arc to let your dog know that you are issuing a command. 

Ensure you use a loose leash during this process, as a tight leash may lead the dog to pull, becoming the leader instead. Your dog will follow your hand because that is where the treats are, which is exactly what you want. Use your clicker or say your positive reinforcement word every time your dog gets it right, and keep going until your dog moves dutifully to your side every time it hears the heel command and sees your arm move.

Step 3: Practicing Heeling in Short Durations

The time has now come to train your dog to maintain the heel position as it walks beside you. You do this by leading your dog gently with a handful of treats placed just in front of its nose. Walk slowly for a few steps, and after walking a few steps, say "good heel" and treat your dog. 

When your dog gets it right, reward him or her with affection and positive reinforcement. If you have a large dog, you will probably be able to hold treats in front of its nose without stooping down. If your dog is a pug, Chihuahua, or other small breed, you can use an expanding treat wand to prevent training from wreaking havoc on your back.

Step 4: Gradually Increasing the Duration of Heeling

As your dog becomes more comfortable walking in the heel position, you should gradually extend the duration of heeling. Add distractions gradually to increase the level of challenge while reinforcing the command. 

If your dog lunges at the treats, close your hand and say a stern “no.” Your dog will soon learn that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is not. As your dog practices walking at heel for longer distances, begin to fade out treats. Eventually, your dog should be able to heel without treats. Be patient and continue to use positive reinforcement as dogs learn best through this method.

Common Challenges in Heel Training

Puppy training should be fun, and it will be if you avoid common mistakes and stay focused on your goals. Before your training sessions begin, think about how they will go and visualize the exact position you will be in when all the pieces fall into place. This mental exercise will fill you with positive energy and keep frustration at bay. When you are ready to start the training, keep distractions to a minimum and resist the urge to correct your dog by tugging on its leash. 

The following are some common challenges you may encounter during heel training:

Finding the Right Collar for Heel Training

Choosing the appropriate collar is crucial for effective heel training and ensuring your dog's comfort and safety. Because of this, you should avoid collars that punish, such as prong, choke, and shock collars (e-collar). Some experts go so far asto call shock collars “abusive,” and severalEuropean countries have banned them on animal welfare grounds.  

That’s because, while they may be effective, punitive collars have the potential to cause pain, stress, and other behavioral problems in dogs. Unfortunately,studies show these behavioral issues can increase the likelihood of euthanasia and rehoming of dogs. 

Conversely, aFrontiers in Veterinary Science study showed that positive reinforcement showed less stress and faster response times than those trained with e-collars. In light of that, I think we can all agree that we want to avoid punitive dog collars for humane canine training. While we want a well-behaved dog that heels, we want it to remain happy and calm.

If you are looking for an alternative to punitive collars, a martingale collar is better for effective and humane heel training. These collars cinch like a prong collar when your dog pulls on them but will not cause pain. Additionally,tactical, over-built dog collars are highly recommended as they provide durability without compromising comfort. These collars are ideal for any dog size and are particularly useful in heel training, where control and consistency are key.

Loose Leash Vs. Tight Leash in Heeling: Finding the Right Leash

When training a dog to heel, maintaining a loose leash is crucial. If your dog often pulls during walks, you might find yourself correcting them by yanking on the leash. However, effective heeling training is about reward rather than punishment, with the aim being a dog that walks calmly by the owner’s side, keeping the leash slack.

Selecting the appropriate leash is as important as choosing the right collar. A well-designed leash should offer durability and comfort without compromising control, making it suitable for daily walks and specific training scenarios. For instance,leashes with a swivel mechanism can prevent tangling, providing smoother handling that encourages a loose leash during heeling exercises.

Moreover, choosing a leash that matches the training needs is vital. For training in areas that require close control, a shorter leash might be preferable, whereas a longer leash could be beneficial for practicing heeling at a distance. The key is to select a leash that allows the dog to learn to stay close without feeling restrained, supporting the training goal of a calm, attentive walking partner.

Distractions and Maintaining Focus in Heel Training

Dogs are not known for their multitasking skills or attention spans, so you will need to avoid distractions if you want your heel training to be enjoyable and productive. This is why it is a good idea to start heel training indoors with the TV off. If you go outside, your dog will be distracted by the sights and smells of nature.

Reinforcing the Heel Command in Different Environments

You can move your training outside and reinforce the heel command in different environments once your dog has mastered the basics. Bear in mind that putting lessons into practice is still training, so make sure that you have treats and your clicker with you when you transition to more advanced training. When your dog walks to heel comfortably in calm areas, you can move on to more challenging environments.

Advanced Techniques for Heel Training

Most pet owners train their dogs to respond to the heel command to make walks more enjoyable and less stressful, but the owners of competition or working dogs take things to another level. These dogs are trained to respond to subtle body signals, perform complex routines and walk to heel while off-leash.

Off-leash Heeling

Even dogs that have been thoroughly trained may find it impossible to resist the urge to chase a fleeing squirrel or rush into the arms of a loved one, so it is a good idea to always use a collar and leash while out in public. You can still train your dog to walk to heel without a leash, but it is a skill that should be reserved for dog parks and places where nobody is around.

Competitive Heeling for Obedience Competitions

There is no room for error in an obedience competition, which is why show dog owners spend so much time training their pets. Competitive heeling is just like regular heeling, but with an added twist. When issuing heel commands in a competition, the owner or trainer moves around to give the dog more of a challenge. In some competitions, dogs perform elaborate heeling routines while music plays.

Communication and Body Signals in Heel Training

Consistent daily training should be enough to correct bad behavior and instill good habits in any dog. When you teach your dog to heel, they will learn to follow your hand and the treats it holds. Excessive hand movements are frowned upon in obedience competitions, so many show dog owners use armbands to send subtle body signals to their pets.

Elevate Your Heel Training with Tactipup's Premium Dog Gear

Looking to kick your heel training sessions up a notch? Check out Tactipup's comprehensive selection ofUSA-made, over-built dog gear. Whether you need a sturdy leash for training, a personalized collar for everyday use, or a tactical harness for enhanced control, Tactipup has everything you need. Our products are designed for durability and comfort, perfect for everything from daily walks to specialized needs like military, police, or service dog gear.

FAQs on Heel Training for Dogs

What does "heel" mean to a dog?

In dog training, "heel" refers to a command where the dog is instructed to walk calmly at the handler's side, typically aligning its front paws just behind the handler's heels. The dog is expected to maintain this position, making it easier to manage eye contact and provide positive reinforcement.

What is the command to heel a dog?

The command to instruct a dog to heel is simply "Heel." This command may be accompanied by a gesture, such as a tap on the leg or a hand signal, to guide the dog to the appropriate position at the handler’s side.

What is the difference between "heel" and "sit?"

"Heel" commands the dog to walk alongside the handler in a specific alignment, while "sit" instructs the dog to stop moving and sit down. These commands serve distinct functions, with "heel" used for controlled movement and "sit" for stationary obedience.

What is the difference between "heel" and "walk?"

"Heel" requires the dog to maintain a precise position close to the handler, providing controlled movement during walks. In contrast, a general "walk" command allows the dog more freedom to move and explore, albeit still on a leash.

How do you teach a dog to heel?

  1. Start in a distraction-free indoor environment to capture your dog’s attention.
  2. Use small treats to guide your dog into the heeling position at your side.
  3. Introduce the "Heel" command and use a clicker or a unique verbal cue for positive reinforcement.
  4. Practice moving a few steps while rewarding your dog for maintaining the position.
  5. Gradually increase the duration and introduce distractions as your dog becomes more proficient.

How do you teach a stubborn dog to heel?

  1. Use highly desirable treats to increase motivation.
  2. Keep training sessions short and enjoyable to capture and retain your dog's attention.
  3. Be consistent with commands and rewards to establish clear expectations.
  4. Maintain patience and utilize positive reinforcement rather than punishment.

What age should you teach a dog to heel?

You can start introducing the heel command as early as puppyhood, around 8 to 10 weeks old. However, more formal training should begin after basic obedience commands like "sit" and "stay" are understood, typically around 6 months of age.

Is it too late to teach my dog to heel?

No, it is never too late to teach a dog to do this. With consistent training and adaptations, older dogs can learn this command. Be sure to take into account and accommodate their physical and cognitive abilities.

How long does heel training take?

The duration of it can vary, but basic heeling skills can often be learned within a few weeks of consistent practice. Mastery, particularly in more distracting environments, may take longer.

Why do dogs need to heel?

Learning this command is essential for maintaining control and safety during walks, particularly in busy or potentially hazardous environments. It helps ensure that the dog remains calm and focused, reducing stress for both the dog and the handler.

How do you maintain dog training?

To effectively maintain dog training for the long haul, consistency and daily practice are key. Successful trainers typically adhere to the following practices:

  1. Use training tools daily: Tools such as clickers, treats, and specific collars can help reinforce training commands and behaviors daily.
  2. Follow through with rewards and corrections: Consistently reward good behavior and correct undesirable actions to reinforce learning and maintain discipline.
  3. Incorporate structure into the dog’s daily life: Structured routines help dogs understand expectations and adapt to living and behaving within certain guidelines.
  4. Regular structured walks: Taking your dog for structured walks most days not only helps in physical exercise but also reinforces training in different environments.
  5. Seek help when needed: Don’t hesitate to ask for professional help or advice if you encounter challenges in training your dog.
  6. Gradual progression: Avoid pushing your dog too far too quickly. Gradual increases in training intensity and complexity can help prevent stress and resistance.
  7. Accept your dog's individuality: Understand and appreciate your dog’s unique personality and limits, adjusting your expectations and training methods accordingly.