We’ve all seen the human and dog walking through the neighborhood that begs the question: who is walking whom? Either the dog is several feet ahead, excitedly straining at the leash as its owner frantically yells, “slow down!”, or the dog is lagging behind as the owner walks on, oblivious until the leash runs out of length and forces a stop.
A dog that strains at its leash or lags behind has not yet learned the all important “heel” command. While this behavior may seem cute in a curious puppy, it poses a great risk as dogs get older. Large breeds will be hard to physically control, while smaller breeds could become tangled under feet or in the extended leash length.
Ideally, a dog should walk next to its owner. A dog’s paws should be about even with the owner’s legs and feet, giving the dog room to explore visually while keeping him clearly within arm’s reach of the owner.
The good news is that whether you have a new puppy or a stubborn adult dog, you can teach your pet to heel! Teaching a dog to heel takes patience and confidence, but the reward of a relaxing and fun walk is well worth the investment!
Step One: Begin by placing the leash on the dog and commanding the dog to sit. Firmly hold the other end of the leash in your hand, and wrap the excess so the dog has enough length to comfortably move about 8 inches in front of you.
Command the dog to stand up. If he lunges forward or wanders around, have him sit again, and practice sitting / standing until he stands still and waits for the next command. Reward your dog once he’s mastered this step.
Step Two: Walk the dog in a large circle. If he steps forward, calmly call out, “Heel!” and stop walking. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and hold the leash. Gently tug on the leash to remind your dog to stay within reach and to call him back to you. Once the dog has mastered this, let the leash out a few more inches and practice again.
Step Three: Once your dog is comfortable walking beside you in a small space, move to a larger area and add some “distractions” – lawn chairs, stuffed animals, potted plants. Practice walking around these items while keeping the dog next to you. Remember, if your dog moves out of ideal position, call out, “Heel!”, go back a few steps, and try again.
Now that you’ve mastered this basic command, walks will be safer and much more enjoyable for the both of you. Head outdoors and enjoy the sights and sounds of your community with confidence!