How to Teach a Dog to Heel – Get Started Now
by Jessi Larson
Walks with your dog can start to feel like a challenge if your four-legged friend is basically dragging you around. That’s why it’s important to know how to teach a dog to heel ASAP.
Heeling is a term that describes your dog walking along side of you, rather than in front or behind you.
Thankfully, the training process is quite simple, and you’ll be adding an important trick to your dog’s arsenal that is bound to make your walks a whole lot more enjoyable.
Here’s why and how you should get started.
Why Teaching Your Dog to Heel Is Important
If you don’t have a particularly willful dog on your hands, you may wonder if teaching your dog to heel is worth the effort. But even if your dog isn’t pulling you during walks, practicing this useful trick can actually have powerful psychological benefits.
For instance, even if walking by your side at your pace doesn’t present a physical challenge for your pup, it does require a ton of mental determination to remain focused on you throughout the walk.
This kind of mental stimulation actually relaxes your dog’s brain and keeps them in a state of “work.”
This is also an extremely useful way to grow your natural bond and connection with your dog.
Here’s What You Need to Get You Started
Before you begin, you should grab some small training treats and have them on hand.
We love Zuke’s Mini Naturals as a training treat. They’re healthy and small in size, so you can give them to your dog over and over again as you work on this new skill.
If you’re clicker training, this is also a great time to use a clicker to reinforce the behavior you want.
Be sure to pick a place that’s familiar and free of distractions as you’re starting out. You can progressively add distractions and change up the settings as you get further into the training.
How to Teach Your Dog to Heel: A Step-by-Step Guide
When you’re ready, here are the steps to follow to teach your dog how to heel at your side.
As with any other training, practice patience and refrain from using any negative reinforcement or punishment when your dog fails to follow directions.
Just go back a step or two and start again, while encouraging and rewarding the behavior you want your dog to display.
- Have your treats (and clicker, if you’re using one) ready and start indoors in a familiar setting with plenty of space for walking around, such as a hallway.
- Point to the side that you want your dog to approach. Traditionally, the heel side is to your left, but you may choose whichever side feels appropriate.
- When your dog approaches, use your clicker and/or verbal encouragement such as, “yes” or “good job.” Immediately give them a treat.
Be sure to offer your treat with the hand closest to your dog to avoid the temptation to cross over in front of you to get it.
- Repeat this process (steps 1-3) a few times, each time calling your dog over and pointing to your side. Then reward the behavior.
- Now, stop calling or pointing to your side and let your dog make their way to your side by choice. From there, mark the behavior and offer a treat as a reward. If this doesn’t happen, go back to steps 1-3, and try again later.
- Start taking steps forward and reward your dog when it keeps up pace with you. If, at any point, your dog starts to get ahead of you, ask them to focus back on you and try again.
- Soon enough, you’ll need to speed up the pace at which you walk and even start adding tests such as zigzagging around to challenge them.
- When your dog seems comfortable with the trick, it’s time to take the trick outside and start adding some distractions. After all, the real test of a successful “heel” is whether your dog is able to do it with the full distractions that come along with a daily walk.
- Start phasing out the treats as a main stimulus for heeling and simultaneously increase other forms of encouragement to keep your dog motivated.
You can do this by offering a treat every other step at first, then increasing it to every 5 steps and so on. Do this until you only have to offer the food every once in a while.
Here are a few things to remember as you’re learning how to teach a dog to heel:
- Your dog shouldn’t be expected or asked to heel the entire time they are on a walk once you’ve mastered the trick, but you should continue to practice and reinforce it often to keep your dog happy and relaxed.
- If your dog attempts to get to the treats in your hand, you can try holding them up to your chest while walking.
- It’s up to you, the owner, to choose when it’s time to heel and when your dog has the freedom to walk and sniff as it chooses.
- It’s important to remain the pack leader at all times during the walk. Even when your dog is not heeling, it should never be allowed to pull you on leash.
Final Thoughts on How to Teach a Dog to Heel
We hope these tips help explain how to teach a dog to heel. As you practice this important and advanced trick, remember to stay patient and offer your dog plenty of positive reinforcement.
If you veer off track, just take your dog back a few steps and repeat the process again. Soon, you and your furry friend will be enjoying your walks together, while increasing your dog’s mental stamina and wellbeing.
Watch a Training Video
As you learn how to teach a dog to heel, it often helps to see the process enacted. That’s why training videos are a great resource.
We are big fans of dog trainer Zak George. His enthusiastic, positive and informative style has earned him millions of followers and countless fans.
Fortunately for us, he’s put together a video that shows you how to teach a dog to heel quickly and effectively.
Check it out – you’ll discover even more tips and tricks to help with the process.
Bonus Training Tip
Training a dog requires patience and persistence. As you work on how to teach a dog to heel, we guarantee you’ll get frustrated at times.
If you feel like your patience is wearing thin, take a deep breath and count to 10. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to start again.
Dogs can sense if you’re hyper or angry, so taking a few moments to regroup will make the training process even more successful.
When you continually and clearly communicate your expectations, this sends a strong message to your dog about what you want them to do and how they need to act.
Top Dog Training Books
Figuring out how to teach a dog to heel is just one small part of the overall training process.
When you train a new dog, it provides a solid foundation on how they should behave for the rest of their life. Hard work in the beginning pays dividends down the road.
When we first got Toby, we spent months working on training, including reading as many books as we could. Believe me, it was exhausting at times.
The result, however, is that he became a well-behaved dog who listened and followed our commands, and that made our lives much easier in the long run.
The more education, the better, from our experience. That’s why we also recommend the books below if you’re looking for additional support.
We shared Zak George’s video on how to teach a dog to heel. If you liked this dog trainer’s style, he’s got even more great advice in his book Dog Training Revolution.
This complete guide to raising your dog brings an inventive approach to the subject matter that will keep you engaged.
The book The Art of Raising a Puppy includes invaluable information and advice every dog owner should know.
We read this book when we first got Toby and highly recommend it! It’s a classic for a reason.
House training a dog is exhausting And frustrating. And messy. Ask any pup parent, and they will definitely agree!
Fortunately, the book How to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days teaches you infallible methods that will help housebreak your pup and make life so much easier for you.
Dogs are super smart creatures, and teaching them new tricks is great for their mental and physical health. Plus, you can bond with your pup in the process.
We purchased 101 Dog Tricks for our dog Toby a number of years ago. He had learned basic commands and we were looking for other ways to keep him mentally stimulated.
To this day, we still pull out this book every so often and find a new trick to share with Toby. It’s fun and so good for his physical and mental health.
If you have children in your home, Puppy Training for Kids serves as a great introduction to caring for a dog.
Most kids don’t fully understand all that goes into pet ownership. This book will help them gain a better understanding of all that’s involved and teach them how to train their new furry friend.
We hope you found our guide to how to teach a dog to heel helpful. This is a very useful skill that makes walks so much easier and leads to improved obedience.