Teaching your dog how to heel
Have you ever had someone comment, “Who’s walking who?” while out for a walk with your pup? If so, you likely should teach your dog to heel, which means to walk by your side on a loose leash. Not only does a proper heel save your shoulder from the strain of a pulling dog, but also ensures proper control during potentially dangerous situations, such as when walking through traffic. Heeling is intended for short durations, and not for long walks. For a proper heel, your dog should also sit when you stop walking.
Steps to teach your dog to heel
To begin, find a quiet, distraction free area and place your dog on leash. With your dog on your left side, lure him to sit (avoid asking for the sit). With the leash in your right hand and a treat in your left hand, take a step forward, using the treat to lure your dog into the proper position by your side. Move the treat forward or backwards to ensure he remains directly next to you. Move only a few steps forward before stopping and rewarding your Spoodle for correct positioning.
If your dog struggles with getting ahead of you or falling behind, try holding the treat next to your shoulder, so that your dog’s upward gaze will keep his body aligned with yours. Once you find the technique that works best for you, enthusiastically reward him every time he is in proper position.
If your dog strays from your side, tell him “no” and start over. Practice this skill until your dog can reliably walk 5 – 7 steps in the proper heeling position before adding the verbal command of “heel” as you walk. Only when your dog has mastered controllably walking by your side should you begin to have him sit the moment you stop walking. Simply use a hand gesture, or, if having difficulty, verbally ask for a sit in addition to the lure.
What to avoid doing when teaching your puppy to heel
There are a number of things to avoid when working on heel. First, be careful to hold the treat high enough so that it is a guide for your dog. Otherwise, he is likely to try and jump and grab at it with his mouth when he should be nicely walking. Second, do not use the leash to pull your dog into the proper position. It is very important that your dog perform the heel on a loose leash, or else he will come to rely on the restraint.
Be sure to be vocal throughout the walking portion of the heel by giving your dog constant positive feedback for good positioning (i.e. good boy, good heel, etc), as well as negative feedback (i.e. “no” or “uh-uh”) if your dog is not in the proper position. Finally, avoid only practicing with your dog on leash. Working on heel off leash in the house, and also in the backyard, will drastically improve his ability to walk nicely next to you on command during your next walk.