Taking your dog for a walk should be enjoyable for both of you. If your dog pulls on the leash or darts toward the bushes at the first sign of a scurrying squirrel, the daily walk can quickly become a chore. Once your dog masters heeling, his head will remain even with your hip while walking. You can teach your dog to heel on either side of your body, but most trainers teach dogs to heel on the left.
Why Heeling Works
Dogs observe “lead, follow or get out of the way” pack behavior. In the wild, the strongest dog leads the pack and walks in front. The rest of the dogs follow along. When you teach your dog to walk with his head no farther in front of you than your hip, you’re sending him a silent signal that you’re in control.
Dogs respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to scolding. A pocketful of treats and a hungry dog are the best combination for successful training. Don’t starve your dog, just schedule his training session before mealtime. Treats should be tasty and small, providing just a nibble. You can even feed him his breakfast or dinner one piece of kibble at a time as part of his training.
Choose a relatively short leash, no longer than 5 feet, and a well-fitting, but not tight, dog collar. If you can slip three fingers comfortably under the collar, it’s not too tight. For walking toy breeds, a lightweight harness is a good idea because it prevents stress on the smaller dog’s neck. Large, unruly and rowdy dogs will benefit from a no-pull or gentle-leader harness. Ditch the choke chain; squeezing the dickens out of your dog’s neck isn’t an effective training method. A martingale collar provides sufficient control.
The best way to teach your dog where he should walk in relationship to your body is to start from a sitting position. Once your dog can sit on command, you can train him to heel. Stand beside your dog as he sits, aligning his head with your left hip. Hold the leash in your left hand. When your dog is calm but attentive, do three things at the same time. Step forward slowly with your left leg while giving a gentle tug on the leash and saying “Heel” or ‘Let’s go.” As soon as your dog starts walking, praise him and use your left hand to put a small treat in his mouth. Some dogs learn quicker than others, but expect to repeat the training steps at least a dozen times during a training session and hold at least one training session per day.
Walking the Walk
Any time your dog walks ahead of you, stops to sniff the roses or pulls away, stop and repeat the sit-to-heel steps to get him back on track. Don’t control your dog’s head position by using force on the leash, which can cause him to think pulling is OK. With large breeds, you can control your dog’s head position by holding your left palm in front of his face as you walk. To do this, you’ll have to switch the leash temporarily to your right hand. Once you’re off and walking, keep the pace brisk to minimize distractions.