The Magical Dog Leash Part 2: Finding Heel
If you didn’t catch my last article “The Premise of the Magical Dog Leash” please read it. In that article I explain WHY flawed thinking and many people’s approach to leash training hasn’t worked.
If you don’t understand WHY things haven’t worked in the past or the common pit falls you won’t be as successful in teaching your dog the appropriate way!
Now it is time to TEACH your dog appropriate leash skills!
What are Appropriate Leash Skills?
Finding Heel Position: Teaching your dog to find heel position on your left side at the drop of a hat on quiet and clear command.
Drive and Focus: Teaching your dog to play, find you fun, and give you eye contact on command and while you walk and heel past distractions.
Leash Manners: Teaching your dog how long his leash is and NEVER to pull you!
- A Great Attitude
- Really Good Treats
- Treat Bag or Tool Belt
- Your Dog’s Favorite Toy
You will begin teaching your dog about his leash and heel position at home in your house where the distractions are few.
WHY does your dog need to know heel position?
Because this will make your walking more simple, eventually, and more enjoyable for both of you! You can both learn to enjoy your walk together without having to constantly drill obedience.
I don’t always make my dogs walk in heel position, most of the time I let them be dogs and sniff and wander however they are NEVER allowed to pull me and when I tell them to heel (when I see another dog, a car, a bike, a child) I expect them to come into heel position no matter what else is going on; heel past the distraction and then I can release them and they can go on about being a dog.
Doesn’t that image seem easier than pushing, pulling, yanking, coercing, or treating your dog the WHOLE time or during the eventual whole walk or even hike?
Make no mistake, I don’t care if your dog is 8 weeks old or 9 years old, if you are having problems with his leash manners, he’s pulling you, or your using a “training collar” you’d like to wean him from you are going to begin in the same place.
We are building a firm foundation that will weather any storm of a normal, busy, and distracted life later when you take your dog out in the world!
You may begin in two ways: By teaching him “Drive and Focus” or By teaching him where “Heel” is both will eventually be integrated to work together.
One of my next articles will be on “Drive and Focus” and then “Leash Manners”.
Ask yourself, honestly, does your dog know where “HEEL” is? If you said “Heel” while standing in your kitchen without your dog on a leash would he have any clue as to what you are talking about?
If you answer NO (like most people) then you need to step back and build this foundation. There is nothing wrong with this step back in your training it simply will strengthen the training and eventually leash foundation.
I specifically left out the LEASH in your supply list! I want you to teach your dog by motivating him not by pulling, pushing, yanking or physically manipulating him.
In order to be the most successful, you must know your puppy or your dog well enough to know what he likes. Would your dog kill for some homemade liver treats? Or, do you have a dog that would rather play ball all day rather than eating a tempting treat? Perhaps you have a dog that loves to bite on a tug toy, or another favorite toy?
My dogs love liver AND balls! So, I would have both in my tool belt and utilize them at different points for the correct behavior.
Ultimately my dogs want to play, so I would lure them with treats and then when they preformed the correct behavior I would probably play a short game of ball or tug with them to encourage them to continue doing what they did and learning.
Now take your dog into that secluded room with his motivators and lure him into heel position.
Heel position when you are standing still is with the neck/shoulder of your forward facing dog lined up with your left leg.
This is where you want your dog to CHOOSE to be while you are out walking him. Not where you FORCE him to be but where he wants to be. If he doesn’t want to be there you will spend your entire time pushing, pulling or making him be there or coercing him to want to be there.
Take the treats (did I mention they should be really good) liver or maybe some boiled chicken breast cut up pea sized or smaller and stick them up, on or near your dog’s nose. Okay maybe not UP but close enough to get a good and happy reaction.
Place your body in front of your dog, next take a step backward with your left leg while leading your dog facing backward and toward your behind; once most of him is behind you use the teat to lure him around in a U shaped turn so that he is now facing the same direction that you are. Once he is in the approximate heel position; ask him to sit.
For those of you perfectionist or competitors don’t worry about crooked sits or a dog that is not in the perfect spot. You can correct and clean this up later once your dog has a better understanding of heel.
If he doesn’t know “heel” in the beginning don’t be tempted to tell him what to do or what he is doing until he is successfully doing it. This is hard for people to understand, but barking commands that mean nothing hinder your dog’s learning.
Once he begins to understand what he is doing and “where” he is landing based on your body then you can begin telling him as he is doing it. So as he spins that U-turn behind you tell him “heel” while praising and reinforcing with a treat.
If he does something spectacular or seems to be getting it fairly quickly and he likes toys or balls play a little bit with him or jackpot him with bigger or better treats. Remember this isn’t just about food rewards and boring obedience you have to make yourself and the act of obedience FUN and stimulating.
At my house a treat won’t keep my dogs from looking at another dog or another distraction but a game of ball or tug would work!
You have to be the fun dog owner and build a bond and a relationship with your dog in order for him to listen to you in times of crisis, stress or distraction!
Continue luring your dog with treats into the heel position on your left side.
Once he is proficient at finding the correct spot by flipping around on your left side, it is time to teach him other ways.
This time, with your dog sitting in front of you, you are going to teach him to go around behind you to the right and sit on your left side in heel position.
Now, I compete and sometimes I am asked to finish (meaning have my dog go to heel position) my dog to the left or to the right, so I use two separate commands for each way. However if you are not competing it is fine to use the same “Heel” command.
If you are using a new command you will have to go back and teach the dog to go around you before giving a command. However if you are going to use the same command you may give the command while luring your dog around behind you.
With the dog in front of you, facing you and the treat in your right hand show your dog the treat while stepping back with the right leg. While your dog follows the treat exchange the treat in your right hand to your left hand while you continue to lure your dog into the heel position. Once your dog has gotten into the correct position ask him to sit then lavish him with praise, treats and fun.
Continue to teach him where heel position is at while using treats, praise and games as a fun reward.
He should ideally be able to find heel position from in front of you, behind you, to the left, to the right, facing you, facing away from you and so on. This will take time and patience!
Next put some speed on his delivery of this command. The faster he finds and sits in heel position the more fun and rewarding his learning will be. Once you know he understands you can fade the luring and the regular treats and insist on speed, happiness, and accuracy of his ability to find heel.
You may also begin playing this game all over the house with and without distractions as he is successful. You may have to back up a bit in your training to teach him that the command is the same with and without distractions!
Ask him at any given time to find heel position; when you are in the kitchen, when he is asleep on his bed, when he is playing with another pet to ensure he understands and enjoys this game!
Then begin taking this game outside to your driveway, backyard then the front yard etc. until he is proficient and nearly perfect at finding his way into heel position! Again you may have to back up and teach him the basic foundation again in these different environments.
Be patient and be fun! The future of enjoyable walking is on the line!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.