Walking at Heel
Train to Win
Walking our dogs at heel is something that regularly turns up in a handlers training as an issue. Many people get very frustrated and soon fall out with their dog causing a bad relationship between dog and handler. In this document we will look at ensuring the correct placement of lead and managing your body language to make a difference.
We need to ensure the dog is in a good frame of mind when trying this basic task of walking to heel, if your dog is going crazy when you put you training coat on then this is not a good start. Let your dog run round the garden for a while before you even attempt training. Once you feel the dog has burnt off some energy then get to the dog and put the lead on then training can commence right away. Before we continue we must ensure the lead is in the correct position. This is key to ensuring a speedy result. I always use a slip lead and nothing else. I see people with rope leads around the dog’s nose and dogs with harnesses on. None do the job better than a short slip lead. If you have to result in anything else it’s probably because you did not train the heel work correctly. Regardless of breed, any dog can be taught to walk at heel. All the dog has to do is understand what you want just as it does in any exercise. The slip lead needs to be presented to the dog as a happy tool and not something that ties the dog up and removes its free time. Ensure you let the dog feel at ease with the lead. The loop of the slip lead must always hang down like a letter P the straight part of the P should be on the top side of the dog. The bottom side of the lead should be just behind the dogs jaw and the rest of the lead come straight from the top of the dogs head into your hand.
I always set off with the leg that is at the side of the dog and I always ensure the dog is in a seated position before moving off. When I begin my movement forward I say the word “heel” I do this voice in a very gentle manner as this is going to be the foundation word of walking to my side without issue. Never use this word in anger like we often see. Many people yank the lead and shout “HEEL!” and they are using the word to tell the dog off. This is crazy asking your dog to do a nice thing like walking by your side one second then using the same word to tell it off.
When the dog is in the correct position we should say “heel” if the dog moves off line or out from us do not pull the lead as the slip lead will do its work. Stand still wait for the dog to stop pulling and then repeat the heel command and continue. You are not the cause of the pressure from the lead and the dog will soon work out that when it is relaxed it is better and it makes you say in a nice voice “heel”. We must ensure that the foundation steps are complete before moving onto the next steps of off lead work. To start this we take the lead and wrap it around the dog’s neck and the dog will still feel connected to you. Again use this method until the dog walks at heel perfectly and then we can try off lead. To do this we leave the lead hanging down the side of the dog’s neck and the dog will presume we are still connected, walk and slowly turn into the dog. When the dog is in the right position move the lead away so it does not touch the dog. Occasionally we can place the lead back on the side of the dog. If the dog works it out place the lead back on and presume you have not completed.
To ensure you get this right as soon as possible you must make sure that this is not a negative training segment. Always use a light voice and praise when required. Training is not a race and the task is only complete when it’s complete. Don’t cut corners.