How to Teach Heel… on Both Sides!
Back in the old days of infantrymen and hunting for food, men generally carried their weapons in their right hands. Those who marched or hunted with dogs, then, ended up keeping their canine companions on the left. So unless you carry a musket while you walk Fido around the block, you have no practical reason to teach heel solely on the left.
In fact, those of us who have to walk our dogs on sidewalks will probably find heeling on the right side more logical. Since we tend to keep to the right side of the sidewalk, it would make sense that our dogs stay to the outside (your right), where they are less likely to jump on a passerby, get tangled with another dog’s leash, and so on.
If you walk in crowded areas and have to dodge passers by, garbage, or other animals, there are times when it makes sense to have your dog next to you on the right, and other times where the left side is safer. Therefore, teaching heel on both sides will give you a foolproof way to avoid confrontations from any angle.
Heel cues the dog to walk next to you, with his ear roughly at your hip. This is a great way to get your dog safely through busy intersections, airports, or other areas. It is not how you should walk your dog the entire time. (That would be loose leash walking, which I demo in this video.
How to Heel
Consider beginning this activity in a quiet, enclosed space without the leash, so you and your dog get the sequence down without having to worry about holding the leash. Follow the instructions with your dog on the left side until you both have the hang of it. Then, start over with your dog on the right.
- Lure the dog to your left side. In your left hand, you’ll have a few treats in a very loosely closed fist near your navel. If you were holding a leash, it would be in your right hand.
- Take two steps forward. If your dog doesn’t follow, use your voice to encourage him, but don’t lure.
- As you complete your second step, as long as your dog is still next to you, mark (“yes”) and reward in the heel position. If two steps is too hard for your dog, it’s fine to shoot for one step of heeling in the beginning.
- Practice steps 1-3 until your dog has caught on to the sequence.
- Repeat the sequence, but add a step. So you’ll take three steps before marking and rewarding. Practice until it’s smooth.
- Now let’s add the verbal cue “heel” right before you take your first step. Then follow the same sequence as before.
- When your dog is consistently nailing a three-step heel, remove the treats from your hand. You’ll continue to reward, but from a pocket or treat pouch on your left side.
- Keep adding steps gradually.
Once your dog has the swing of this new trick, lure him to the right side and start from step one. Repeat the heel sequence on the right.
Hit the Road
It may take some time for your pooch to be able to heel past another dog or at a bustling train station. Ensure his success by gradually increasing the level of distraction. When practicing outdoors, start by doing heel on quiet side streets, then more trafficked streets, and finally in crowded areas such as farmers markets, pet stores stores, and parks.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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