How to train your dog to heel

Nigel Reed, founder of Dog Training in London, is a dog trainer and dog behaviour expert with twelve years’ experience working with the most difficult dogs.  As a regular dog behaviour consultant on national television and radio, Nigel also works on his social enterprise The Wolf Within, teaching young people with behavioural problems to train dogs with behavioural problems. Here he explains step by step how to train your dog to heel.

how to train your dog

One of the most common problems dog owners face is out on the walk when their dog pulls on the lead. The constant pulling makes the experience unpleasant for the owner and also can be uncomfortable for the dog.  The reasons why a dog pulls on the lead are due to over excitement, not having been taught correctly to walk to heel or because they believe they should be leading and so attempt to control the direction and speed of the walk. Whatever the reason for your dog pulling, we can address the issue in the same way; by teaching the dog the desired response in stages.

The stages

The idea behind teaching in stages is to start where they feel comfortable and you have their full attention such as at home. Here you can start to teach them to walk to heel and, once they have achieved the correct response, we slowly progress through stages by introducing more distractions.  As they respond positively to each stage, we reinforce this at all times and build up to a final stage such as a park with many dogs and other distractions. Do not progress to another stage until your dog is respondent and walks to heel perfectly in the stage you are at.

Stage one: The first stage of teaching your dog to heel is to call the dog to you to put the lead on. In this scenario they may become over excited at the sight of the lead and jump up, run around, nudge or make noise. If the dog does react in an undesirable manner then put the lead back down. If you put the lead on when the dog is in a heightened state it will only encourage pulling out on the walk. Instead keep repeating the lesson by reintroducing the lead and putting it down until the dog reacts in a calm manner. Once they are calm and responsive you are then ready to put the lead on and move to the next stage.

Stage two: The second stage is walking up and down through the house whilst encouraging your dog to your preferred side with food reward. If he gets it wrong, we correct the mistake with a method called stop, start, change direction. This method involves stopping or changing direction when the dog drifts in front of you, encouraging him back to your chosen side and waiting until he calms down before continuing on your walk.

Practice manoeuvres

Stage three: After teaching the dog to heel in the house you are ready to move to the third stage to the garden or a quiet outside space where there are a few more distractions and smells.  Practice the sort of manoeuvres here that you would have to do on a normal walk, such as stopping, speeding up and slowing down. The aim is to get the dog to watch you at all times and adjust their speed by following your lead.

After you have the desired response at this stage, the next is to progress somewhere still quiet but with a few more distractions like a residential area. Once again, when they are responsive here, move on to a busier street, then a town centre until eventually you get to a park. At this point you have the foundations in place and the dog is walking to heel, stopping, slowing down and speeding up when you do.

Watch a video of Nigel showing the techniques of how to teach your dog to heel.

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