Introduction to Teaching Your Puppy to Heel
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During puppy training, heel is a specific walk where the puppy is to stay in a particular place alongside the handler and is to sit when the handler stops walking.
Heel is a behavior you will see most often in competition obedience but is a nice behavior to utilize when you are in an environment where a high level of control is necessary. I would not recommend you go on casual walks while heeling as it will not be fun for either you or your puppy.
Heel position for the puppy is him sitting along your left side, facing the same direction you are with his ears lined up along the seam of your pants.
To get your puppy to start moving forward, use the command “heel”. I always start moving forward with my left foot to give the puppy a physical indicator that we are heeling. Since I usually step off with my right foot at any other time, starting off on my left foot looks different and cues the puppy to heel.
If you notice your puppy is too far forward, backwards, or sideways from you, check your treat position first. Most likely, your treat is in the wrong spot and therefore is moving your puppy out of position.
Let your treat do the work for you and your leash will not even be necessary after a while.
Now, you are moving along with your puppy in good heel position and you want to stop. At this point, slow to a stop and tell your puppy to “sit”. If you need to use your treat lure to get them to sit, remember to lure it up and slightly over the top of the puppy’s head.
From this position, you are ready to work heel again.
In the beginning only work two to four steps in a row so that your puppy can be successful. Gradually increase the distance you walk as your puppy is doing well. In another lesson, you will learn some changes of pace and direction to incorporate into your heeling. Remember to add distractions slowly and expect an initial regression in your puppy’s heeling skill.
The most common problem you will have is your puppy moving out of position while walking. Other than the position of your treat lure, the cause could be the distractions around you. If you are moving towards a distraction that your puppy is not familiar with, your puppy may forge forward. To counteract this problem, either move to a quieter environment or turn around and work heel in the opposite direction.
Your puppy is telling you that the level of excitement is too much to keep him focused and therefore, he needs more work. Also, if you are not using a high powered treat, your puppy will blow it and you off and drop his head to sniff or forge ahead or even wander off out to the left. Up the quality of treat (like cheese or hot puppys) and your puppy should pay better attention.
Your puppy may also move out of position if you have worked heel for too long a distance or time so, keep your training sessions to about 5-10 minutes. End the session with your puppy wanting to keep working.
Another problem you may encounter is a crooked sit when you stop. Your puppy may be swinging his rear end out to the left most likely because he wants to be able to sit in front of you and look at you. To correct the crooked sit, practice heeling and sitting automatically with your puppy between you and a wall.