Clicker training a dog to heel

The heel command is not a substitute for teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash. Like other obedience training commands, it’s a cue to direct your dog and keep him under control in situations where he could get into trouble. These include walking down crowded streets or in areas with lots of enticing distractions. Training your dog to heel puts him by your side with his attention on you, but only for a few minutes at a time.

Directions

You can train your dog to heel to either side of you, but keep in mind that competitive obedience requires heeling on the left side. Begin with your dog sitting or standing at your side.

Say your dog’s name, take a step, then click and treat

First, say your dog’s name to get his attention. Then take a step leading with the leg next to your dog. During the first step, click and treat. After your dog has eaten the treat, take two more steps, then click and treat. Be sure to praise your dog as you step to keep his attention on you. At first you can click and treat regardless of whether your dog is at your side or not, but you’ll want to reach the point of only clicking and treating when he’s in the proper heel position the entire time.

Add more steps

Once your dog can heel for two steps, add one or two more. Make sure to click as soon as you come to a stop and he’s still in position. Slowly work your way up to ten steps. Whenever you need to turn around, hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and lure him around to keep him in position.

Add the cue at ten steps

When your dog can go ten steps in the heel position, you can add the proper verbal cue. Before you start to walk, say “Spot, Heel” in an excited tone, making sure to replace “Spot” with your dog’s name. Then step out.

Tips to improve your dog’s heeling

Use the following tips to clicker train your dog to heel reliably in a variety of situations.

Use a lot of praise

Teaching a dog to heel is one time when there can’t be enough praise. You want to let your dog know he’s doing a good job the entire time he’s heeling. Not only does constant praise help him keep his attention on you, it allows him to associate something good with walking next to you.

Change the reward timing and how fast you walk

After ten steps, change the number of steps your dog has to heel before he gets a click and treat. Make it ten or twelve one time, then three or four the next. When you vary the timing of the reward, you keep your dog guessing and focused on you. Also, pick up the pace of your walking or slow it down to add another variable to the exercise. As your dog’s ability to heel gets better, you can add distractions and practice in different places.

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