The “Heel” command is a very important command that might be a little more demanding of your dog but is a very valuable one to master. When asked to “heel”, your dog must keep their shoulder by your left knee as you move about and sit when you stop moving. They are not allowed to sniff around and should stay focused on you while under this command.
To teach this command, you are going to need soft, very tasty treats that roll out of your hand easily or you can use a wooden spoon with some peanut butter – this works especially well for smaller dogs as you don’t have to bend over as much.
If you have a secure area, you cHeelan work off leash. Place a few markers to create an area you can circle. Get your dog’s attention and start walking at a brisk pace around the markers. Your dog should be trotting to keep up. Whenever their shoulder is in line with your knee, click and treat – treat frequently, ie. every couple of steps at first and as they improve, you can increase the number of steps before clicking and treating.
Do the circle in both directions and do not adjust your pace for the dog. If they are going too slowly, you can encourage them to catch up with you then click and treat when they do catch up. If they surge ahead of you, change your direction and go in the opposite direction then encourage them to catch up with you as you are moving away. Initially, try to just go in one direction at a time but as they improve and become more focused on you, you can add in direction changes. At first, you can help them with the direction changes by bending over and wiggling your fingers in front of them to get them to either speed up or slow down as needed.
Once they are doing well with the above exercises, you can add in “sit”. You want your dog to “sit” at your side when you stop. To teach this, you need to give your dog some indication that you are going to stop. Most people do this by taking three slow steps to stop. You can count this out to your dog – ie “1-2-sit” Your dog will eventually start to notice the change in pace and sit automatically when you stop.
For more positive reinforcement training tips from Tara and Cricket, including an introduction to “Clicker” training and the “Go to Heel” go to Cricket’s Corner