Training dogs a Reliable Heel

Dog Training lessons Santa Cruz

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  Training a dog to have a Reliable Heel can be time-consuming. Unless an owner is training for some type of competition they normally don’t want a strict Heel. Most owners are satisfied with loose-leash walking and no pulling.  If their dog is off lead they’re usually happy with the dog reliably staying close to them as they walk. Of course it’s always good an owner has voice command  to make sure their dog comes closer to them at a moments notice. So a Heel is different from loose-leash walking and walking off lead in the general area.

  A Heel is a strict behavior with the dog staying at the left side pant leg of the handler at all times. This trainer believes training with some strict expectations on the dog is a good thing. As the dog matures and learns what’s expected of him an owner can then give him more freedom to move freely.

  A nice Heel is also impressive. However, most owners want a more relaxed and casual dog on walks. A Heel on a walk outside is different from a show ring.  A walk outdoors is special for dogs. It’s a great release which allows dogs to experience that which comes naturally. It’s a time to hunt, discover different scents and interact with other dogs or people. A dog that only gets to walk on a  strict Heel misses out on those experiences.  There’s a time and place for everything so it’s just a matter of an owner using discernment when to use a strict Heel.    

  Training a Basic  HeelStart training in low distraction area such as backyard.

  First of all, I like to continually set a dog up in behavior patterns. This can be considered to be behaviors chained together. The purpose for this is to keep the dogs mind always in training mode. It doesn’t allow for the dogs mind to wander and only focuses on the handler throughout the exercise.  

  It’s advised to buy a training pouch to hold treats. During training you’ll need to retrieve treats quickly to reinforce proper behavior.   

  To start have your dog standing in front facing you. While holding leash in right hand move your dog behind your back on your right side to your left side and ask for a sit. While doing this process you can say ” Come” while tapping your thigh or stomach. I also like to snap my finger while swinging  my right arm out in a curve.  In the future your dog will recognize this as the signal to get in place when its off lead .  When dog is moving  around your back you will have to switch the lead from right hand to left hand.

  When dog is on left side give hand signal with a verbal ” Sit “. Once dog is in sit position on your left side give a verbal “Good” (this is called a Mark ). Immediately reinforce the sit with a treat ( the Reward). The hand signal is with your arm out to your side and palm of your hand towards the dogs face.  You also must switch the lead back to right hand. The switching of the lead happens right when the dog initially gets to your left side and before you ask for the Sit.  

  Walking Forward: This process uses Luring and walking only in a straight line for now.9392014-large

  With four or five treats in left hand target them under dogs nose.  Dog must stay seated so don’t tease with the treats. Just let dog know there’s something good in your hand.  Immediately give a verbal Heel cue while tapping your left thigh. Make sure first step is with your left leg.  Treats now will be in left hand against your left thigh. While moving continue to target treats under dog’s nose.  The dog most likely will have its nose against your hand.  As you’re moving start dispensing treats to dog every step or two. Dog must not pass your left leg. Start off with taking only six or eight steps. Stop moving and while giving hand signal say “ Sit “.  When dog sits say “Good”  and then Reward with treat. The hand signal will be with left hand pushing  backwards. Palm will be facing dog.

  When dog sits it’s recommended he stays sitting straight forward and doesn’t pivot into handler.  One way of dealing with this is holding a treat between index finger and thumb while giving hand signal for the Sit.  With hand in front of dogs face you can lure him to keep butt down and head straight.  After dog sits immediately Reward.  At this time I also like to give a verbal  ‘Stay” while using a Stay hand signal to be sure dog doesn’t move.  The hand signal is similar to a police officer asking traffic to stop. Since your dog will be so close your arm most likely will not be extended fully straight out. I use my left hand for the Sit signal and my right hand holding end of the leash for the Stay signal.

  When walking forward anything verbal must be a Praising Directive to keep dog focused. Don’t  “Sweet Talk ” the dog .  His perception of “Sweet Talking” may mean it’s time to play around. Remember the dog must stay in Training Mode.   

  At this point repeat entire process while continuing to increase the amount of steps forward.  As you increase steps remember to dispense treats every three or four steps while praising him for staying near your side.  Everything must flow smoothly as you move forward. It takes practice and patience to perfect these instructions.  Practice two or three times a day in ten minute increments. There’s no reason to over train. Your dog will learn faster if you don’t over tax his brain.

  Over time you’ll want to do less dispensing of the treats. Instead of a treat every one or two steps do a treat every four or five steps and so forth. Your goal is for your dog to Heel without using treats over time.

  If your dog is progressing nicely take him out to the sidewalk , a school yard, or quiet park. Remember low distractions are preferred. As time goes on you will want to start Heeling while making turns to the left , to the right, and 180 degree turns. For now lets stay with the  basics and have fun. Happy training.

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