To start heel training we must first SHOW our dogs WHERE heel position even is!
When dogs learn to sit, almost 100% of the time, they do so while in front of us. This is then reinforced over and over in the general context of our lives. Dogs then learn not only how to sit, but where to sit in relation to the human – in front of them.
When we start heel training or teaching our dogs to stop at the kerb when on walks or even when you join dog obedience classes, it is common for the dog to try to migrate around in front of you to offer a sit. Instead, we want our dog to sit next to us in the heel position.
Here are the two easiest ways to teach your dog how to get into the heel position so you can begin heel training.
Get in position
The first thing to do is show your dog where you want them to be before getting them to sit there. For ease of explanation and demonstration, I am using the traditional heel position on the left but if you would prefer to use your right side just follow the steps substituting the right for the left.
To get the dog in position, I have two go-to methods. I generally start with the lure in a circle activity, then use the lure around when the dog does start to sit on the left side but not quite in the correct position.
Lure in a circle
Start with your dog sitting in front of you. Hold the lead in your right hand and a food treat or two in your left hand. Show your dog the food treat then turn towards your right and slowly walk in a small circle. Your dog should move to follow you (if not wave the food treat at them until they join you) hold the food close to your left leg so your dog gets nice and close to you as you move around in a circle. Stop when you are once again facing forward and your dog is next to you on the left. Next move your arm upwards so your dog follows the food treat and goes into the sit position. Use your marker word (“yes” or “good”) then reward your dog with the food treat.
Lure back around
This luring option also works when your dog is sitting in front of you and I also use this when the dog has made an attempt to sit in the heel position but is not quite in the right spot.
Have your dog’s lead in your right hand and the food rewards in your left hand. Reach out with your left hand towards your dog so the food reward is level with your dog’s nose. Then bring your left hand back towards you with your dog following. Bring your left hand back past your body and slide your left leg back as well. As you reach past your body, lure your dog around in a circle anti-clockwise so that as you bring them around they end up next to you on your left side.
Bring your left arm and left leg back together then lift your arm so your dog goes into a sit position.