Teaching heel

I have finally been able to make a little video to show you some of my thoughts on teaching a good heel for obedience trials. Heeling is difficult since it is a duration behavior and has many different parts that all need to be good. I split heeling into it’s parts and train one behavior at a time. This blog post is about the basics of heeling – the dog walking with me on my left side with perfect attention, attitude and position. Turns and straight sits is another part that I work on separately. Maybe I’ll write another post about that some time.

When teaching the dog to heel with me, I start by walking backwards and have the dog follow me. Doing this has many benefits, like:

  • It’s easier for a puppy to follow me when I walk backwards and I can get more rewards to the dog.
  • It’s easier for me to see what the dog is doing without having to turn and bend towards the dog.
  • Since it’s not the final setting for the behavior, I’m not worried about shaping one aspect at a time. I would not like to reward the dog for good attention but bad position if I was walking forward. By walking backwards, I can shape a good behavior and be pretty sure that I will get good behavior to reward once I start walking the right way.
  • I use the walking backwards-heeling for teaching stand, sit and down from heel.
  • It’s very good to have when training in a distracting environment, as the young or inexperienced dog has better chances of success.

When I start the training, I walk backwards away from the dog and mark and reward all attention the dog gives me. I’m not interested in the dog looking me in the eyes, as that is incompatible with a good heel position. As long as the dog is giving me attention, I will reward it. I keep the treats in my left pocket, or in my right hand (only if the dog can ignore treats in your hand). As i mark the behavior I want, I get one treat from the pocket (or right hand) with my left hand and reward at my left side. In the video, the rewards are pretty calm. This is because my dogs have great position by my left side and because they don’t need to get more active. For most dogs, I would recommend that the dog gets to chase the treat in your hand in a straight line and end up with his shoulder at your left knee. I show this with Squid at 1:05 in the video.

When the dog is giving good attention, I start to look at the dogs attitude. Some dogs need to get more active and with them I will mark and reward things like coming closer to my side, ears up, going from a walk to a trot, tail up, head up etc. I will also make sure that all rewards are active and that the dog has to chase the treat after the click. With some dogs, it’s a good idea to work on how to reward separately, so that the dog knows to come close and steal the treat from your hand on the click before you start training heel.

Other dogs have a little too much attitude. They might be jumping up and down, making noise or touching you too much. With them, you have to do the opposite. Walk a little slower and reward calm, quiet and rhythmic behavior. Stop when you reward and give a few treats for just standing still before you walk again.

When the dog shows great attention and attitude, I start shaping a good position. For a lot of dogs, this comes for free because of good placement of reward on the earlier stages. I want the dog close to my left side, straight in the body and far enough back. Watch the video to get an idea of the finished behavior.

When the dog can do a nice heel while I walk backwards for a few meters, I start to turn around. This is demonstrated by Squid in the video. It is an advantage to have worked on some rear end awareness before doing this, so that the dog is willing to swing his rear end in before walking forward.  In the beginning, I will reward the dog as soon as he finds position by my left side when I walk forward.

There is of course a lot more to be said about heeling, especially when thinking of all the problems that might arise. If you have questions or comments, please post them below.

  • reply Florian ,

    Very interesting. Nice video editing by the way 🙂

    I was about to teach heeling to my pup, I’m gonna start backward since you outlined the great advantages of it.

    • reply Brittney MacNeill ,

      I would love to see how you first start teaching a beginner dog to walk with you while you are going backwards. Do you have any video of that?

      • reply Bode Gerda ,

        hi, love your video.
        Any tips for teaching a small dog to heel?
        I find it more difficult because you have to reward while steeping down, that way my own body position changes for the dog?!

        • reply Tweets that mention Teaching heel | Fanny's Clicker Dog Blog -- ,

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          • reply Ginny Neher ,

            Very interesting way to teach the heel position. I have taught the agility flatwork turns in this manner but not done heeling “backwards” for such a long period…Going to try it tho’
            I loved the “focus & attention” your dog gives you.
            lovely dog you have there!

            • reply Cherie and Dogs ,

              Great blog, I really liked the part of walking backwards I had never been told that or ever thought about it. To us heel is one of our most important commands, no heel no walk. THanks!

              • reply Jaana ,

                A very good article and the video helps alot in understanding.

                If you have time maybe you could consider writing about how you teach the stand. Just like the heeling, you do this in a way I have never seen done before. I am really struggling with this one…

                • reply citydog ,

                  Video is blocked in the US. 🙁

                  • reply Pinja ,

                    Also blocked in Estonia and Finland. Maybe ‘cos of the music track?

                    • reply Michelle ,

                      Hi! I am learning alot from your website and would love to see this video (I’m having problems with heelwork). But the video is blocked because of the music (I think?). Is it available anywhere else?

                      • reply cherie loves dogs ,

                        Great site! I see you have some real good comments on here. If only people would take their time to research whatever problems they have instead of using re-homming as their last resort all would be so much better. Keep it up and Thanks

                        • reply AJ Locker ,

                          Are you aware your video has been blocked due to copyright issues? I’d love to be able to view it if you could edit out the problem areas & re-post. The written part of your blog was very interesting, so I wish I could follow thru with viewing the video

                          • reply Scout Heeling, Fun Match, and Dock Dive - Page 2 - Golden Retrievers : Golden Retriever Dog Forums ,

                            […] perfection, but more important if you do. Here is that blog, she had a youtube station as well: Teaching heel | Fanny's Clicker Dog Blog That is not the first video I saw of her using that method. Maybe I will try to find that one. The […]

                            • reply Mary Hunter ,

                              Really cool video.

                              I would have never thought to start with the dog going backwards. Makes me want to go play around some this weekend with my parent’s dog! (Who does not have a very good heel.)



                              • reply Annette ,

                                You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I
                                would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.
                                I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get
                                the hang of it!

                                • reply Teaching Heel | Canid Science Library ,

                                  • reply atik ,

                                    Small dog breeds tends to fertile much faster than middle dog breeds and big dog breeds. Fertility periods can also vary from their breed, not just their size. So, it is best to check the list of dog breeds or consult your vet in order to identify what the most favorable times for mating are. In some cases, you’ll also have to go through some trial and error just to learn what works for your female dog. By following all of these advices, you will be able to have good and healthy puppies in a few months’ time.

                                    • reply Uppdaterad: Dagens träningspass | Hallens Hund & Träning´s blogg ,

                                      • reply Graham Bull ,

                                        Hi Fanny-Liked your video on heel and your other writings and videos. I have been wondering myself about obedience (Competitive)heelwork and wondered about whether a dog should be looking at you in the eyes, looking at your closed hand where perhaps you have treated him from or just looking at you.Someone today said to me to start of with the hand and gradually bring it up over time to ones face. Could you say more?I.m inclined to think as you indicated that it may be a bit hard to look at you in the eyes as hes got to also do the heelwork right. Thanks for any comments Graham-New Zealand

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