How to Reinforce the HEEL Command with your dog.
The HEEL command has two possible reinforcements: strengthening the HEEL zone and reinforcing the automated SIT. The HEEL zone will be reinforced first.
Hold the dog on your left side and move in a left circle to teach the HEEL command. Your body action maintains “herding” your dog left by walking in a left circle. This steady left and rearward motion will urge your dog to stay in the correct HEEL zone on your left side.
Start this workout by walking gently. To accomplish the moderate speed required for your dog to keep the right stance, you may need to take baby steps or half strides.
Most dogs will learn HEEL at a respectable rate; however, enthusiastic dogs will need to acquire the idea at a much slower rate.
What size circle should this be?
Most dogs will learn HEEL in a fifteen to twenty-foot-wide circle. More energetic dogs will need a smaller circle of about five to ten feet in diameter. Your body will exert a greater “herding” impact as the circle becomes smaller. You may enlarge the circle as your dog grasps the idea of HEEL.
This is a dangerous exercise! Walking in a too-tight circle while watching your dog might make you dizzy! Slow down or stop completely if you get dizzy. Raise your head and scan the horizon. Restart with a larger circle and a slower speed.
Give the verbal order HEEL and begin gently walking in the left circle.
Hold the leash in your left hand with as little slack as possible. Slowly tighten your circle and lower your speed until the leash feels loose.
When your dog’s head is inside the HEEL zone, praise him with the phrase “good HEEL” to educate him that HEEL means to be in this posture.
Complete three to five rounds before stopping (this is known as a series) during the early stages of teaching HEEL. Seven times, repeat one sequence of three to five circles.
Your dog can prefer to walk in front of you or behind you.
When he returns to the correct zone, swiftly lead him back into it with the leash and praise him with “excellent HEEL.”
What method should you use to teach your dog to HEEL? Begin with a plain collar. Switch to a prong (or finger) collar, Halti, or Gentle Leader if the activity is tough because your dog is a strong puller. Keep in mind that the aim is to wean yourself off of physical control, thus any of these tactics will only be temporary.
Your dog should walk with his head held high during HEEL. While out on a stroll, most dogs like sniffing the ground. While this is normal, it is difficult for your dog to smell while also watching your movements.
Train your dog to maintain his head at least parallel to a line drawn from his tail to his shoulder blades.
How? Baiting with a food nugget is effective. Baiting with a beloved toy might be effective as well. Pat your side and use your voice to encourage your dog to keep an eye on you. Declare “good HEEL” after your dog’s head is up and looking.
You’ll need to teach the beginning and end of the HEEL command after you’ve taught your dog the middle.
Begin the HEEL command with your dog somewhere in your immediate vicinity. Give the HEEL command verbally and with a hand gesture. When you first start walking, your dog should walk to the left side of you, his head in the HEEL zone. Praise!
The HEEL hand signal is straightforward.
Begin by placing your left thumb on your left hip, palm facing backward (the back of your hand faces forward). Make a scooping “U” motion with your left hand, returning it to its left palm facing front.
All of this movement is taking place behind your hip.
The finish of the HEEL command will be introduced shortly. As you come to a halt, stretch across your body with your right hand and grab the leash at the buckle.
Shift your left hand to your dog’s behind and sit down on your left side. Do not use the SIT command at this time. Giving your dog too much responsibility for reinforcing the SIT command while he is still learning the HEEL command may distract him from learning his HEEL lessons.
Put everything together.
Give the order HEEL, then take four steps and instruct your dog to sit. “Good HEEL!” exclaims the praiser. Why are there four steps? Your dog must be able to connect the beginning, middle, and end of the game. Four stages will assist your dog understand that the verbal order HEEL is related to the action of HEELING and that when the motion stops, he should SIT.
Before you start moving, make sure you deliver the HEEL hand signal and vocal order. Otherwise, your dog will move as you shift your weight. Your dog should only move when properly alerted.
Start walking using the command HEEL (slow pace first).
Praise your dog with “good HEEL” as long as his head is in the HEEL zone. Give a brief corrective snap (toward the HEEL zone) with NO and re-command HEEL as your dog’s head reaches the zone’s outer border. Praise your dog when his head returns to the zone.
Use the leash to control your dog’s movement, not the other way around. Because you are physically dragging your dog around, this is called TOWING. It is unethical to tow your dog! Give a NO correction and re-command HEEL if he doesn’t keep the zone on his own. When he returns to the zone, compliment him.
If you allow your dog to go too far from the HEEL zone before correcting, you may wind yourself delivering many corrections rather than one well-timed correction.
Another trick is to remember that the HEEL zone does not extend in front of your left leg. Correct outward to your left and re-command if your dog starts to curl his head in front of your left leg.