Heel? Why does my puppy need to heel? Surely that’s just for working dogs or dancing dogs on the TV?

Well no actually, teaching your puppy to heel might not be something you’d  thought about doing, but it’s really quite important if you want a lifetime of lovely gentle walks without your arm being pulled from its socket. Surely you want your puppy to walk nicely on a loose lead next to you? Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Well, we’re here to tell you all about teaching your puppy to heel, so those lovely gentle walks are just around the corner. 

The phrases heel walking and walking to heel possibly came about when we worked dogs as hunting companions, and they literally ‘walked on our heels’. The majority of people are right-handed so would hold their gun in their right arm and have their dog on their left. Before guns we had swords, and our horse would go on our right and our dog and sword on our left.

These days, walking to heel and heelwork is more of what we see in competitive obedience with the dog walking next to us.  

Of course, we don’t really walk around with horses and guns these days but walking dogs on the left-hand side seems to have stuck as some kind of unspoken rule, that you just do! In reality, it doesn’t matter if you want to walk your dog on your right or your left, or even both. But it’s useful to teach your puppy to walk to heel so that they aren’t out in front and pulling ahead.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through, no pun intended..

  • Why it’s important to teach your puppy to heel
  • How to teach your puppy to walk to heel in 5 simple steps
  • All about our top tips for heel walking

We have a comprehensive lead walking programme as well as a team of puppy training coaches all waiting to help you all in the Zigzag puppy training app

Why is it important to teach your puppy to heel?

So why do you need to teach your puppy to heel? It’s important to teach your puppy to heel for a few reasons… 

  • Puppies that pull on the lead will cause physical problems, to you as well as to them – Owners end up with shoulder and back problems, puppies choke into collars or make themselves sore from pulling into a harness.
  • When a puppy walks ahead they can easily be distracted by things in the environment, walking next to you means you can get your puppy to focus better. 
  • If you teach your puppy to walk next to you, chances are they are more relaxed and it’s easier for you to get their attention. 
  • In the heel position, it’s easier to change direction, ask your puppy to ‘go behind’ or ‘middle’ than if they’re out in front. 
  • From a safety point of view, they also can’t trip you up if they’re walking beside you!

This all sounds great doesn’t it, so how do you get your puppy to Heel? 

puppy sitting for camera
Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

How to teach your puppy to heel?

To teach your puppy to heel, we’ll first be looking at reinforcement and positioning, suitable equipment, and then the method used to teach your puppy to heel. 

Rewards to use to teach puppy to heel

Different puppies like different kinds of rewards. For heel walking you will want to use a high-value reward, to a discerning poodle this might need to be liver cake or roast beef slices, to a non-fussy labrador some commercial dog treats will do just fine! 

Pick a side to walk puppy to heel

It doesn’t have to be the left side like the traditional obedience or gundog style of heel walking, and later on, you’ll want to teach your puppy to walk on both sides equally well, but in the initial stages, pick a side, any side and stick to that side for a little while. 

Get the right equipment for walking puppy to heel

We recommend a harness and 2m training lead. You can also use a regular collar as there is no way your puppy will be pulling. Check out our review here of our favourite puppy leads.

dog wearing collar sat on the beach
Photo by Ryan Walton on Unsplash

Begin training a puppy to walk to heel – start naked!

Never fear, we mean your puppy not you. Teaching a puppy to walk to heel is all about creating a reinforcement zone next to your heel and teaching your puppy ‘hang out here and good things will happen’. 

We’re going to start inside, just walking and feeding our puppy on that left or right side so we don’t need their lead on yet.

Always feed your puppy in that little zone next to your heel, be it left or right and they will soon learn that that’s where the magic happens. 

Teach puppy to walk to heel in different environments

Start off easy and teach your puppy to walk to heel indoors, then take it out into the garden. Once you’ve mastered it in the house and garden, try doing it with the lead on so you have time to practice before going out in the big wide world. 

Useful extra tips for teaching your puppy to heel successfully

Don’t rush the process when teaching your puppy to walk to heel

Walking to heel takes time to perfect, you’ll need to practice a lot, and be patient with your puppy! Each new day and training session will bring about its challenges, lead and heel training is seldom a linear progression and you WILL find many Zigzags along the way! (Pun intended!)

Don’t be stingy with rewards when teaching heel walking

Too often we withdraw reinforcement too soon, or we make our puppies walk to heel for too many steps before rewarding and they get bored or confused. Make sure you’re using a treat your puppy really likes and they haven’t had for the past few weeks, puppies love novelty when it comes to food rewards!

When you go to a new location – reward sooner and more frequently

New places are very interesting and your puppy will want to sniff. To make sure your heel walking training goes well, reinforce and reward your puppy sooner than you would in a known location, it keeps them interested.

dog giving puppy eyes to the camera
Photo by Bharathi Kannan on Unsplash

Throw in some shadow skills to teach your puppy to heel – it will keep them interested!

This can include teaching your puppy to sit at the side of you, teaching your puppy to spin, or teaching your puppy to ‘middle’ – sit in-between your legs in the middle of you. You’ll find these exercises in the Zigzag puppy training app and they’re so useful for teaching your puppy that fun things happen around your heel position! 

So there you have it, our guide to teaching your puppy to heel, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Why not learn a little about Puppy Recall Training while you’re here or find out how the Zigzag puppy training app can help you further with your puppy heelwork training?