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jack russell walking on lead beside owner

How to teach a dog to heel

Your dog-walks will be more pleasant if your dog stays by your side and doesn’t tug away while they’re on the lead.

Let’s take a look at how to teach a dog to heel.

You will need: 

Your dog’s lead, plus a collar and potentially a harness.

You’ll need as much space as possible for this command. Choose the biggest area in the house, somewhere free of distractions that your dog is familiar with. 

Aim to spend around 5 minutes per day training your dog, broken down into multiple sessions of 30-60 seconds – longer sessions may lead to boredom or frustration.

You’ll also need lots of treats. As you’ll be on the move a lot while teaching your dog to heel, you may want to get a bum bag to keep their treats in.

Note: Take note of how many treats you’re getting through and adjust your dog’s meals accordingly. This will prevent them from gaining weight.

black dog on lead

Teach your dog to heel, step by step

  1. In a quiet and distraction-free environment, attach your dog’s lead to their collar. 
  2. If your dog is by your right-hand side, hold the lead in your left hand (and vice versa). Keep some treats in your lead-holding hand too, and be ready to pass them over to your non-lead-holding hand, one by one, when rewarding your dog.
  3. Get your dog’s attention by sticking a treat under their nose and luring them to stand alongside you, facing the same way. Once they’re in position, reward them with the treat.
  4. When you’re ready, take 1-2 small steps forward, encouraging your dog to follow you. If they do, reward them with a treat.
  5. Continue the 1-2 steps, reward, 1-2 steps, reward pattern and if this goes well, increase the amount of steps you take before treating your dog. Remember to engage with your dog all the while. 
  6. If they pull or veer off somewhere, use the food to lure them back into position, walk a couple of steps, then reward. Try not to tug back on the lead - this may encourage your dog to fight against you.
  7. As your dog gets better, label their behaviour with a cue word like ‘Heel’ or ‘Side’. But remember, only do this when they’re in the right position and not pulling you.
  8. Over time, begin to practise in different places and increase the level of difficulty. Treat your dog more often as things get more challenging.
  9. Keep practising, little and often, and begin to lengthen the time in between treats. Eventually, your dog will be able to walk in the heel position with minimal treats required. 

And remember…

Stay positive: Some dogs find the ‘Heel’ command easier than others, and all will pick it up at their own pace. Remember to use reward-based training at all times and never to scold or shout at your dog if they’re struggling. 

Take care while walking: Keep things consistent. If you’re training your dog not to pull on the lead indoors, it’s important you don’t let them do it outdoors either. Continue training while you’re out walking as best you can. If you’re struggling, try using a harness while walking outside and a collar while you’re home. 

Need more info?

For more advice on how to teach your dog to heel, have a chat with your local vet – they’ll be able to recommend a qualified behaviourist if you need one.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.