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What Does "Heel" Mean?

I didn't exactly dive headfirst into the professional world of dog training, but more like a frog in water that gradually got hotter until it was boiling, I slowly transitioned from being a dog training/dog sports hobbyist to a professional dog trainer. So, along the way I learned so much about different types of training, and types of obedience commands that I forget that many people and clients I work with are fairly unfamiliar with some of the terms. And I didn't realize there is actually some confusion about what "Heel" actually means, so I thought I would take a minute to briefly elaborate on the matter.

The "Heel" command simple means that I want my dog to be in the heel position on my left side. Now, its a matter of preference if you want your dog to walk with you on your left side or your right side, but I have chosen the left side. If you get a chance to see some of our training videos on Facebook, you may hear us say the word "Heel" multiple times throughout different exercises. Most commonly, I use the "Heel" command to let my dog know that I am about to start walking and I want her to walk with me. I may also use heel to let my dog know that I am about to do something, like change directions, or turn around, and I want her to remain on my left side while I make these changes.

Lately, I've been working on a specific exercise where I make a sudden "about-turn", where I completely turn 180 degrees and walk in the opposite direction. Now if you do this and make the turn away from your dog (if you turn to your right while your dog is on your left) it is fairly simple to the dog to walk with you. What we have been working on is where I, as the handler, make the about-turn towards my dog. This is much more difficult because I generally walk in line with my left leg, and when you do an about-turn to the left, the left leg actually steps back behind the right leg, and my dog has to shimmy somewhat backwards to maintain the correct position on my left as I turn.

Regardless if you are turning, stopping, or moving, "Heel" simply means I want you by my side. If I am walking forward, I want you to walk forward next to me. If I am turning, I want you to turn with me, and if I stop, I want you to stop also. For an added bonus we like to teach our dogs to sit when we come to a halt to give them a job to do and prevent them from getting distracted.

There is also what is called an "Attention Heel" which is the same thing, but the dog looks at you the entire time and the goal is for the dog not to break eye contact while walking with you. This is a fun exercise to teach and can be very tiring for the dog so you should always start with short sessions. Even if you're only getting more eye contact than previously during your walks, that's still great! And remember, any dog can learn to heel!

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