Friday, 23 January 2009

Why do dogs have to heel?

Pam Haynes ( and I had an interesting discussion yesterday, about why so many of our clients expect their dogs to heel when out on a walk. What is that all about? It is like asking a bloke to sit with a straight back and only sip tea when he's the pub...
(I know, a bit of a weird allegory...)

The whole point of taking your dog for a walk is surely to allow him to do doggie things, such as sniffing the ground, marking up the area, meeting doggie friends, etc. Your dog can't do these things on a tight lead, walking right by your side and why should he?

Is it another remnant of all the dominance training on TV? Dogs should never walk in front of you, a la Ceasar Milan? Or is it something else?

The way I see it, your dog should be able to walk next to you in a controlled maner (work on a focus exercise!) if you are going through town, in a crowded space, etc, but when you are out on a walk with them they should be allowed to sniff on a nice long lead (go to and get yourself a canal lead - they are the best!) or they should be off lead.

Consider this, why do you take your dog for a walk? Is it for your benefit or for your dogs? I sincerely hope the answer comes back 'it's for my dog'...

In class we train walking on a slack lead, but we don't really train heel. Heel is something you do in competetive obedience. It looks great, but it is very hard for the dog to sustain for a longer period of time, which is why you see so many of the highest ranking competetive obedience dogs dragging their owners around when they are out of the show ring. Teaching your dog to heel in a very specific environment (the show ring) is VERY different to teaching him to heel in an every day situation.

What do you think? Do you expect your dog to heel? If so, when do you expect your dog to heel?


Anonymous said...

Hi interesting to think about this issue in more indepth then i have before. For me i like "close" rather then heel as i am a bit of a jay walker. My older border collie knows both words but neither mean hug my thigh with uplooking eyes adoringly stuck on my face.

With my youngest i want focus rather then tight on my side as he gets easily distracted and pulls like mad. With a back problem and knee problem the constant pulling can agrivate health issues but there are times when onlead is the only option so yes close loose lead walking has it's place too. Also as a potential flyball dog having a close command means better control within the ring. In safe area's offlead is fine if recall is adhered too. lol

Anonymous said...

I think that teaching a dog to walk on lead without pulling is essential. This is especially true if children or older people are ever going to walk the dog.

I understand that this is not easy especially if your dog is easily distracted or ready to run and chase everything as mine is. We are still working on it though. I am less bothered about the dog walking perfectly to heal and more interested in walking with my dog without being pulled off my feet!

I am reminded of a comment that a toddler in my family once said on seeing a man being pulled along the road by his dog. "Man pushing it" is what she said!! This is what we need to avoid! Blog said...

So nice to have a few comments on this post. Just what I was hoping for!

I agree, I too prefer to use 'close' as a cue for the close walking on lead and I don't expect them to walk right next to me with an adoring glaze (although that is a nice surprise every once in a while!).

I also agree with anonymous writer no.2 about the essenstial need for walking on lead without pulling. That is what we are aiming for in our training. But as you said, it is very hard work, especially if you have a dog that is full of energy and focused on his/her surroundings, rather than you.

Sometimes it is beneficial to work the dog to walk properly on lead when they are desperate to get somewhere, but sometimes it is better to let them have a good run, to get the worst energy out of their system, before you start working on the lead work. It is a judgement call...

When I get really fed up with a pulling dog, I tend to put them behind me instead. Slack lead, held behind me, but with my hands and legs I stop the dog from moving past me. If you are looking for a arobics exercise, whilst walking your dog, this is it! However, as exhausting as it is for us, it is very tiring for the dog too and they usually give in after a couple of minutes and stop trying to go past you. You have to praise them as soon as they walk behind you, so they know what you are expecting them to do. Once they stay behind you for a few steps, you can start introducing a 'behind' cue. Works a treat for walking along small narrow paths as well.

Anonymous said...

I think it is simply what was expected of dogs 50 years ago and things haven't moved on for some people. I have always simply asked my dogs not to pull, but I have a friend who took my dog for a walk and when she got back she said "Hasn't your dog learned to walk to heel?" My response was that I didn't necessarily want her to walk to heel, but to exercise her mind and body, and my friend simply couldn't understand, things had always been done differently when she had a dog.

I like the idea of making them stay right behind though, and then teaching the "behind" command. The dog in my story was not a puller, but for a puller that is a good solution.

Anonymous said...

I like the comments and yes behind might work. At the moment if i take the youngster out alone it's mostly outside the house on street walk and me turning the oppisite way with a this way command. As soon as bayz walks in front i about turn again with command this way. He does this as long as nothing else interests him. My partner took him out today while i was at flyball with the other two and on returning the report of the walk was very disappointing as he pulled terribly even after a long run chasing another dog. Ah for training to start. Opps that's in less then 12 hours.

Still, some things just have to be worked on. Hm behind still sounds good but exhausting. Well i could do with losing a pound or two :)

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see what everyone has to say - I too would love my beagle Snoopy to walk close and not pull, but alas it is not too be! However I have the opposite problem most of the time - I am trying to get him to keep up with me instead sniffing every single bin, lamp post, drain and piece of gutter that we pass and turning his lead into a bungee rope for me! :)