2. Walk Nicely On A Lead Continued...

Exercise 2.5 - Adding the verbal cue 'Heel'

Walking to heel is a difficult behaviour for puppies to learn and that's why we've been teaching it so progressively.


As it is so complex for the dog to learn it's also a behaviour where the dog needs a certain level of prior training and maturity to be successful.  A degree of impulse control in particular is needed (Sit-stay training Exercise 5.3 develops this) and also understanding that the behaviour should be continued until the release cue is given (introduced in Exercise 6.1).  I hope you’re starting to get a feel for how all the exercises feed into one another by now!


When folks enrol for a puppy course the first thing I do is send them some general instructions for helping their dog not to pull on the lead and with a very young puppy up until they're about five months old all you can really hope for is that they learn that they can’t go forward when the lead is tight.  If you stick to this simple rule you won’t go far wrong.


Now we have some training under our belt though we can start to up the challenge a little with our walking to heel behaviour and this week we’re going to add the verbal ‘Heel’ cue.  It’s important that when we do this we set the dog up to succeed and help the dog understand that the walk nicely behaviour has a beginning and an end and we need to be consistent with this to get the results we want.


To attempt this exercise you should have already worked through the other Exercises in Section 2.


Our sequence of behaviour for this exercise is:

  1. Always start from a sit in heel and pay attention
  2. Then say the cue ‘Heel’ and move the treat directly onto the dog’s nose and take a few steps forward
  3. Let the dog eat the treat when you stop and ask for a sit in heel again, mark & reward.
  4. Only then release the dog from position with your release cue, I like to reward the release from behind with the other hand.

It’s also important to realise that how you hold the lead does make a big difference.  If you remember back to Exercise 2.1 we used the term ‘the broken arm method’ so called because we only hold the lead in the hand furthest away from the dog and we imagine that we couldn’t bear to have any pressure on that arm at all so we maintain a loose lead at all times.  If you get into the bad habit of having the hand nearest the dog trying to keep the dog in position by applying tension on the lead you will easily create a pulling dog unfortunately.


So, keep it simple – if your dog is on your left, hold the lead in your right hand - arm bent at the elbow and vice versa if the dog is on your right – the short video below shows this way of setting up and the exercise itself of adding the cue word ‘Heel’.


Practice with food on the nose for a week before gradually going for more steps and reducing the amount of food used.  Teaching this carefully and properly is the key to success!