Let me preface this how-to article with a little bit of relevant information to all of you dog owners. I think it is important to understand a bit more about my sweet fur baby so that you will better understand just how difficult it was to teach her how to heal. My dog is an adorable Morkie named J-Lo. She is about 8 pounds of pure joy and love. She is also an undeniable ball of energy that can destroy anything in her path.
Jlo will run at lightening speed all around the house, chasing balls, rolling them under the couch, chasing bugs and just staying constantly busy. So, you may be able to imagine what our first experience putting her on a leash and taking a walk looked like.
As soon as we stepped out the door together, Jlo shot off! If I didn’t have a super tight grip on the handle of the leash, she would have been half way to Brooklyn! Also, Jlo started choking herself against her collar because she was trying to move so fast. It was a horrible sound and I couldn’t seem to calm her down or stop her from doing that to herself.
It became immediately clear to me that after walking her around the block once(or was she actually walking me), I was completely exhausted and determined to never take her out again! She was the one in control, not me. However, I knew that she needed exercise. I also knew that I didn’t think it was healthy for either of us to try that again without some help.
So, I started my research. What does it take to help a spaz like my fur baby to go for a walk, handle herself well and not try to choke herself against her leash? There was one key command that would help me accomplish our goal for both of us. She needed to learn to heel. But, was she capable? Was I competent enough as a trainer to make it happen and solve both of our problems? Only time would tell (spoiler: yes, and so can you!)
In my readings, I discovered that the heel command required four things to be successful.
First, I had to hold the leash properly. The dog should always be to your left with a little slack in the leash so as to help the dog know they have some freedom and to be relaxed when they (and you) are doing things the right way. The dog should always be positioned to the left, according to what I learned.
Next, the heel command has to be short and succinct. “Heel!” That’s it. Not “Stop” or anything else that could be longer. It needs to be simple, concise and easy for her to hear and understand. Use a stern, curt, deep voice so they understand the alpha leader doesn’t approve of their behavior.
Third, when you say heel, and only if the dog is running ahead, not at your heel, give a little tug on the leash. This must be simultaneous to the command. They will then learn to associate the word with the action. My owner needs me to stay closer. Follow the Alpha leader.
Fourth, give lots and lots and lots of praise when they are at your heel. You can’t offer enough “good girl, heel” Praise them in a higher, sweet voice. Let them know you approve and are pleased with their behaviors. They want to know they are pleasing the pack leader.
For me, after only a few hundred yard, Jlo began to get it! She started looking up at me and watching where my feet were. I soon began to speed up to a slow run and then slow down my pace intermittently. And she stayed right there with me! With a little time and patience, you and your dog will get there, as well. Follow those simple steps and you will be able to accomplish a fun, relaxing walk in no time!