Heel position. It’s one of the first things I teach my puppy.
Being in heel position, for my puppy – or dog, means to be next to me on my left side with her neck/shoulder area in line with the seam of my pants. If I’m standing still, my dog will sit calmly to me, unless or until I tell her to lie down or stand; if I’m moving, she will move along with me, at my pace. The command “heel” does not mean just to walk; it means maintaining a position on my left side, and default to a sit if I’m not moving. For my dogs, heel position is on my left side; for some people, it’s having the dog on their right side. Either is fine.
Teaching my dogs to sit, lie down or stand in heel position is one of THE most important aspects of her foundation training.
So why is heel position such a big deal?
Having raised, lived with and trained many dogs for many years, I’ve learned how much they are creatures of habit. Dogs like schedules; they like things to be predictable; they like things to be as expected based on routine and history. Heel position gives my dog that structure and predictability, and it takes a lot of the guess work out of what she should do – or not do – when we are out and about.
Here’s what I have concluded about this must-know, good-manners, foundation behavior:
1) Heel position gives my dog a defined, rehearsed, predictable, understood place to be. When I’m out and about, when I’m standing still and talking to a friend or a student, when I’m crossing a street, when I’m making my way through a crowd, or passing another person (with or without a dog), I know where my dog is and she knows where she is supposed to be: next to me – not in front of me, not behind me, not off to the side of me, but next to me.
2) When you know what you should do, it’s easier to know what you should not do. It’s the same with dogs. When I teach my dog where she should be and what she should do, I don’t have to spend so much time and energy nagging her not to do other things like bother people or visit dogs without permission or go sniffing off where she could get into trouble or make a mess.
3) Heel position is my dog’s home base, and the familiarity of it can bring her comfort in stressful or hectic situations.
4) Heel position keeps my dog in close proximity to me, which makes it easier for her to pay better attention to me.
5) Heel position helps my dog develop and practice both patience and impulse control. When her habit becomes to sit or lie down next to me and relax until she’s given permission to do something else, she learns not to act on or react to things in her environment that could lead to problem behaviors.
Would you like your dog to learn and understand a calm, well-learned, default behavior so that she will be able to demonstrate patience and good manners in most every situation or place that you take her? Then spend a few minutes a couple times each day to work on heel position with your dog (an exercise we introduce in our Obedience Level 1 class at Cloud Nine), and you will be surprised at how much more pleasant and well behaved she will be as a result.