Written by Robert Self
When heeling properly, the dog is initially taught to walk with its shoulder opposite the trainer’s left leg. Later the dog will be trained to sit when the trainer halts, but for now it is only learning the heel position.
When teaching the dog to walk with the handler it is very critical that the dog starts on the trainer’s initial motion. The dog must be taught to do this or it will be behind the trainer’s leg on the very first step! Furthermore it will throw all subsequent motions out of position. To teach the initial movement the trainer (1) places their left hand at the proper leash position, (2) commands “Heel,” and (3) starts the motion of the left leg with (4) the left hand shooting straight forward so there is an automatic leash correction. With an energetic voice the handler immediately praises “ Atta Dog", "That’s it!” Repeated presentations of the above teaches the dog to move forward instantly on the command, and to key on the motion of the trainer’s leg.
Remember from previous discussions that to be effective, only small errors can be corrected. Therefore the trainer must pay close attention to the dog and make leash corrections as quickly as a mistake is observed. The hand holding the lead should move only 6-8 inches in the direction of the correction. This is the largest correction that really should be attempted. Keep in mind that the average human reaction time is about three quarters of a second. No one can make a correction instantly so trainers should learn to anticipate errors. One way to prepare yourself to anticipate mistakes is by knowing that dogs who make mistakes in training will almost certainly repeat the mistakes when the same opportunity presents itself again. Therefore by creating similar training situations a trainer can be prepared for the dog's error.
Often times when training a handler will miss the opportunity to make an appropriate leash correction. Experienced trainers know it's better to accept the missed opportunity but novice handlers will often try to "catch up" by making a bigger correction. This is ineffective training which could possibly cause an injury to the dog. If the dog gets a foot or more out of position, you're no longer making heeling corrections but controlled walking corrections. You shouldn't be moving the dog's weight by trying to jerk it into position. You should be making controlled tweaks of the leash that the dog feels but doesn't fear. The leash corrections allow the dog to learn where it should be walking in relation to its handler.
The dog has learned to pay attention on the sit and accept praise and the sit stay exercises. It is now important that the dog learn to pay attention while heeling, for an inattentive dog cannot heel well.
One of the best ways to teach attention while heeling is to do right turns every time the dog demonstrates an inattentive behavior. While heeling the trainer closely observes the dog, and when the dog looks away he immediately does a right turn, gives a quick leash correction, and praises lavishly. The trainer should be making the right turn an enjoyable game rather than a brusque correction.
Should the dog lag slightly behind the handler’s leg, a forward correction is applied, which causes the dog to move forward. Often times it is very helpful for the trainer to briefly accelerate their forward speed simultaneously at the time of the correction. This stimulates the dog to speed up into position and reduces any harsh corrections that need to be made. Again... Remember... You cannot effectively correct a large mistake! If the dog has fallen into a lag that is a foot or more behind the trainer, it would be considered a controlled walking error and corrected accordingly by turning round, walking backward, and popping on the leash until the dog is in the controlled walking position.
In teaching dogs to heel it is common for some dogs to go wide, increasing the space between dog and trainer. This is corrected by a leash correction toward the trainer as they simultaneously step directly away from the dog. NEVER MOVE TOWARD an error as this compensates for the dog’s mistake. Instead move opposite of the mistake so the error is intensified to the extent that the dog discovers it has occurred. This improves the dog's learning and helps it to avoid repetition of the same mistake.
As some dogs show a tendency to heel wide others will lean against the trainer's leg when walking. In this situation no corrections are applied at this stage of training. It is a good fault because the dog is learning it should be walking at the trainer’s left leg. When crowding occurs the trainer should merely lift his left leg a little higher than normal while walking. This will cause a noticeable interference between handler and dog, causing the dog eventually to move over, allowing freedom of motion between the team.