As with any training, give yourself time and practice patience. Go at your project just like you would go at building a house: methodical, with patience, perseverance and a plan. You are, after all, building a better citizen in your pooch. If you find yourself becoming upset, quit. Itís true what every trainer will tell you: quit the exercise if you are angry. It takes a knack to teach, correct or discipline your dog, without becoming upset. You will need to convince your dog that you donít like his behavior and then immediately forgive him when he "tries". Heeling your dog is just one more tool that you can use to allow your canine companion to become a good citizen.
Teaching the "heel" command is a fairly simple process - but the candidate that you are working with may not think the same.
Develop a Plan
A. Time Application -- Allow 10-15 minutes maximum for your lessons. No training lesson should go much longer than this amount of time during the initial phase. Donít be over zealous. More IS NOT better. Also, keep it very clear in your mind that if, at any time, you become frustrated or upset, quit the exercise immediately and try again another day. Practicing this training session two or three times a week for 10-15 minutes each time is plenty. Your frustration level will be reduced, and the pups attention span will also be maximized.You donít want to bore your dog or yourself with over instruction. At the end of four weeks, if youíve been persistent, you should see marked improvement. You will soon be ready for more advanced work.
B. Tools Available -- Be aware of the tools available: flat collars, pinch collars, pager collars and six foot leather leads. Make a choice of what you will use for the instruction. Some trainers prefer to use a choke collar, a pinch collar or an electronic collar with a pager. All are acceptable if you know how to use them properly. A flat collar can work just fine, especially if this is your first attempt at teaching your dog to heel.
C. Introduction Process -- Introduce your pup to a flat collar and a six foot leash. Allow him to drag the leash while under supervision. Your work can be done indoors or outdoors, so no excuses for weather conditions to keep you from working with your dog
D. Application of Pressure -- Have it firm in your mind that you must remain calm at all times and that your application of pressure while under collar and leash must be firm, not mean. MEANINGFUL. Not mean.
E. Reinforcement -- Understand when reinforcement measures must be used. Be aware that training is an ongoing process and reminders will be necessary very often. Be consistent in your voice commands, reinforcement, reminders and pressure.
When to Begin
In teaching your dog to heel, it will be important that your pup has been introduced to a collar and a leash. This can be done at a young age - say, around twelve weeks of age. Be sure to supervise your pup when he is wearing a collar and that the collar fits properly. Once he is comfortable with the collar, attach a leash and even allow him to drag is during a supervised session. The object here is to get the pup used to something around his neck and something pulling on his neck. I would exercise this process a few times a week for a week or two. Your pup will "tell" you when he is ready to advance by his behavior.
There is no ideal age to teaching your dog commands... some pups will learn as early at twelve weeks. But you must always remember that they are pups, after all, and their learning curve and attention span will be challenged. Generally, from 16 - 24 weeks of age is a good time to begin the training process.
Where to Begin
No heeling can be taught until the pup is comfortable wearing a collar and is understanding that a leash is attached. Now that pup is comfortable, teach him to sit while on lead. You may use any type leash, but it must be one that you can control, doesnít tangle, and that you can gather up quickly. A six foot leather is recommended. As you begin your instruction, you will need to give corrections quickly and timely. A longer lead will not allow you to give a timely correction.
Have the dog by your side then gently pull up on the lead and push his butt down saying "sit". At this point, donít worry if he is animated, wiggly, doesnít sit straight or doesnít sit for very long. Be sure to praise him immediately even as you push his butt down. Again, even five minutes of instruction on this lesson, a couple of times a week, will get you results. Once he has a good basic understanding of "sit" while on lead, you can now begin the heeling exercise. Donít expect a perfect "sit" just yet.
Place the collar and lead on your dog. Begin by walking and commanding "heel". Dog may lurch, lunge or hang back, but regardless - keep walking. If dog hangs back, encourage him with short quick tugs. Do not drag him, but take a step and tug with a quick release. Take another step and a tug and so on until he actually is coming with you. You can minimize the length of your stride to accommodate his. He may still hang back... but if he is at least moving forward, that is progress.
"Have it firm in your mind that you must remain calm at all times and that your application of pressure while under collar and leash must be firm, not mean."
And, donít forget to encourage him with your voice.
As you move and he moves with you, on occasion, change your direction. This may perk his interest and remind him to pay attention to what is happening. Once your dog learns to walk along with you, changing direction is a great technique to use when dog is not paying attention to you, or is distracted. Take a quick about face, or right turn with the snap of your leash to get his attention. If your dog lunges ahead of you, make an about face with a snap of the lead - again getting his attention and reminding him to pay attention to you.
Your first few lessons will be exercises in making him understand that he needs to move when you move. The "sit" command is also very important in this process and is actually part of the heeling exercise. When you begin, place your dog in a sitting position and command "sit". As you take a step forward, command "heel". When you need to stop and take a breather, again command "sit" and put your dog in a sitting position. As your progress develops, you will not have to push him into a sit. Just lifting the lead will be his reminder. Use these two steps over and over again and soon you will not have to place your dog in a sitting position... he will automatically sit when you stop.
Donít forget praise. You donít need to go overboard, but when you command "sit", and place him down, immediately tell him "good boy". Same with heeling. Command "heel" then if and when he comes along be sure to say "good boy" using a soft tone.
It may be frustrating the first time you try these exercises. Remember that you didnít learn to walk in one day and your dog will probably not learn to sit and heel in one day, either. Give him time. Keep a notebook of how the exercise played out. At the end of four weeks read back and see how far youíve come. You will be surprised. The dog that once didnít understand "sit" or "heel" will now be walking with you and sitting when asked. He will, at the very least, have an understanding. Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Now that the hardest part is over, you may want to advance your skills and test your dog. Take him for a walk outside of his own yard. Take him down the street, thru a mall parking lot or a park. Keep in mind that you are still training and you will need to remind him of his manners using the same techniques you used at home. As you give him reminders, remind yourself that he is still in the learning stage. Good luck. Now go practice!
Questions or comments? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
has loved springers since she was nine years old when she convinced a neighbor to give her a pup. Since then, Nancy has hunted over springers and become involved with showing, breeding, training and field trialing the breed. Nancy has handled English springer spaniels to their titles - both in the ring and in the field. She serves as a judge for field trials and
hunt tests. Nancy is a founding member and secretary of the Great Lakes English Springer Spaniel Field Training Association
She and husband, Hal, own the Justamuc GunDog Training Center at Three Rivers, Michigan.