Once sit, down, and stand are well established with hand signals, it’s time to move on to heeling — a very difficult exercise to do well. What’s its purpose? The most obvious is to teach your dog to walk alongside you nicely without pulling on the leash regardless of surrounding distractions. But there’s a deeper dimension. When done well and no longer dependent on treats, heeling is a profound expression of teamwork and partnership. After all, it’s a lot to ask a dog to slow their natural pace to match yours and to perfectly ignore all the things she finds compelling in order to give the bulk of her attention to you.
That’s why solid heeling, more than just being a well-mastered technical skill, is in great measure an expression of connection between you and your dog.
Heeling is conventionally done on your left side. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t heel on your right. I
just recommend that you pick a side and stick to it. Such regularity always makes everything more intelligible
to your dog. In this book, heeling is always on the left.
In addition, introducing heeling in a controlled environment with no distractions and using
high-value treats (like string cheese). This way you don’t need to use a leash, and that’s what most of the
photos in these exercises show: how to teach heeling without a leash. That said, you can use a leash with all
these techniques if you want, and if you do, eliminate the leash once your dog has learned to heel reliably.
A New Treat: String Cheese
String cheese makes an excellent treat for helping with heeling. First of all, most dogs love it. Second, when
you hold a piece of string cheese between thumb and forefinger and then in front of your dog, she can simply
nibble little pieces off the end. Since those pieces more or less melt in her mouth, she doesn’t really have to
chew them, and crumbs are unlikely to fall on the ground to distract her from heeling. All of which makes
for more focused attention and tighter heeling.
Heeling is neither a stationary nor a moving command. It’s a position relative to your body. And that position
is in an imaginary box tightly against your left (or right) side. So if your dog is sitting nicely next to you as
in the first image below, she’s heeling. The trick is to keep her that tightly aligned through all manner of
motion. And that’s no easy feat.