Training Tidbit: To heel or not to heel?

You can try this at home!

lab puppy learning heel

To Heel or Not To Heel?

I’ve been asked many times, out for a walk with a client and their dog, whether their dog ought not to be out front.  The dog is usually ahead of us, sniffing things and generally enjoying his walk, and the client always sounds a little chagrined when they ask.  People seem to be concerned that if their dog doesn’t walk patiently by their side, that this is somehow a personality flaw in their dog or a flaw in their own handling and training of the dog.  They may also have been told at some point that if the dog “leads” the walk, then he is the one in charge.

Rest assured, none of these beliefs is true.  If you’re walking with a child, and the child is hopping around front of you, does that make the child in charge?  Does it meant that child has some sort of “disobedience” personality flaw? Of course not!

Dogs actually, in my experience, want to walk in front of you for several reasons: 1) You’re less likely to step on/trip over them (especially little dogs), 2) a medium to large dog’s natural stride is just inherently faster than a human’s 3) the farther ahead they are, the better able they are to access all the wonderful smells and see the wonderful sights!

So, my personal attitude for my own dog is, whose walk is this, anyway?  I’m certainly not parading around the block for my pleasure.  As long as he’s not pulling me, or tripping me, or otherwise acting unacceptably, I let my dog walk in front of me all the time.  I also (ready for it?) stop and allow him to sniff things!  No matter what conventions we humans put on them, dogs live in a different sensory world than we do, and in my opinion it’s only fair to allow them to use those senses.

Sometimes there are benefits to teaching your dog to walk next to you, however, so it is an important skill to teach.  And notice I said it must be taught –  this is not a natural behavior.  However, if you want to walk through a crowded city block, and get in and out of the vet’s office/pet store/training class without knocking anything over, you’ll need your dog close beside you.  Not every dog wants to say “hi” on the sidewalk, so it’s important that your dog be able to walk nicely beside you when asked.  A good “heel” is absolutely worth teaching, and also fun!

Want to teach your dog a lovely “heel,” like in the picture above?  Email me to see about a training class or private lessons.

And stay tuned next month for tips and tricks that will start you off on the right heel … er …foot!

Have an idea for a training Tidbit? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


  1. […] This article is a follow-up to last month’s Training Tidbit, To Heel or Not To Heel. […]

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