The “Heel” command is one of the most Important obedience commands that your dog should learn. It is of great value – to the practical stockman – to teach the dog to heel, that is, to follow behind the stockman. This contrasts with the obedience school method or the common UK method of heeling up alongside the handler.
Why “Heel” command Matters!
Positioning the dog behind you means it is less likely to creep in front of you, and it can be sent out to either side as required. Once you teach a dog to heel properly it will tend to fall into this place even though no command is given, instead of rushing about and having to be called back all the time.
And the same applies when you are tailing a weak mob along in the paddock or on the road with a pushy dog; otherwise you are continually calling ‘here’ to have the dog return to your side, before it is drawn back towards the stock. A few days of this can become very irritating and tiring. It is much better to have a good ‘heel’.
I like to have the pup going fairly well before teaching it to heel. This is because with the pup running around freely there are more opportunities for teaching ‘here’ than if it is tagging along behind all the time.
Heel tips: Teaching A Dog To Heel
The initial training of ‘heel’ is very simple. Put the pup on a lead and equip yourself with a leafy branch (your hat is also a good option because you always have it with you).
As you walk along, swing the branch or your hat like a pendulum from side to side to block the pup from passing you. It will quickly get the idea.
Each time it tries to get past and you block it, give the command ‘heel’. Don’t repeat ‘heel’ while it is following well, but only just before you make it go back to the desired position, because that is what you want ‘heel’ to mean.
Gradually get more exacting. Start walking in circles and figures of eight, in and out and around trees and the like, and finally turning on the spot. This last exercise of turning on the spot can also be done up against a fence to good effect.
Repetition is key
As in all training; a Repetition is a great tool. If out doing a day’s fencing it is a simple matter to attach a lead to the back of your belt for half-an-hour or so, and the pup begins to feel at home at your heels. You can do the same thing while taking the dogs for a walk, or while feeding the other dogs, and so on.
The pup has now learned to follow behind you. The next stage is gaining control, which can be more difficult in trying situations. A couple of principles discussed previously can be applied here:
- don’t anticipate disobedience, but only correct it, and
- at times allow the dog to think that it has got away with disobedience before correcting it. This will keep it guessing.
So, stop waving your hat to keep it behind; instead, wait until it gets in front of you and then use it. And then stop using a short lead – use a long lead so that you still have ultimate control, but don’t use it to keep the pup in the place.
This is how you graduate to offlead work – the long lead doesn’t prevent the pup from breaking ‘heel’, but it does allow you to correct it if it does, and to give it no option other than to return to your heels.
last but not least
You also need to teach the pup to heel behind the horse, which will only take a couple of lessons once the preliminary work is done.
If you have used your hat to block the pup, and if it fails to respond to ‘heel’ when you are on the horse, you can often just lift your hat off and the pup will come back to ‘heel’.
The final icing on the cake is to make sure that the dog will heel while you are working a second dog, but only dogs with good, calm temperaments will ever be much good at this.