Training your Labrador Retriever to obey the “Heel” command can make outdoor activities a much more pleasant experience for both you and your dog. This is an important command, as it will encourage discipline while walking your dog on a leash. It will also help you control your dog, while outdoors.
The first step in teaching your dog the “Heel” command is to first teach your dog the “Sit”, “Stay” and/or “Come” commands. Teaching your dog the basic commands first will greatly increase the chances of successfully being able to teach your dog to Heel. The basic commands are easily taught through positive reinforcement, and should not take more than a few days for your dog to learn.
It can also be very beneficial to begin socializing your dog before taking them out to teach them the “Heel” command. This will help your dog to be less distracted during training, and will also help your dog to be able to give you their full attention. A socialized dog will not constantly trying to chase squirrels, or tugging at the leash eagerly to go interact with other dogs.
When your dog is ready, begin by choosing which side of you that you wish your dog to “Heel” to. For most people, it is preferred to keep their dog on the right, but it really is a matter of preference. Begin walking, with your dog on the side that you have chosen. A good tactic is to give your dog a treat reward right before the walk, and another treat several minutes later. This will also help you to command your dog’s attention, and help them to be more attentive to your commands.
If your dog begins pulling on the leash, do not jerk back! This is a very common problem with many dog owners, as this is not an effective training method. Your dog will not understand the reason for the pain, and may associate that pain with daily walks. Instead, maintain the tension on the leash, and stop walking. Your dog will continue to pull on the leash for several minutes, before finally turning back to see why you are no longer moving. IMPORTANT: This is when it is best to say the “Heel” command!
As soon as they cease tugging on the leash, give them a treat, as well as a lot of praise. This tactic is best used when your Labrador Retriever is still fairly young, and does not weigh enough so that you are unable to stop when they are pulling on the leash. The most effective age to train your dog to obey the “Heel” command is between 4 and 12 months of age.
Your dog may not understand the reason for you to stop moving at first, so don’t be afraid to repeat this procedure several times. Be sure that you have an adequate supply of treats, to provide a sufficient amount of positive reinforcement for you dog’s good behavior. This is the essential key to keeping your dog’s attention, and providing a concrete reward for obeying your commands.
If your dog does not understand the “Heel” command at first, be patient. It may take them awhile to associate this command with the need to stay close by your side. Try to repeat the command when your dog is walking close to you, and subsequently give them a reward. After a few treats, your dog will begin to understand the connection between the verbal command, the behavior, and the reward. This may take some time, but will create a lasting coherency for your dog to understand future repetitions of the “Heel” command.
In addition to using the “Heel” command when your dog is walking close to you, you can combine this with the “Sit” command. It is important to subsequently reward each separate command, so that your dog is able to understand that they are associated, but not the same command. When your dog sits in response to the “Sit” command, be sure to give them a lot of praise. After several seconds, begin walking, and repeat the “Heel” command, rewarding your dog if they are walking close by your side.