Dog Training: How to Teach Your Dog to Heel & Stop Pulling on Leash

Updated: 3/15/20242-4 minutes

Heel training is fundamental for the safety of both you and your dog. It’s one of the basic commands for dogs to learn. Though you don’t need your dog to be on heel during your entire walk, having a full heel is nice when you really need your dog right by your side and away from distractions like other dogs, safety hazards, or crowded areas. In this article, we offer some tips for training your dog to heel whether he is on- or off-leash.

Why is Your Dog Pulling on His Leash?

If your dog is pulling on his leash, it’s probably because he’s energized about being outside and is trying to lead you where he wants to go. He wants to explore and hasn’t learned how to walk casually on a loose leash without pulling. While letting your dog sniff and pee as he desires on a casual walk is enjoyable for both of you, there will be times when your dog needs to stand by your side and pay attention to your commands.

Walking with your dog at heel is crucial for when you’re walking through a crowded sidewalk, on a narrow walkway, or next to traffic. Once your dog stops pulling, you’ll be able to enjoy more relaxed walks together with a loose leash.

For tips on how to stop a dog from pulling on a leash, check out this article about leash training.

What is the Heel Dog Command?

What does “Heel” mean in dog training? The heel command teaches your dog to stand, stay, and then walk on your left side, right by your hip.

You can start heel training with or without a leash—just be sure to have your dog on leash when you’re practicing outside.

Below you’ll find six steps from the pros at Purina for the best way to teach your dog to heel. You can view the tips in action with this handy video.

How to Teach a Dog to Heel

To prepare, get lots of your dog’s favorite treats, a loose-fitting collar, and a clicker. Clickers are used to mark when your dog has successfully completed the desired behavior. If you don’t want to use a clicker for heel training, or don’t have one, you can use a vocal mark like “Yes” or “Good dog” instead of the clicker. Just make sure you use your voice marks consistently.

Step 1: Getting your dog’s attention with the sit and stay command

  • Call your dog
  • Give him the sit command so he sits on your left side
  • Put your hand in the stay command position, palm out, as shown in the video
  • Reward him when he obeys
  • Pro tips:
    • Start inside the house where there are fewer distractions
    • Use a spacious room or go up and down a hallway

Step 2: Give the heel command

  • When your dog is in a calm sit-stay position, give the heel command with your voice
  • Put the treat in your left hand and hold your hand near your left hip
  • Pro tip:
    • Left is the traditional heel side used for obedience and rally competitions

Step 3: Let your dog follow the treat in your hand

  • Your dog will follow the treat to your left hip
  • Start walking, leading your dog with treats in your left hand
  • Pro tips:
    • When he’s on your left side, click or say “Yes”
    • Reward your dog with a treat when he obeys

Step 4: Praise your dog when he walks alongside you

  • Let your dog follow the treat in your hand on your left side
  • Praise him for following along
  • Pro tips:
    • Keep practicing inside
    • When he’s ready, practice outside on a leash
    • Vary the direction you walk with him
    • Give lots of praise when he stays at heel as you change direction

Step 5: Repeat the heel command to reinforce the good behavior

  • If your dog falls behind or pulls ahead, repeat the heel command
  • Lead him closer with the treats in your left hand
  • Reward him when he obeys
  • Pro tips:
    • Keep your hand with the treats in front of your dog, so he must move forward a bit to touch or boop your hand
    • When he touches your hand, click or say “Yes” and give him a reward

Step 6: Praise your dog

  • Give him lots of praise as he learns your heel command and your hand gestures
  • Keep reinforcing positive behavior
  • Teach him an off command by saying, “Off” or “Okay,” so he learns when he’s finished holding the command
  • Pro tips:

Eventually, your dog will heel and follow you by your hand gestures alone without the need for treats. Once you no longer need to lure your dog with treats, you’ll still want to reinforce his good heeling behavior from time to time with praise or treats.

Keep in mind, it takes patience and commitment to teach new commands. But once you’ve trained your dog to heel, you’ll both safer and have more fun together.

For more expert tips on training your dog, explore our dog training page 

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