How to Train a Dog to Heel on the Trail

How to Train a Dog to Heal on the Trail
Training your dog to heel is not as difficult as you might think. If you have a dog that always seems to run away, never listens and is always jerking on the leash, a few simple steps can help. It's about positive reinforcement and communication. A dog that always runs away is too restricted, has never been allowed enough freedom to make a choice to be obedient and has typically had his behavior negatively reinforced when obeying. He has no incentive to obey--in fact, his incentive is the opposite, and he'll develop esteem issues.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

The leash

Things You’ll Need:
  • Leash
Step 1
Bring the leash. Dogs view the leash negatively. It is, after all, a restriction on their natural instinct to run around and sniff things. Therefore, use the leash as a punishment.
Step 2
Take your dog out, before hitting the trails, and walk him on the leash. Get to a safe, unpopulated area and make him sit. If he sits, detach the leash, but keep your hand on his collar. Remember to say "good boy" when he sits.
Step 3
Squat down to talk to the dog. Show him the leash. He will understand. Then, let him go. If he's young, he'll run away. Don't worry. Watch him carefully, but keep a disinterested attitude.
Step 4
Start walking away from him. Whistle. Whistling is a good way to communicate with a dog. In a short time, you will develop whistles that vary in pitch--a "come on boy" whistle, a "nope, don't do that whistle" and a "good boy whistle." Low repeated notes are good cautionary tones. High whistles are good "come here" tones.
Step 5
Watch as your dog maintains his distance but follows you or leads the way. If he starts leading the way, stop after a few minutes. Dogs like to be on point; it gives them purpose. Stop and wait. Call him back as you change direction. He'll understand and lead the way.
Step 6
Stop and call him to you. Let your dog get near you without grabbing him. Pat him, and say reassuring phrases. Talk to your dog without being embarrassed. The tones you'll adopt will be natural, and you'll be surprised how readily you can communicate with your pal. When he's near you, pat him, and then say, "Go on!" and gesture with your arm. He will run away happy.
Step 7
Repeat this. If you do this properly, within a day your dog will follow you by leading you wherever you go. When he disobeys, use the leash. But remember that if he comes to you when you call him, you don't want to put him on the leash right away. He'll remember and next time will almost come, but then change his mind. He'll then be disobedient and hard to catch. This can turn into a game, which gives him the attention he craves. It's important that you give him positive attention that leads to a constructive relationship.
Step 8
Give him freedom to explore the world, and he'll stop trying to escape. Communicate with him and he'll begin to understand. When you have him coming to you on command, you can begin the heel command.

Working on the Heel Command

Step 1
Take your dog out on the leash. Shorten the leash and hold him (not forcefully) near your right side. Say "heel" clearly and repeatedly. Walk with deliberate, slow steps while you repeat "heel." This will make him regulate his own speed.
Step 2
Stop after a few paces. Make him sit. Then, detach the leash, holding a firm grip on his collar. Walk without the leash, holding him by the collar. Keep saying "heel."
Step 3
Stop again and make him sit. Release him. If he gets up, grab him again and make him sit. A good dog should wait to stand until you take your first stride. Always affirm "good dog" when he sits, and show him what that means. Say "no," firmly but not violently, when he stands too early. He may look confused, but he'll get the idea.
Step 4
Release him and take a stride. He'll wag his tail and speed up. If you can grab him, pull him back and say, "No, heel." Repeat this statement several times. Say "no" in a long, deliberate way. Use a lower tone. Say "heel" in a positive way. As he heels, keep saying "good boy," and make sure he can see you watching him. Then act disinterested and keep walking. As he moves away, stop walking. Say "heel" and bring him back. He'll get the idea.
Step 5
Repeat these steps every time you take your dog out for a walk. Done correctly, you'll have an invisible leash and an obedient dog in no time. Don't forget to say "walk on" and let him range freely between heeling sessions. Otherwise, he won't understand the difference.
Step 6
Take your dog on a long hike. Make him heel when it's necessary, but let him explore as well. It's important that when there is adequate space and stuff to smell and run through, that you let him loose. If you don't, you're not letting your dog be a dog. And he'll resent you for it or develop antisocial, disobedient behavior. Worse, he'll develop weird complexes.

Tips & Warnings

You can always get your dog to come back by not chasing him. A game can develop where the dog likes to be just out of your grasp. Being disinterested and nonchalant stops this.
Walking in another direction should get him to follow you.
Always have a dog that will come before you start working on heeling.
Never punish you dog when he obeys you. Putting him on the leash is a punishment. If he comes, and you need to put him on the leash, don't forget to affirm "good boy" and pat him on the head as you put him on the leash. Cross the road, or walk to where you can take him off it again. Make him sit, and say "walk on" so he has his freedom again. This is important, because he'll understand that the leash is temporary. If he's smart, he may begin to understand when the leash is appropriate or necessary.
You don't need to spoil your dog and you don't need to beat him, either. You just need to communicate with him properly. A dog is aware. A dog is a mammal and can understand feelings. Holding an image in your mind of what you want the dog to do is surprisingly effective. Inform all your commands with a visual image in your mind's eye.
An animal must choose to stay with you -- it gives him purpose and defines his role in the "pack." He wants to be on guard, and to lead you around. You merely have to show him how to make this choice, and provide him the opportunity to do so.

Article Written By Benjamin Williams

Ben Williams is an award-winning reporter and freelance writer based out of Colorado. He has written for conglomerates of newspapers and magazines, supplying news, features, editorial and opinion. While running an Energy Services and Consulting firm, he now writes for multiple websites including the news site,

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