The idea of heel is to keep your dog immediately to your left (or right) side when you walk, and more importantly, to keep your dog's attention on you. I used to think that this was too restrictive - that a dog's walk shouldn't be so strict. But having tried walks letting Loki sniff and do whatever he wants to the length of our four foot leash and having tried walks in a heel, I have to say I much prefer heel. Loki is so much better behaved and I have so much more control.
I keep Loki on my left side on a very short leash - short, but loose. Clicker in my left hand along with the leash and treat bag on my right. Some training texts would say that I should give treats with my left hand, since the dog is on my left side, but I am so much clumsier using my left-hand.
I usually start the walk with just his name and treat him for paying attention to me. Then I say "Let's Go" (a command that Loki knows) and walk forward. If he's doing well (looking straight ahead or at me and walking forward), then I will click & treat or say "good boy". In the beginning you want to give more treats, but you can transition to less treats and more verbal praise. I think it really helps to give feedback literally every two to three steps. Furthermore, I say "Eh" as negative feedback whenever Loki is doing anything that he's not supposed to be doing (pulling, lagging behind, sniffing the ground, paying attention to something other than me). I think that this part is key and too many trainers fail to mention it. Trainers don't like to ever mention anything negative. The instructor of my puppy class never talked about using a verbal correction in her teaching sessions, but I noticed that she used it when working with a dog. I find the combination of both positive and negative feedback very effective.
Now, I am at the stage where the frequency of my positive feedback varies between every 3 steps to every 50 steps. If we're in a high distraction zone (kids around), I will say Loki's name and treat just for his attention and provide either treats or verbal praise every 2-3 steps. If we're in a low distraction zone, then I can drag it out to 50 steps.
If he is pulling or getting ahead of me, I use the verbal correction, "Eh," and then make a 180 turn into Loki and walk in the opposite direction. Turning into your dog works really well for me. Dogs understand body language so much more than our spoken sounds. If your dog is pulling to be out front, then the dog will have to pass you to be out front again. The moment that he is in the correct position, click & treat, so that your dog knows what position is acceptable and what is not. If he pulls out front again, then make another 180 turn into your dog.
The opposite problem is lagging behind. This tends to be Loki's problem more so than pulling ahead. To correct this, I usually give Loki one or two chances to respond to "Let's Go" before I tug at the leash. Perhaps, he has learned that I give him these chances, so he tends to take advantage and lag behind. I think I will try giving the command "Let's Go", and if he doesn't respond, then give him a verbal correction. Then by the second "Let's Go", I tug at the leash. We'll see. We're still working on this one.
About every ten minutes, I stop and let Loki sniff around for fun. I know that sniffing is what dogs love to do and I'm not about to deprive him of that joy. But sniffing times are separate from walking times. I just stand still, relax, and say "At ease". Now, I'm not sure if he knows what that means yet, but I try to make my body language very relaxed. That way, he can differentiate me standing still for him to sniff (very relaxed) from me standing still at a red light (still alert).
Honestly, I never thought that Loki could be so well-behaved on a walk until I saw it with my own eyes when the instructor of our Puppy Class demonstrated Heel with him.
To sum up what really helped me:
- Short leash
- Constant feedback, both positive and negative
- Use of body language
To correct for pulling behavior, you should make a U-turn and walk in the opposite direction.
There are 2 types of U-turns: away from your dog and into your dog. If your dog is just slightly getting ahead of you, you should turn into your dog 180 degrees. This way, you are cutting your dog off. However, if your dog is too far ahead of you, then you should turn away from your dog 180 degrees. When your dog is too far ahead of you, if you tried to turn into your dog, you'd just turn into the leash.