What is heeling? Heeling is not the same as going for a walk. Heeling is an obedience exercise in which the dog stays close beside you, paying attention only to you and where you are going. As your puppy grows up, heeling will become the safe way for you to walk your dog through crowds and across streets, ignoring all normal or unusual distractions. It is the easiest lesson to begin with because you'll be taking your new puppy outside on leash to eliminate and you can practice three times on each trip - on your way out, after he relieves himself, and coming back inside.
This will not be the heeling exercise as done in obedience class, but more of a lesson in "pre-heeling" because you can begin off-lead anywhere that's safe, indoors or out. And instead of "Heel," use the friendlier "Let's go!"
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Begin by getting the pup's attention as he's trotting along next to you, to make him conscious of what he is doing. Some pups will follow if you lean over, quietly clapping your hands in front of their nose; some like to hear cheerful chatter; others just want to go wherever you go. As you move along, you can add an occasional, "Sparky, watch me!" No doubt by now you've noticed that some one-word commands are actually two or three words. Just run them together and your puppy will catch on perfectly.
Hold his attention by walking just quickly enough to make the puppy want to keep up with you. If he's not paying attention, stop and begin again. No correction. It all begins with just one step in the right direction, followed by verbal praise. Following a treat that smells good may get him started, but if a young pup's attention is totally elsewhere, this is hot the right moment for a lesson. A few minutes of playtime, followed by a drink of water, may put him back on track to try again. Or wait until next time. You can practice anywhere, anytime, on or off leash. As you notice him walking next to you, take advantage of the opportunity to get in a speedy, "Let's go! - good dog."
Be realistic in what you expect of a puppy. A few steps on command earn a reward. A few more steps earn a reward. A week later Sparky is heeling nicely so praise and quit practicing immediately! Practice again later. Puppies arrive in the winter, too, when outside lessons are not possible. A long hallway or a basement is perfect for indoor training. No distractions, limited space so your pup cannot go too far wrong, and you're sure to have his attention because you are the most fascinating thing around.
Add some right turns for variety and to be sure he is really paying attention. As you make the turn, bend over and clap your hands to keep him on course. Left turns are harder because you have more to do. Put your left foot in front of the pup to gently guide him into the turn. Careful, or you'll step on the pup and he won't think this game is very much fun! However, if your left foot happens to bump the puppy, or he plows into it, don't apologize. If he thinks it was his mistake, he will learn to pay closer attention. Repeat the "Watch me" signal.
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