How to get a Dog to Sit At Heel

On the command ‘Halt’ the handler should halt immediately and the dog should sit straight at the handler’s side.

Although the exercises are called ‘Heel on lead’ and ‘Heel free” it is probably true to say that more points are lost by dogs not sitting properly than by dogs not walking properly to heel. Actually it is a very practical exercise. It is much easier to teach a dog to sit still than to stand still. In a crowd it is just as important that a dog should stay close to you when you are standing as when you are moving.

As soon as the dog is walking on a loose lead and coming up close to you in response to your left (rewarding) hand you can start teaching him to sit automatically every time you halt. There are several ways to make a dog sit (it is not usually very difficult) but I use either of two.

For the first, start with heel on lead until the dog is moving smartly in the right position close to your left leg. Stop suddenly and at the same time give the command ‘Sit’, swing your body round to the left (do not move your feet), and move the right hand over his head. About fifty per cent of dogs will look up to the trainer’s right hand and, when the movements are combined with a sudden halt, will go down on their haunches. The whole thing must be carried out simultaneously from a walk. There is no good stopping and then moving your right hand in the hope that the dog will sit. It must be done as you halt.

You may, however, have the other kind of dog, which will just stand and look at you as though you had gone a bit odd. In this case you will have to force him into a sitting position by pulling back on the collar with the right hand, and at the same time pressing on his rump with the left. See that he sits either square on his haunches or on his right side, which brings him towards you. If he is obstinate, you can grip the loose skin or hair on his rump with the left hand.

The first method is much less laborious than the second, and, being a firm believer in doing everything the easiest way, I always try it first, and if it fails, go on to the second.

Whichever method you adopt, be sure to praise your dog very well whenever he sits, and try to get him close up to you right from the start. If he sits wide of you, do not move towards him. Move to the right, away from him, and coax him up with your left hand. If necessary, swing his haunches towards you with the same hand as he sits down.

Never move towards your dog, except when returning to him after a Sit or Down. Always make him move towards you.

Do not keep on gently pushing him into a sitting position every time you halt. That will teach him nothing, and will only get him accustomed to being pushed down. Be gentle to start with but, if he does not respond, gradually replace the push with a slap on the rump. Remember that a dog must not only do what you want, he must do it quickly. A dog that is a bit slow and stubborn on his Sits can often be speeded up by combining the two methods already described. Stop suddenly, swing the right hand right over the dog and, with the tip of the lead which is held in that hand, give him a sharp smack on the rump.

Never forget to praise him when he sits — especially the first time he shows the least inclination to sit of his own accord.

In all heel work, make your movements quick and ‘alive’. Also it is a good idea to repeat each exercise several times until the dog grasps it. For instance, halt, say ‘Sit’, push the dog into a sitting position; praise him. Then, halt, say ‘Sit’ and, as you go to push him down, he goes down himself; praise very well. Finally, halt, say ‘Sit’ firmly and he does so of his own accord; praise very well indeed and go on to another exercise or finish for the day.

It is unlikely that he will do it as soon as the third time, but that is the idea, which can also be applied to the right turns and about turns. Repeat each exercise until you get some sign of response; praise very well, and leave it for the day. Next day you will be able to start where you left off, and so will steadily progress. If you keep on and on, the dog will sooner or later become bored and you will be further back than when you started.

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