A small brown chihuahua sits at heel in someone's house.

There’s something beautiful about watching a well-trained dog heel. No matter what their handler might do, be it zig-zag, make a U turn, or even walk backwards, the dog stays by their handler’s (usually) left side. When the handler stops, the dog automatically sits.

Although advanced heelwork takes time to master, a basic heel can be taught very quickly. Best of all, the only things you need are treats and a clicker, but we do recommend a heeling stick as well.

Why a Heeling Stick

This blog is first and foremost, a chihuahua blog. Chihuahuas are short! In order to teach a proper heel, you need to have your dog in a heel position while you are walking, and bending over to give your dog treats can make for a sore back after a while.

You can save your back by putting a sticky treat your dog likes (such as cheese wizz or peanut butter) on the end of the stick. When you mark a great behavior, you can reinforce your dog by putting the treat end of the stick down for your dog to lick.

Some of the best heelwork I ever get is when I’m bringing my dog’s food to where I plan to feed them. They are glued to my side and looking up diligently! If they associate that stick with their favorite treat, caring it up and chest level while you walk can also help encourage them to stay focused and near.

A chihuahua greedily bites the whole bottom of a heel stick, trying to get as much snack as fast as possible.
He’s just supposed to lick the stick, but that snack’s not getting away!

Heel Position Explained

Before we begin, it’s helpful to have a vision in your head of what you want. An obedience style heel is on the left side, with the dog’s shoulder level with your leg. The dog should stay with your leg, even when you turn. The dog shouldn’t crowd your leg (touch it) nor be more than a few inches away.

This article is going to teach that specific behavior. Auto-sit and more technical work like heeling backwards we will work on in a different post.

For those who have a disability or find it difficult to heel your dog on the left side, just teach them on the other side! In the past, the dog heeled on the left side to free your right hand up. Even if you plan to show in Obedience, you can let the judge know you need an accommodation, and will be handling off the right side instead.

How to Teach Your Chihuahua to Heel

Lure your dog with a treat into heel position. The dog should be facing forward, shoulder level with your leg, while you are standing. As soon as the dog is in the correct position, click and treat! Take one tiny step forward and lure the dog into the correct position again. Click and treat!

The goal is for your dog to understand that what you want is for them to stay in that position, even if you move. At first, you’ll be luring them every single time. That’s okay! They have to narrow down whether it was the position you wanted, or the fact that they flicked their ear, or looked at the couch.

Repeatedly luring the dog into the position helps the dog narrow down which of the many things they may have been doing at the time was what you wanted.

Drop the lure

At first, you’ll have to lure the behavior in order to reward it. As we mentioned earlier, this helps your pup narrow down what you want, but only to a point. Eventually, they may conclude that what you want is for them to follow the treat with their nose.

To help them understand that it’s the position you want and not necessarily the lure, you’ll have to stop luring.

Your dog should be able to readily find the position when lured to move to this next step. When they are able to, warm them up with a couple of lures, and then take a tiny step forward—but don’t lure.

If your dog immediately fixes their position, click that behavior! If they seem confused, lure as minimally as possible. Try a hand gesture, with no treat in hand. Keep working at it until your dog will return to the correct position without a signal.

Delay the Treats

Right now you should be treating your dog for every time they correctly find the position. Now, try taking two steps before treating. Does your dog stay with you? Click and reward every two steps, as long as they are staying in the position.

You’ll likely need to stay this phase for a while, because you’ll want to practice two steps while you are turning in both directions, as well as simply two steps forward. Dogs don’t generalize, so staying by your side even when you turn is something new they need to learn.

Expanding Distance

Once your dog can stay by your side  when you walk forward a couple steps or turn, it’s time to start adding distance. Add one step at a time, so your dog knows to stay by your side until you’re done. A “Break” command is a useful addition here, so your dog knows when they can be done heeling.

Final Thoughts

From here, it is practice, practice, practice to get a good heel. Once your dog has mastered this inside the house, take it on leash into the backyard. Then the front yard. Then at the pet store. Add bigger distances, add more turns.

We’ll talk about more advanced heelwork such as auto-sit, heeling backwards and trick style heeling in a later post.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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