Having a well mannered dog on leash is not hard, but does take some skill. In our programs we work with 2 different types of heeling: “Structured Heel,” “Tactical Heel,” as well as loose leash walking. I will break each one down as well as how we use them with our own dogs.
In terms of the name "Structured heel," the ‘structured’ part is not just about position (at or behind the knee), but the mindset of the dog. It’s a permission based walk where the dog doesn’t leave the position unless given permission to do so. Unlike a competitive heel, the dog is not required to focus on your face, but does need to be aware of what you are doing so they know if they should turn left, right, speed up, slow down or sit. This is an exercise in leadership for the handler and the position allows the handler to advocate for the dog. We use this position for so many dogs, including reactive, fearful, dogs that have a long history in pulling and adolescents. This type of walk can make a dog mentally tired because they have to think about where they are in relation to you. For more information, reference Sean O’Shea's book "The Good Dog Way".
Where we use a structured heel with our dogs:
Anywhere there are crowds. It’s easy to keep the dog near us and we can body block the ‘Can my dog meet your dog?’…or ‘May I pet your dog?’ folks (the answer will always be ‘no’). Remember to always advocate for your dog!
Instead of the dog being on the left or right side of the handler, the position of the tactical heel is between the handlers’ legs with motion, sitting or laying down. I love this position for so many reasons. First, it’s THEE spot for you to advocate for their safety. It’s also great place for your dog to be if you are riding an elevator or in any other tight space where your dogs’ space may be encroached OR if you are near someone who is afraid of dogs.
Where we use a tactical heel:
By teaching a recall into this position, you can protect them from anything the environment my toss at you. It’s also really fun!
Loose Leash Walking:
Unlike the structured heel, the dog can be in any position near the handler (a little ahead or a little behind). The leash is loose and the dog stays under control under any circumstance.
Where we use a loose leash:
Our dogs graduate to a loose leash walk after they have mastered a structured heel in a variety of environments and for a long period of time
What about collars and harnesses?
At Maine Dog Training Company, we see value in all tools that help dog owners keep their dog under control (they key word here is control). If your dog is on a no-pull harness, but is still jumping on people and lunging at dogs on your walk, then it is not under control. It’s not the tool that makes a dog walk on a loose leash, it’s the mindset. Change the mindset and you change the behavior.