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  • Liz MacHaffie

Sit in Heel Position


What is this? It's where your dog sits by your side, facing the same direction as you.


Even if you're not doing formal obedience, it's a super-handy behavior for manners on walks, behavior modification exercises, and prepping for the Canine Good Citizen test! (Among many other things.)


Here are two ways to help your dog learn to love this position!


Off the Wall!

Most dogs have been rewarded for sitting in front of people, so we use a wall to help dogs learn to sit next to us.

  • Find a wall with at least 10 feet of free space, you will need more for a larger dog. (You can also use a curb, the back of a big couch, or make a barrier of boxes, if needed. The idea is to have a long, straight line that your dog can’t or won’t walk over.)

  • Lure your dog in heel position (next to you) up to the wall. There should be enough room for your dog to feel comfortable between you and the wall, but not so much that he's likely to turn fully toward you.

  • Take 1 large step, with your food lure at your dog’s nose-level, then stop with your feet together. As you do this, bring your food lure up the side of your body, to about waist height.

  • This should cue your dog to sit. Mark (yes/click) and reward if he sits.

  • If your dog does not sit, but he knows the word, you can say “sit”.

  • At first, your dog may not be completely straight, and that's okay! Reward these first attempts.

  • Repeat this for the length of the wall, with 1 step between sits, then release your dog with “okay!”.

  • As long as your dog is successful, you can eliminate your food lure and just use a hand signal or verbal cue ("sit") instead.

  • Finally, while doing the sit exercise along the wall, increase the number of steps between sits to 2-3, then to 5-6. Once your dog is successful at least 90% of the time (walks next to you with eye contact while you step and sits when you stop by your side), he’s ready to move away from the wall!

  • Start by walking parallel to but further away from the wall you've been working with. When your dog sits, he should still be relatively straight.

  • Build on success! Move further from the wall and then start asking for sit in heel position away from the place you trained this in!


Swing Finish


This helps your dog learn to get into heel position, next to you!

  • Hold a treat in your left hand. This will be used to lure your dog. (Using the treat like a magnet for where you want your dog's nose to go!)

  • Your dog should start in front of you, sitting or standing.

  • Put your treat hand to your dog's nose, then step backwards slightly with your left leg as you simultaneously move your left hand, fully extended, in the same direction. Your dog should follow.

  • Once your dog has passed your leg at least to her mid-back, step forward with your left leg and bring your treat hand back to your leg. Your dog should turn tightly to her right to follow your hand.

  • When her head reaches your leg, slightly raise your food lure. Your dog should sit.

  • Mark with “yes” or a click and feed! Repeat your mark and feed anywhere from 1 to 5 times, so your dog learns to hold the sit until released.

  • Repeat until your dog is successful at least 80% of the time.

  • Once she can do this, start using only your arm and not moving your leg. (You may need to do a half-step if she has trouble, and then fade it to no step.)

  • Once your dog can do this, it’s time to fade out the food lure!

  • Start cueing her with the same hand motion (many people point their finger downwards and move it in the same arc), but with no food in your hand. (Feed from your right hand or wait until she's in position to reach into your treat bag.)

  • Once your dog is doing well with the hand signal, you can preface it with the verbal cue, “swing”.

Troubleshooting

  • For some dogs, it's hard not to be in front of you! If your dog is having a hard time sitting in heel position, reward standing first!

  • To do this, follow the steps above, but stop when the dog is standing in heel and mark that!

  • Once your dog can stand next to you for 10 seconds or so, then add the sit in!

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