Why Do Dogs Heel On The Left?

by Wayne Booth, the Dog Training Blogger on September 8, 2009

It’s a fair question: why do we ask our dogs to heel on our left side? For that matter, why do we do so many things to the left? Why do we mount a horse from the left side? The reason is basically the same. We have our dog’s heel to our left because this is a right handed world.

In the old days, when men still wore swords, it was necessary to mount horses from the left side for safety purposes. With the swords hanging on the left side (for right handed riders), it was easier and safer to mount from the left. Consequently, all of the tack for horses has always been made to be buckled and put on and taken off from the left, too.

When it comes to dogs a similar logic applied. When handling a dog a person would want their right hand (usually the stronger hand) free. The left hand could hold the leash. They would want their right side unimpeded. The dog could be on the left. And so, the dog should walk and heel on the left side. Or so it used to be. Today owners often teach their dogs to heel on either side.

Many dog activities rely on training a dog from the left because the trainer or owner needs to keep the right hand free to signal. Many herding and hunting dog trainers train their dogs from the left because they need to have their right hands free for using equipment or giving signals.

So many people in the world are right handed (approximately 80 percent) that training dogs from the left has become the standard way of training. It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just the usual way of doing things. Dogs probably don’t care which side is used.

On the other hand, dogs do seem to be right-pawed or left-pawed themselves. You can tell if your dog is right-pawed or left-pawed by filling a Kong with peanut butter or some other food your dog loves. Place the Kong in the floor for your dog. Record which paw your dog uses to touch the toy first — until he has made 100 touches on the Kong with either his right and his left paw. (Don’t record touches with both paws at the same time.) Dogs that use their left paw 64 times are left-pawed; dogs that use their right paw 64 times are right-pawed. If your dog has fewer than 64 uses of either paw then he is ambidextrous.

You may already have some idea of whether your dog is left or right-pawed. Does he always paw at you with one particular paw? Does he try to pick things up with one of his paws? These can be tip-offs that he favors one of his paws over the other.

So, there is really no particular reason why dogs are taught to heel on the left. It’s mostly due to the fact that the majority of people are right handed. We teach dogs to heel on the left as a tradition now. People have learned to teach their dogs to heel on the left and it would probably confuse people to start teaching them otherwise.

Until next time……

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Wilson 09.08.09 at 7:57 pm

y follow up question would be: what has 4 paws,and one arm?
—-
Answer= a happy pitbull!

2 Jim Rutherford 09.09.09 at 5:08 am

Thanks for this article Wayne. I’ve been asked this by several people and haven’t had a good amswer. In a single person class I allowed them to use the right side if they wanted but now that I can do 15 people at a time I’ll be left side only.

3 Kate 11.23.09 at 4:49 pm

Glad to finally know the real reason. Always assumed it was to put them away from the traffic when walking since we walk into the traffic.

4 Wayne Booth 11.23.09 at 5:03 pm

I’m glad I was able to help Kate.

Wayne

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