During our heel lessons at our facility in Northern Virginia, we always get asked, “Should I allow my dog to sniff the ground while we are walking?”
The short answer is, “No.” While we are working a dog on heel, I want their attention focused on me, my pace, and my direction. It’s impossible for your dog to pay attention to all of these Fundamental Things That Make A Good Heel if they have their nose and their eyes to the ground.
Dogs are very sensitive with their nose (as any dog owner in the world can tell). They can be walking with purpose, pick up on a certain scent, and all of the sudden take off in the completely opposite direction in order to follow this new scent. The same thing will happen on your walk.
At our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, I literally say on a daily basis, “Your dog sniffing the ground during a heel, will ALWAYS lead to your dog not being in a heel.” To me, the dog sniffing the ground is essentially a precursor to him breaking the heel, for a few reasons: a) he’s not paying attention to you, so if you slow down or speed up, he is now out of the heel position b) he will undoubtedly catch a scent he likes and that will draw him out of the heel c) you will do a direction change, he will not catch it, and that will put him out of the heel.
I tell people that when I release the dog with the “break” command, that’s the dog’s time to sniff around, play, run around, and do whatever they please. However, when I have a dog in the heel command, that’s now my time. I give the dogs plenty of “breaks” to do whatever they please; therefore, I do not let them do this while they are in the heel.
I can honestly say, “I have never seen a dog in my life that was allowed to sniff the ground during the heel, who was amazing at on/off leash heeling. Never.” That’s a pretty powerful statement, and it’s 100% true.
If you look on our YouTube Channel, we have numerous heeling before and after videos, so you can see the difference this (among other concepts) make in your dog’s walk.
So, in summary, do not let your dog sniff the ground while in the heel command, correct them using whichever dog training method you are currently using. Sniffing the ground during the heel command will always lead to your dog leaving the heel command.