When it comes to training your dog, there are a few things that are kind of like unwritten rules, and you do not always necessarily know the reason for them.
For example, when people teach their dog to heel, which is when your dog walks neatly to one side of you, it is most often on the left. Not everybody teaches their dog to heel on the left, of course, but it does seem to be the norm. Haven’t you ever asked yourself why?
Well, there is no specific reason as to why, and no proper origin story that explains why it is more typical to have a dog on the left side.
However, there are historical and traditional reasons that do explain why this habit has developed, almost unconsciously, amongst most people, passed down from generation to generation.
Here are some of the main reasons why dogs usually heel on the left:
- In older times, when carrying a sword was normal in day-to-day life, it was almost necessary to walk dogs on the left side. This is because most people would choose to keep their dominant hand free, just in case they needed to suddenly draw their sword or similar, and to most people, the dominant hand equals the right. So it makes sense that when walking a dog, they would keep them on the left side, out of the way of action.
- Traditionally, horses are always approached from the left side. Whether it’s to mount them, saddle them up, or simply give them a rub. We don’t really know why, and there’s bound to be some reasons for it, but the fact remains that people almost always keep to the left side of a horse. This means that if they were working with horses, or leading a horse somewhere, they would have the horse on their right side (so that they are on the horse’s left side), and if they were also walking the dog, or the dog was heeling, only the left side was free.
- In the United Kingdom, and many of its colonies around the world back during the Age of Imperialism, carriages drove on the left side of the road (they still do nowadays in the UK, well not carriages, but cars). So if your dog was to follow alongside the carriage, it would be on the left, as on the right there would be carriages driving past in the opposite direction, which would have been dangerous!
There are probably other reasons why dogs traditionally heel on the left side, but the matter of fact is that for one reason or another, it has become a general habit and nowadays an aesthetic or good-mannered choice.
Why Is It Called Heeling?
When we talk about dogs heeling on the left side, we are referring to having your dog walk on your left side. But why is this called heeling?
There isn’t an evidenced origin for the term, but it is widely believed that it comes from the Queensland Heeler, also popularly known as the Australian Cattle Dog.
This breed received its name in the 1800s, in the midst of a frenzy for cattle-herding dog breeds.
As cattle-herding dog breeds were developed, breeders seemed to encounter the problem of dogs that were eager to go head to head with the cattle, which was counterproductive because the cattle would then panic and run, causing them to lose weight and be less valuable on the market (less weight meant less meat to get out of them).
To sum things up, a man who was known as Thomas Hall eventually developed the Australian Cattle Dog.
These were known for nipping at the back heels of the cattle, being able to avoid the resulting kicks, and managing to guide the herd without going head to head with them, therefore avoiding the panic issues.
So this behavior of biting at the heels of the cattle brought about the name of Heeler, and the term “heeling”.
Australian Cattle dogs would also “heel” to their owners when they were awaiting instructions, as they would follow right behind the owner, slightly to the left. Hence why it is called heeling, even nowadays!
Of course, nowadays the dog walks more to the left, and forward, rather than being behind the owner chasing the heels. But the term remains the same.
Which Side Should You Teach Your Dog To Heel On?
Traditionally, dogs always heeled on the left side, and nowadays, many people comply with this norm and train their dogs to always walk on the left side of the owner.
However, this isn’t a mandatory practice, and it’s not even a real rule. The truth is that you can walk your dog on whichever side you feel most comfortable with.
But…which side should you choose for your dog to heel on? Is there anything you should take into account? Any important considerations?
Well, it completely depends on your own preferences and needs, but to help you out, here are some factors that we recommend you consider:
Convenience And Practicality
Most people are right-handed, and having their dog walk on the left side is more desirable due to convenience and practicality. Usually, it is best to have your dominant free so that you can hold things, use your phone, open doors, and more. It simply makes sense!
If you care about the social norm, and you want to do what is “right” or “traditionally accepted”, then you should definitely choose the left side for heeling.
That is what most people do, and it is also what working dogs such as police dogs or guide dogs are taught to do. It is also the side that most professional dog trainers will teach dogs to heel at.
It is important to consider your physical needs, regardless of social norms. If you have any problems with your left hand or arm, or side as a whole, then you should absolutely walk your dog on the other side.
Consider what is feasible for you, and what is the safest option in general.
Preference And Comfort
What feels best to you? Test out both sides, if you’re unsure, and then determine which side feels more comfortable to lead the dog in. After all, it is vital that you feel comfortable when walking your dog, and that it feels natural!
So…to sum it all up, why do dogs heel on the left side?
Well, there is no specific reason or origin for which dogs walk on the left side of their owners, but the most likely reasons come from traditionally historical practices, such as leaving the right dominant hand free to wield a sword, or having a horse on the right side and therefore having to have the dog on the left.
The matter of fact is, that having your dog on the left side seems to be the norm, and it is what all official working dogs are trained to do. However, you can walk your dog on whichever side you prefer and feel most comfortable with!