Why are we always told to walk or heel our dog on the left side? Many insist it is a safety precaution, to keep the animal away from the kerb side, but that argument doesn’t hold up very well when you’re walking against the flow of the traffic, does it? Heeling the dog to the left then actually exposes him/her to fast-moving cars on the roadway.
In reality, keeping dogs to the left is an age-old practice that has somehow become the norm:
• In the olden days, when men went hunting with their dog companions, the animals were trained to heel on the left because it freed the men’s right arm to hold weaponry like pistols, guns, swords and knives. With more than 80% of human beings using their right hand as the dominant one, it was easier to attack and defend if the movement of the right arm remained unimpeded at all times.
• Police officers of K9 units lead their canine partners according to the side in which they carry their firearm. If the officer is right-handed, the dog is on the left; if the officer is left-handed the dog is on the right. The reasoning is the same: to keep the officer’s `working’ hand free to do its attack and defense work.
• Guide dogs are mostly trained to stay on the left. Unless the handler’s left arm is injured or incapacitated in any way, the leading dog will always go to the left. This consistent practice is particularly important for blind handlers because they need to know at all times where their dog companions are, to be able to rely on them properly.
• In the show ring, communication between dog and handler is key to a successful performance. For events like obedience and rally, the left side is used to execute commands. (During agility and freestyle reckoning, of course, the animal has to obey the handler from both sides.) The command “Heel!” tells the dog to be attentive from the left side. The command “Close!” tells the dog to come from either side, depending on the handler’s accompanying hand gesture.
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
• This matter is entirely up to you. We’d say that heeling the dog to the traditional left side is a good grounding practice to maintain discipline and reinforce your position as the `pack leader’. However, if you are left-handed or feel compromised in any way by this option, then go right ahead and have your dog heel to the right.
At the end of the day, it is all about establishing a special understanding via vocal commands and body language that will make the two of you excellent walking companions for a long, long time.