Ask yourself, "Do I often or always heel my dog while walking in my neighborhood?" If you answered yes, that's a problem. I say this because so many of my clients have defensive or protective dogs who are reactive. I consider heeling a focus exercise for our pup. By making or compelling her to stay by my side is keeping her close. The lead becomes shorter and we tend to maintain a tighter grip. Even if your hands are relaxed that shorter lead is maintaining the closeness. This positions makes the dog focus on you rather than relaxing by sniffing the ground. Dogs have an instinct to explore their surroundings. They have FUN doing this. We take the fun away when we heel them. Therefore, they cannot completely relax. Yes I preach Leadership. Yes, walking our dog in the heel position commands leadership. Yet when I speak of Leadership I stress terms like benevolence , give and take, creating expectations that are reasonable while helping my dog to achieve. Leadership teaches dogs they can have fun but still have to abide. Commanding leadership through constant heeling while walking our dog is not necessary.
There is no doubt in my mind that Heeling is an important part of overall obedience and an important tool. But the Heel command should be utilized in short spurts, temporarily when we NEED Scooter to be NEAR us. We don't need him right next to us while walking through the neighborhood. However, I do prefer to have my dog next to me when I meet humans or dogs. Position is key in enforcing manners or rules. simply put, we as handlers have to be there if a correction is warranted or management is needed. Shiloh can jump up to greet a person if I'm in a far position away from her. In contrast, she cannot jump up if I'm close and my hands are in a position, on the lead, to enforce a downward lead correction should she jump. These are common examples.
One of the most common contributors to overprotective dogs can be attributed to walking a dog in the heel position. He or she feels by position and/or a tight lead as communication that you are bothered by whatever your dog is focused on, leading to a defensive posture or display. This behavior becomes reinforced over time and results in conditioned behavior.