What Does Bring to Heel Mean?

Bring to Heel Meaning

Definition: To make a dog come close to a person and either stand at or follow his or her feet.

This expression means to call a dog to follow its master closely. If the two are walking closely together, the dog is at the master’s heels.

It can also be used idiomatically when asking that someone act in a more disciplined manner, or that the person obeys you. If a person brings someone to heel, he sets strict guidelines that the person must follow.

Origin of Bring A Dog to Heel

To heel is a verb from the early 1800s meaning to follow or stop at a person’s heels coming from the 13th-century noun that meant back of a shoe or boot.

what does heel mean to a dogIn The Madisonian in 1840, we can see an early example of someone bringing others into line when a congressman brings a pack of his opposers to his heel and makes them do what he says,

  • The Hon. Albert Smith made one of the best speeches that has been made in Congress the present session. He applied the lash to the deserving opposition members without stint or mercy, which brought a whole federal pack to his heels, but he bravely and most triumphantly fought every federal desperado that opposed him.

In a 1920s edition of the South Bend News-Times, there is an ad for a play entitled “The Deadlier Sex.” Among the reasons a woman was “so deadly” were that she,

  • …tricked the Wall Street Lion to the Main Woods, snubbed him, belittled him, showed him how useless was money, and brought the Lion to heel.

This suggests she was the more powerful one in the situation and could manipulate it to her liking.

Examples of Bring A Dog to Heel

what does heel mean to dogsIn the modern day, people use this expression when calling a dog to one’s side, as in,

  • John called to his dog and brought him to heel before returning home from their walk.

Or when talking about disciplining someone, as in,

  • The demanding wife spent years trying to bring her husband to heel, but he wouldn’t listen.

More Examples

  • But there are many times when the ability to quickly bring your dog to heel is valuable. –Gun Dog Supply
  • For example, when teaching a dog to walk to heel, start at home, then in the garden, on a quiet street and so on until you get to your ultimate goal, which might be a busy park. –The Telegraph


To bring a dog to heel is to call it to your side so that it follows. Similarly, to bring someone to heel is to demand that he or she does your bidding.