When on a walk, does my dog need to heel the entire time or is it okay if he separates from my leg or walks in front of me on occasion?
When to heel or not to heel depends on the situation and your discretion. The one non-negotiable rule is that the leash should always have some slack. In other words, you should not be pulling your dog and he should not be pulling you.
Competition heeling is one thing but for everyday life I like to alternate between having a dog walk next to me in a heel position and allowing him to walk with more separation on a loose leash or off-leash with ecollar reinforcement where appropriate.
While giving your dog some freedom on his walks is crucial, you need also enforce some structure and not let your dog walk you. It’s important that you instill in him the idea that only a loose leash—never a tight leash—allows forward motion. It’s also essential that he learns to heel when told to. A dependable heel provides you with better control over your dog in crowded or high-distraction settings and makes it simpler for you and your dog to maneuver in tiny or crowed spaces. Additionally, increases safety for everyone you may encounter while out on a walk. When you come across a jogger, biker, skateboarder, stroller, or another dog, ask your dog to heel. In this circumstance, having your dog close by enables you to control encounters.
Some dogs will stay in the heel position during a walk out of a personal preference. To encourage your dog’s natural desire to be close to you, pay attention and reward him when he spontaneously approaches or makes eye contact with you.