Aug
01
2010

Teaching the heel - Part 2

Author: John Lockett|Print|Return

Let's talk about the moving heel or heeling in motion. In the Part 1 of this article I expanded why dogs pull, the heel and how to teach the start position. Before moving on, you should be 100% sure your dog understands the "Heel" command and is coming to the heel from all positions. Once this is accomplished we can move forward. Heeling forward is week 2. To do this right, with each step, there should be at least a week of training before moving on to the next step.

Heeling Forward

Week 2

With the dog in the start position, give him/her the "heel" command and step of with your left leg first, again giving the dog a nagging correction to keep him/her at your heel. Start by taking five to seven steps forward and then stop. If the start was trained right, 90% of dogs will auto sit when you stop. If the dog does not sit when you stop, give it the sit command and a correction. It should only take a quick session before the dog understands what it is you want and complies. Slowly increase the amount of steps you take before stopping.  By the end of the week you should be able to do a 50yd heel.

Problems

Ok remember we started this training to stop the dog from pulling. As your steps increase, the dog will loose focus and begin to move in front of you. When this happens, I make a quick u-turn "with out giving the heel command" but with a correction. Once the dog regains the heel position, reinforce the position with a "good boy, good heel".

Ok.  You're saying "why no heel command, when you make the u-turn"?  By not giving the heel command during the u-turn the dog will learn quickly to keep its eyes on you and this will help in teaching your turns in later steps of the heeling. The other problem you will encounter is lagging.  This is when the dog is walking  behind you. Most of the time this is  because the dogs mood is down and he/she is not getting enough praise during the heeling pattern.  I try to change this by increasing the praise and with my left hand treating the dog when it reaches the correct position throughout the heeling pattern. If this does not work, I walk faster and give nagging corrections, to make the dog move into heeling position and give alot of praise....hopefully making the dog choose the reward over the corrections.

Making Turns

Week 3: The right turn

When I begin teaching the turns, I'm trying to accomplish two things:

  1. To get the dog to make turns with out crowding or knocking into you.
  2. To teach the dog to pay attention to your body movements.

We already taught the dog to walk in a straight line, but, up until now we have not made the dog think or worry about making any turns. Teaching the turn requires us to pay close attention to the dog and react with turns in the opposite direction of the dogs movements.

The Right Turn: As you heel in a straight line, wait for the dog to look to the left....as soon as he/she does, you make a 45 degree right while at the same time giving the dog a mid level correction with out a command.  As before, as soon as the dog reaches the heel position, give him/her a "good heel!!" never stopping your forward motion for at least 50ft. Over a few short sessions, your dog will learn to think it's his falt for not paying attention and learn to to watch you closely.  In his/her mind, you obviously have no idea where you are going.

Week 4: The left turn

The left turn is a little harder to teach, both to the handler and dog, and generally takes the team alot longer to perfect. Unlike the right turn, I like to start the left turn from the start positition.

Step 1. As I give the Heel command I pull back on the lead and turn my left foot towards the dog.  This will become a "que" for the dog.  Ok,  what do I mean by "que"?  When the dog see's the left foot turn, he will know you're going to turn left and back or swing into the turn.

Step 2. As your left foot plants, swing you right knee 45% to the left.  If you do it with speed, you should clip the dog under the chin. We are not trying to hurt the dog, just teaching him/her to look out for the knee. Once the turn is made, you want to heel for about 50ft. and stop. If it's done right, it should be very fluid, left turn straight into the heel "One Motion". Then begin adding it into the heeling pattern. Start by taking 10 steps, turn....15 turn and so on.

Weeks 5-8: The Pattern

Now you have all the tools to teach your dog a full heeling pattern. The key to keeping your dogs heeling right is not working a set pattern, but, making sure you change the pattern from time to time while keeping all the key elaments i.e. u-turns, left and right turn and forward heeling with the auto sit.