WHAT?! No Pictures!!??

I know that a lack of pictures is against the Blog Rules so I will see if I have something to share from my 16,000 pictures but this is a Blog about heeling and training, as per requests. And yes, Marti (and anyone else) -- feel free to share ideas.

So here is the scoop, friends -- you cannot train like anyone else because you are not the same person. But we can share ideas and glean from others -- good and bad. I train heeling the way I do -- in part -- because nearly 20 years ago I watched a berner in obedience and said to myself, "I will never show a dog that looks like that." The poor dog looked like she was waiting to be skinned -- it was sad :(

In my opinion, the worst thing to happen in a ring is that the dog does not look happy -- that is my idea of Epic Failure. Nothing else really constitutes "failure" to me in a ring -- but that does, and I work to avoid it from Day One. And in my opinion, one of the biggest causes of unhappy ring performance is rushing/pushing a dog -- there is no prize for being the youngest of anything so think long-term, and slow that train down...

Back to heeling -- sort of -- because I think if you want a conformation dog, you don't work on heeling first -- work on conformation until it is happy and ingrained. And it is not because of "sit" -- it is because teaching a dog to gait/move -- looking ahead and at your left side -- is really different than being at your left side and looking at you, and I have discovered it is confusing to try for both so better to get one or other well-trained first.

And if you do not think the conformation ring requires training -- well, you probably aren't showing your own dog well. I spend months teaching all the baby steps required in conformation, and it pays off -- I offer my Grand Champion Zoey who free stacks at any opportunity as evidence. And yes, it is baby steps -- which brings us to heeling...

I teach it off leash. I am now waiting with the dogs until they have their championships before I work too much on heeling. I use a clicker and treats and toys and play and etc. I think of it in terms of Least Trainable Units (LTU's) or "baby steps". And there are a lot of them once you start thinking about it -- a few examples...

  • Get in stationary heel position -- move quickly and without gawking to my left side, sit straight, toes in a certain place, look at me, stay put until you get further instructions.
  • Moving heel -- stay at my left side, look at me, front end in a certain place, rear end in a certain place, match my pace while maintaining all parts in the right place  (dog has to know this before you ever start turns or Figure 8).
  • Stopping -- stop smoothly into the stationary heel position (see above for example of pieces).
  • Turns -- have to have rear end awareness!!! And most of the above...

Think of it from the dog's perspective -- you want the dog to heel but you are clumping at least four different need-to-be-learned behaviors at once (position of front, position of rear, where a dog should look, pace) and that is just for moving in a straight line! Did you train all those pieces FIRST and then put them together -- before you even considered adding in a stop, turn, or change of pace???!

So the dog gets stressed because she isn't sure what the heck is going on and/or she has been corrected for not doing something -- what exactly she is not sure -- and there you have it: the dog that causes other people to say, "I will never show a dog that looks like that."

It is avoidable!!!!! Case Example: Zoey. So for draft I taught her to walk somewhere at my left side with a food lure that I faded quickly and then I would click/treat for being somewhere in the correct vicinity. I added turns and again, lots of treats/play/praise just for being somewhat where she should -- perfection is a journey of many tiny steps in the correct direction.

She got her two draft titles in a weekend with what some would say was nice heeling but I did not even call it heeling -- I called it, "let's go" :)

So here we are -- how do we go from knowing to be on my left and pay attention to what I call heeling? S.L.O.W.L.Y.

I have split things up -- for example, I am aiming for 3 - 4 steps of attentive, straight line heeling. It is silly to expect more right now -- even given her foundation. And starting from a sit is also not fair as that is a whole separate behavior -- I just want her to find her heel position and maintain it with her front end and keep eye contact.

So she knows when we are working and is now offering heel position -- a typical way I do this is throw her ball, she brings it back, I take off in a straight line in MY heel position (hand over my belly button, etc.) and she offers her heel position and when I have 3 - 4 steps I release her (again, no sit as that is a whole separate thing to train), throw that ball again or click/treat. She is insane for her ball so I include it in the training to keep it fun and happy -- she now associates heeling with her most favorite thing -- ball chasing :)

Separate from our (increasing) straight line of heeling, I work on rear end awareness so that I can eventually add in a command to straighten out her rear or turn it in/out when I need to -- this is coming along really well. Right now I do not include any requirement about her rear end position when heeling -- and this means she is not ready for turns. And I work the stationary heel position separately as well -- she is getting very good at that.

I am constantly rewarding her for eye contact -- she heels with eye contact so this is another piece of it all that I have worked separately.  And when she heels eye contact is a requirement -- so what if she looks away? Right now she doesn't because I am not asking her to do more than she can, and she can easily maintain the eye contact with what we are doing. My goal is for her to be successful every time and so I do not push her beyond what she can do well.

Her conformation training is really helping because she already knows how to adjust her body in separate pieces. In other words, she already knows how to move her front and rear separately -- how to adjust front feet only and/or move her rear to the left a little. And she knows how to adjust based on very subtle cues -- so that is also helpful.

If I keep a puppy from the H Litter, she will start tracking immediately and also start on conformation training. I will also reward attention on me, teach her to play and have fun, and just make interacting with me the best thing ever. It is like when you have a bunch of kids -- with the first one you are all freaked about doing everything right and by #5 -- well, things are more relaxed and the kid is eating french fries and watching bad tv :)

So yes, puppy foundation training is important -- but not for the small pieces, I think. Rather, I think what matters is teaching a puppy to learn, pay attention, enjoy play, be social, and have fun. I think we stress out dogs when we push them as puppies -- so let the baby be a baby -- she won't be perfect anyway so don't bother trying too hard ;)

And that is what I have to say about all that (for now) -- and also that Zoey LOVES LOVES LOVES obedience training, which makes it very fun to train her! So does Syd -- but she doesn't get to heel yet...

A picture -- hmmmm.... I like this one -- Zoey was on the table (of course) and that is Galen's hand, doing an E.T.

Even if you are not training a dog to heel (or anything else), it is always helpful to think in terms of small increments, or baby steps, when we are trying to accomplish anything. Everything we do is a collection of complex pieces, and concentrating on perfecting each one is very helpful in creating success, however we define that.

A puzzle does not come together because we throw all the pieces in the air and expect them to fall into place -- it is only by focusing on one piece at a time -- with an eye on the Big Picture -- that we can create what we hope...





by Lisa K on Thu, 09/22/2011 - 08:30

So, because I get to see you this wknd, I am going to ask you a question or two about this, as I am a visual learner, and I am trying to picture this example: " throw her ball, she brings it back, I take off in a straight line in MY heel position (hand over my belly button, etc.) and she offers her heel position and when I have 3 - 4 steps I release her (again, no sit as that is a whole separate thing to train), throw that ball again or click/treat". Do you throw the ball and then turn your back and walk away and she comes to heel position, or wait until she come back to you, gets in heel position and off you go? Maybe you could show me when you are here? I will give you a dollar, how's that? ;-) Really super post and I look forward to learning as you post about your heeling w/Miss Zoey! Or at least I hope you will continue to post about this along the way! See you tomorrow!

by Maddie's Mommy on Thu, 09/22/2011 - 10:53

Great post! Alas, unlike lucky Lisa, we won't be seeing you this weekend, but we'll be there cheering for you all in spirit!
Two questions, since we won't see you in person (or seeing Mac and Zoey in their dog-selves).
1. Right now you and Zoey have eye contact while heeling. But eventually, when you have put all the piece together and are ready for the ring, you will be in your heel position (hand on belly button, maintaining an even upbeat pace, posture erect and eyes ahead). So what will Zoey be looking at then? Will she be focusing on your left eye? Will she become disillusioned that you are no longer making eye contact with her? (I ask because my current technique is to spit small bits of hot dog at Maddie and she is now watching my mouth like a cat at a mouse hole.)
2. What command do you use for the 'send'. I remember a video with Halo who checked out the fence post for a treat, but I can't say "run away" without giggling...
Best of luck this weekend--and don't forget those lucky socks!

by Mary-Ann Bowman on Thu, 09/22/2011 - 11:11

I maintain eye contact with all my dogs when heeling - in the ring and out. There is no rule about needing to look ahead - one does have to watch the left shoulder so it doesn't drop back but it is totally okay and possible to maintain eye contact and heel in the ring! I cannot do it any other way - if I want attention from my dog, I have to give it to her ;)

by Marti Simons on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 09:02

I have so struggled with heeling with Maverick. After multiple attempts with many different methods, I found one that worked for him and our heeling has improved dramatically. As long as it doesn't need to happen on a plastic coated carpet that pops when you walk on it. But that is another story.

The figure 8 was something altogether different. Stepping out into a corner is really hard for my big big guy. And stepping out into a corner where he was on the inside made the transition into the outside circle worse. So I needed to teach him to really bounce out and into a nice pace. Having me start slower was not solving anything. So I revved up my Reeeeaddddy and changed the tone for the figure 8. When the Judge asks if I am ready, I respond with Ready. And I say it (for heeling and the figure 8) in a lower tone of voice and let my voice get growly. If he is really really high I can't do this as it will now push him right over the edge. But if he is just up and happy it is perfect. For the figure 8 I draw it out and add excitement to my voice.
When I was teaching it I would say Reeaddddy and push back on his chest with my left hand hard and then explode forward. When he jumped forward with me I would click and throw a piece of cheese forward on the ground. Sometimes a ball or a tug toy and we would play. I gradually extended it step by step. When I could get the whole circle with him staying with me I started adding the command "Hurry". So now the Judge says "Are you ready?" I say "Reeaddy", she says "Forward" and I say "Maverick Hurry". Lots of animation in my voice. I also started training this with a circle marked on the ground. I did not want him in the mindset of being OK to trample over a cone (we do rally also) and don't usually have a person to be a steward. I wanted to do a set size of a circle so I just sprayed one out on the grass and I could easily follow it. Otherwise when getting him all revved up it would be too easy for me to travel in too small or too big of a circle. It is not easy to get the same size circle while thinking about timing of click reward and maintaining a lot of energy. I also find it helpful to break off heeling work frequently and play chase or tug to keep it really fun and exciting for the dog. So now I usually have a little bit of forging in my figure 8 but that is more acceptable to me than the lagging shuffle that I had for our CD!

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