I have finally been able to make a little video to show you some of my thoughts on teaching a good heel for obedience trials. Heeling is difficult since it is a duration behavior and has many different parts that all need to be good. I split heeling into it’s parts and train one behavior at a time. This blog post is about the basics of heeling – the dog walking with me on my left side with perfect attention, attitude and position. Turns and straight sits is another part that I work on separately. Maybe I’ll write another post about that some time.
When teaching the dog to heel with me, I start by walking backwards and have the dog follow me. Doing this has many benefits, like:
- It’s easier for a puppy to follow me when I walk backwards and I can get more rewards to the dog.
- It’s easier for me to see what the dog is doing without having to turn and bend towards the dog.
- Since it’s not the final setting for the behavior, I’m not worried about shaping one aspect at a time. I would not like to reward the dog for good attention but bad position if I was walking forward. By walking backwards, I can shape a good behavior and be pretty sure that I will get good behavior to reward once I start walking the right way.
- I use the walking backwards-heeling for teaching stand, sit and down from heel.
- It’s very good to have when training in a distracting environment, as the young or inexperienced dog has better chances of success.
When I start the training, I walk backwards away from the dog and mark and reward all attention the dog gives me. I’m not interested in the dog looking me in the eyes, as that is incompatible with a good heel position. As long as the dog is giving me attention, I will reward it. I keep the treats in my left pocket, or in my right hand (only if the dog can ignore treats in your hand). As i mark the behavior I want, I get one treat from the pocket (or right hand) with my left hand and reward at my left side. In the video, the rewards are pretty calm. This is because my dogs have great position by my left side and because they don’t need to get more active. For most dogs, I would recommend that the dog gets to chase the treat in your hand in a straight line and end up with his shoulder at your left knee. I show this with Squid at 1:05 in the video.
When the dog is giving good attention, I start to look at the dogs attitude. Some dogs need to get more active and with them I will mark and reward things like coming closer to my side, ears up, going from a walk to a trot, tail up, head up etc. I will also make sure that all rewards are active and that the dog has to chase the treat after the click. With some dogs, it’s a good idea to work on how to reward separately, so that the dog knows to come close and steal the treat from your hand on the click before you start training heel.
Other dogs have a little too much attitude. They might be jumping up and down, making noise or touching you too much. With them, you have to do the opposite. Walk a little slower and reward calm, quiet and rhythmic behavior. Stop when you reward and give a few treats for just standing still before you walk again.
When the dog shows great attention and attitude, I start shaping a good position. For a lot of dogs, this comes for free because of good placement of reward on the earlier stages. I want the dog close to my left side, straight in the body and far enough back. Watch the video to get an idea of the finished behavior.
When the dog can do a nice heel while I walk backwards for a few meters, I start to turn around. This is demonstrated by Squid in the video. It is an advantage to have worked on some rear end awareness before doing this, so that the dog is willing to swing his rear end in before walking forward. In the beginning, I will reward the dog as soon as he finds position by my left side when I walk forward.
There is of course a lot more to be said about heeling, especially when thinking of all the problems that might arise. If you have questions or comments, please post them below.