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Teaching the Heel?


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My dog is 3 years old and still does not have what I consider a comfortable, relaxed heel. I would appreciate any suggestions &/or teaching tricks to help me achieve a heel.

 

What I mean by a relaxed heel is NOT what I see in an obedience class. I do not want my dog to be twisting and craning his neck to look up at me while in the heel position. I am hoping to achieve a position where the dog is about at my inseam (give or take) yet is still looking around at his environment. (I hope that is clear.) Currently, he will 'heel' if I have treats in my hand - the "looking up at me" type of heel - because he wants the treat.

 

What usually happens when I try to walk him on a heel is that he starts off at the position near my leg - then within 10-15 feet he is a foot in front, then another few steps and he is 2-3 feet in front of me. He obviously has a faster natural gait than I do, but even if I try to speed up, he is still in front of me and gaining ground.

 

I have tried saying heel when he pushes forward, and he will (usually) jump back to a heel position, only to surge forward again. I don't want to have to keep saying heel. He will tune me out.

 

I have tried stopping if he surges ahead. Again, he often comes back, I start forward and he surges ahead again. I am not sure at which point I should stop - when he is 6-12 inches in front of the heel position or wait until he is 3-4 feet in front. Again, I tend to get into a repetitive pattern of correction that I do not want to do. There has to be something better.

 

It seems like what I am doing is not working. My timing may be off or I may not be clear in my instructions or something else.

 

Any suggestions would be appreciated. When you want your dog walking next to you, do you have him/her in a heel position or is it good enough that they are within a couple of feet and maintaining a connection to you? I would be satisfied with that behavior. Alternately, do you differentiate when you want your dog to formally heel and when you just want them to maintain a "close" position" - and how did you teach each behavior?

 

I hope I have clearly explained my dilemma and look forward to your suggestions.

 

Jovi

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Maybe I can help, years ago I used to train for competition obedience, and attention heeling was taught for the obedience ring. In the ring I used the word "heel". I wanted 100% attention. I also wanted my dog to be able walk on a relaxed leash without looking at me, for walks, for walking around the grounds etc.

 

I used the word "walk" for just going for relaxed non attentive walking. This took a little training too, my dogs were allowed to be at the end of the leash while walking, if they pulled I stopped and said "walk". Soon as they were in the right position, praise and keep walking. Just as heeling with attention took time and practice, so did non-attentive walking take time and practice. I would put a different word on it, if the word heel means to look at you for treats? Spend a few minutes each day practicing, it shouldn't take long.

 

Happy walking...

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having a dog stay in an exact perfect heel position meand the dog has to focus on some part of your body and totally ignore their environment. I do competitive heeling and I don't expect my dogs to crane their heads up at me. They are usually watching my legs or my feet for their cues. If they happen to be looking up at me, if that is what they choose, they are cueing off my shoulders.

 

Are you sure that you don't just want a loose leash walking? That is what I expect of my dogs when walking. Don't pull on the leash whether I give you two feet of leash or 6 feet of leash. My command for is Let's go. I don't expect my dogs to learn that heel means two totally different things.

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Thank you for the suggestions so far.

 

I like the idea of a formal heel where the dog is cueing off of my legs or feet. How do you get them to look there, rather than at the hand that is holding the treat?

 

I do mean loose-leash walking (sorry I didn't use the correct terminology before). I have been using the command "with me" to indicate L-L walking. What frustrates me is that he is constantly testing the leash limits (i.e. pulling), and I really don't want to keep stopping. My dog seems to have a personality that he doesn't take anything personally. He would be happy to walk - pull - come back to me when I stop - get the treat - walk - pull - repeat ad infinitum. I am thinking that I should try shorter sessions in which I keep the criteria very exact. I confess that when I go on walks, I get tired of the constant "training" so I am probably not as consistent as I should be.

 

Jovi

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Alternately, do you differentiate when you want your dog to formally heel and when you just want them to maintain a "close" position" - and how did you teach each behavior?

 

I differentiate by default. :lol: If I don't give any cue and we are just moving, the dog is free to be wherever he or she wants to be, except out and out pulling.

 

If I want heeling - like for competition or performance - then I cue heel for left side heeling or side for right side heeling.

 

Otherwise, if we are just walking, no particular position is required.

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Cerb has learned to heel (on lead) where he is at the end of a short leash but not pulling. He rarely looks back unless I cue him and I'm popping a treat into his mouth. I believe he uses the slight force on the leash as the cue to his limit. He stays with his rib cage at my left leg and never pulls.

Off lead we have two modes: A heel mode where he stays at heal in the same position as above (We're still refining it and making it precise, but so far, he is really good at it) and a "with me" mode where he has the freedom to move about at will as long as he stays within ~10-15 feet. If I see a cactus joint/snake/coyote poo....I simply point at the space next to my left leg and say heel and he's back at heel.

It's my way of thinking that when Cerb is on lead, he is in my complete control. No play, no zooting, just walking with dad. He gets plenty of off lead time where he can play but when he's on, his job is to be good on lead. This is one of the reasons I don't own a flexi. For me, they blur the line. I'm blessed in that we have a huge, fully fenced area for him to run and fetch and a relatively unlimited area of desert beyond that. He can get his ya yas out off lead there.

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Thank you for the suggestions so far.

 

I like the idea of a formal heel where the dog is cueing off of my legs or feet. How do you get them to look there, rather than at the hand that is holding the treat?

 

I do mean loose-leash walking (sorry I didn't use the correct terminology before). I have been using the command "with me" to indicate L-L walking. What frustrates me is that he is constantly testing the leash limits (i.e. pulling), and I really don't want to keep stopping. My dog seems to have a personality that he doesn't take anything personally. He would be happy to walk - pull - come back to me when I stop - get the treat - walk - pull - repeat ad infinitum. I am thinking that I should try shorter sessions in which I keep the criteria very exact. I confess that when I go on walks, I get tired of the constant "training" so I am probably not as consistent as I should be.

 

Jovi

I think this is the important point

 

You have a smart dog who has learnt a behaviour chain

 

He dosent understand that the position of walking by your side is what is wanted - he is getting rewarded for going to the end of the lead and then returning to you

 

Personaly I would say be far far more rewarding in the right place

reward him before he gets the chance to move away from where you want him to

Yes he will prob be looking up at you to start with, but what you can do, once he understands the position is wait till he looks away from you and reward then

reward what you want, reward 100 times more than you think you need to and he will v quickly learn that being in the 'correct' position is v fun and rewarding and you will actually be able to phase out the treats faster

 

Especially with a smart dog you get what you reward for, if he has got to the end of the lead then you have lost his attention. take the lead off so you are not relying on it as a failsafe and you have to keep his focus (if it is legal and safe to do that)

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I think this is the important point

 

You have a smart dog who has learnt a behaviour chain

 

He dosent understand that the position of walking by your side is what is wanted - he is getting rewarded for going to the end of the lead and then returning to you

 

Personaly I would say be far far more rewarding in the right place

reward him before he gets the chance to move away from where you want him to

Yes he will prob be looking up at you to start with, but what you can do, once he understands the position is wait till he looks away from you and reward then

reward what you want, reward 100 times more than you think you need to and he will v quickly learn that being in the 'correct' position is v fun and rewarding and you will actually be able to phase out the treats faster

 

Especially with a smart dog you get what you reward for, if he has got to the end of the lead then you have lost his attention. take the lead off so you are not relying on it as a failsafe and you have to keep his focus (if it is legal and safe to do that)

 

Thank you pammyd. I am glad to hear confirmation of what I was thinking from someone more experienced than I am. I like the idea of treating him when he is on a heel AND looking away. Good tip.

 

I can let him off-leash for training. I have a large property. He has a very good recall so we usually do free-range walks - which is probably why I have not worked on his heel & loose-leash walking very much. I haven't needed them, but I am now trying to plug that deficit in his training.

 

J0vi

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  • 2 weeks later...

I can let him off-leash for training. I have a large property. He has a very good recall so we usually do free-range walks - which is probably why I have not worked on his heel & loose-leash walking very much. I haven't needed them, but I am now trying to plug that deficit in his training.

 

I know how you feel. I have an almost two year old that spends most of his time off leash and i'm kicking myself in the butt for not focusing more on that as he was a puppy. Though I love that I can trust him so well off leash. Now to correct my bad leash training! :rolleyes:

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi, I’m a second generation dog obedience competitor and I’vecompeted at intervals since 1975. Hopefully these comments will help – in additionto the suggestions above.

 

I f you want to compete in obedience, I would adviseteaching heeling and the loose-lead walk separately. The concentration neededto stay exactly in position can be taxing for a dog, and I think they areentitled to some “down time” when walking on lead.

 

I don’t normally use a command for loose-lead walking, as Ibelieve that a loose lead should be the default response. I’m not sure how Iteach that, it just seems to happen. But I did have one GSD that I thought (ina fit of insanity!) I might show in conformation classes and therefore allowedto pull. When I came to my senses, I had to actively teach loose lead walking.I did that by placing food at 3 to 10 metre intervals in a straight line, thenwalking her up the line, stopping and saying “don’t pull” as soon as I felt anytension on the lead. She very quickly got the idea that she wasn’t going to getto the food if she was pulling towards it.

 

For success in competition heeling, I think you need to havea mental picture of perfect heeling and never settle for less. Remember thatthree steps of perfect heeling improves your dog more than ten minutes ofless-than-perfect heeling. It is also essential to always use a release wordwhen you finish working.

 

I have seen people have success with many different methods,but this is what I do. I usually start my dogs off-leash, without distraction,in the house. I use lots of voice, body language, gentle touch (quick shortpats to excite and motivate; slow long stroking from neck to tail to calm) and changes in direction to keep them with me –and initially aim for many, short (<30 second) sessions daily. I aim to stopeach session before the dog loses focus and when I stop I go straight fromheeling to sitting on the floor patting the dog (Most undignified, but I don’tthink the dog cares!) N.B. I do not ask for a sit at the end of the session. Asthe dog progresses, I increase session length, start asking for short periodsof work without cues, increase straight-line distance, move outside and finallyallow distractions.

 

I teach my dogs to find heel as a separate exercise. I usefood very selectively (I prefer play and praise as motivators), but becausethis exercise can be tedious for the dog I do use food initially, mostly fadingit out over a few weeks. I put start the dog on a stay then step away (at firstforward, later to the side and finally behind the dog), and use the food (orlater a hand movement) to guide/lure the dog into the heel position. Later on,I start heeling sessions by walking outside with my dog off-lead, saying “heel”and expecting them to find heel without any assistance from me.

 

I hope this helps – these are my methods, but there areother equally good methods of training heeling. I think attitude and timing ismore important than method.

 

Kerry

 

 

 

 

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I also second recomending sperating any kind of loose leash walking from a formal heel if you intend on competing in obedience...

 

My main USBCHA trial dog has a "heel" command which means I want him near enough to me that he is to be touching my leg...I don't care what side...never in front of me..he doesn't need naything else and has been taught as a pup that even when he is released from his "heel" he is never to go far..all this was taught with either pressure and release or a long line...

 

In the past my main competitive obedience dogs had a "with me command" meaning you need to be close enough for me to touch, either side...great for walking in busy areas, etc...released they knew also never to go far...they had a seperate "strut" command used in competition...they did however have a "watch me" and "ready" command that I used in non-competitive settings...VERY helpful ;)

 

NONE of my dogs pull on a leash and was one of there first lessons learned as a pup...

 

I also strongly recomend if the OP is interested in competitive obedience or furthering there training to seek out a succesful and knowledgable trainer....one who has obtained AT LEAST a UD title or equivilant..

 

There are also WONDERFUL trainers putting on seminars regularly....

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  • 3 weeks later...

Have you thought about training the dog on a traffic (short) leash? This seems like the way to go if you don't want a strict formal heel.

 

My BC is just 13 weeks and too short for a traffic leash, but I taught her to walk loose leash in about 4 days. To do this, I taught her to slow down (slow) or speed up (hup) on command and randomly reward her for walking close to my side. The slow and hup commands involve a collar pop correction if she doesn't comply on the first command (e.g., "slow" -> non-compliance -> "no" followed by a leash pop -> "slow" -> compliance -> "good slow! good girl!"). After a few short walks, she was walking at my side about 80% of the time and obeys slow/hup in one command about 80% of the time.

 

For walking on the left side, we're currently working on a "left" command. I'm starting this one by randomly positioning myself near her while off leash and rewarding her when she comes to my left leg. After she gets the point we'll work up to doing this around distractions.

 

One last thing: distraction training is really important! Train your dog in a quite place until she understands the command 100% of the time and then work your way up to more distracting locations. I always practice basic commands in my kitchen and then move to the front yard. After that, we work in a corner of the yard about 100 feet from 2 fenced dogs that bark and go wild. And finally we work on obedience at the park and popular bike and jogging path in my town. Just remember that you need to train the command to 100% understanding -> correct disobedience -> pressure test the dog in more distracting environments.

 

Good luck!

 

edit: this is my first BC, but I've owned and trained two GSD: one from AKC show dog lineage and another from working police dog lineage.

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I'm working on this heel/loose leash training too and this thread is very helpful. I wasn't separating the two either. We want to teach Sweets to heel for the rare times we go to the city and want to keep her close on crowded streets, but the loose leash is the really practical, everyday goal.

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