Thursday, March 31, 2016

How I Trained Dean to Heel

Originally composed in February 2010.

"I start two ways. I stand so that the dog is between me and a wall, or piece of furniture. I lure the dog into position with food, or I use a target to get the dog to move into position, then I click when the dog is exactly in heel and treat. After doing that a few times, I add one little step. After I click/treat the first time for the dog moving into heel, I wait a split second and then click/treat again. That starts to teach the dog duration. The behavior is both getting into heel and remaining there. Gradually I increase the time between the first click/treat and the second.

In the same session, I put the dog in a sit and I move myself so the dog is sitting in heel. I click/treat the dog, move away, move back, click/treat the dog, repeat repeat repeat. This starts to teach the dog that being in heel position is highly rewarding.

Since I'm a Freestyler, I repeat the process with the dog both on left and right.

After doing that for just a couple of days, I start to add in movement - just a few steps at a time at first.

Again, I do two different things in the same training session. I use a lure or target to get the dog into heel, take one step, and click/treat the dog for moving with me in heel. If the dog has a tendency to surge ahead, I move straight so there is a wall directly in front of us. With the wall to the left, me on the dog's right, and the wall ahead, there is noplace for the dog to be but heel. I click/treat the dog for moving in heel.

In the same session, I get a handful of treats, put them right on the dog's nose, move the dog into heel, and move a few steps. I click as we are moving and stop to treat, with the dog remaining in heel. I do this several times and then I click as we move and treat as we move.

I do quite a lot of the lured work, and I keep the food right on the dog's nose for a long time. In the first exercise, where the dog moves into heel and we move together toward a wall, the point is for the dog to think about being in heel and be rewarded for being there. In the second exercise, the idea is for the dog to just feel what correct heeling feels like.

Again, I repeat on both the right and the left.

Once the dog really has the idea, I increase distance and duration and start to move the food away. I start by using a "fake" lure with no food in my hand to teach the dog that the food can be elsewhere on my body and the dog will still get the reward. This is the beginning of the transition from "following food" to gorgeous heeling. After the dog is comfortable with that for 5 or 6 steps between rewards, I change to an open hand target, and gradually I raise that away from the dog.

At that point, I do add in some clicker work to make sure that the dog is really understanding heel. I will take the dog into an open space and just walk around. Any time the dog moves into heel, I click/treat, and if the dog remains there I click/treat. I build duration gradually.

And, at some point I add in stops, turns, sits, downs, spins, twirls, etc. etc. etc. But I stick with plain heeling work for a long time to make sure the dog becomes really fluent.

The results of this are beautiful. I did this with Dean and he is the most beautiful heeling dog I have, and he LOVES to heel! He gets really excited about it - it's very cute. But he's also very good!"


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