Heeling is the foundation of obedience. Fortunately I love heeling, so I’m very motivated to find ways to make it beautiful, accurate and engaging for me and my dog.I also enjoy teaching heeling to other handlers, probably more than any other obedience skill. As a result, I’ve been teaching a series of classes at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on this topic.
The first class was “Precision Heeling.” The second class was “Heeling Games.” And….this one is “Advanced Heeling and Problem Solving”.This is the class that considers those tiny, itty bitty details that cost you points or drive you a little crazy. Over the six weeks of class, we’ll look at those details; all of the ways that we struggle in our heeling, and a very wide range of options for improving your skill.
The Gold level spots are full, but you are welcome to join the class at Bronze – and for $65, that’s something of a deal. The prerequisites do not apply at the bronze level. If you did not take the earlier heeling classes, then some of what is discussed will mystify you, but as long as you have something that passes for heeling then you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Indeed, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear ideas, solutions and lectures here that you have not heard anywhere else. And if you’re an experienced trainer that picks up a few new ideas, well….that’s a good thing.
This particular class is composed of both lecture and skill lists that target specific issues. All of the skill lists are released on the first day of class (June 2nd) and to ensure that you can get to work on your issues right away I’ve placed the skill list for “about turns” below to give you an idea of how the class runs. There are four concept lectures to help you learn to solve your own problems and also ten skill lists to give you specific solutions to various heeling issues.
The students who submit videos over the next six weeks will be the demo dogs for the class as a whole. If you find a student to follow at Gold that has similar issues to your own, you’ll make excellent progress. This class has a nice range of breeds and temperaments represented, from a small terrier to a Rhodesian Ridgeback – with everything in between.
Forging on about turns
This can either be a generic forging problem (in which case you would want to look at the topic “Forging” from the first week’s lecture for solutions), or it an be an anticipation problem.
if it’s an anticipation problem, the basic issue is the same as for forging on right turns; the dog is making assumptions about what is going to happen next, and simply does it before you want them to.
If the handler signals a turn and then completes the about turn in a predictable fashion (180 degrees) then the dog stops paying attention and completes the turns before the handler. Dogs can also forge out of temperament; pushier and more driven dogs often forge out of temperament; they think they know more than you do, so they just beat you to it. You’ll need to show them that they don’t know as much as they think they do!
The solution is the same if the dog anticipates because the handler is predictable or because the dog is simply very temperamental and driven. You’ll need to make the dog think on every step throughout the about turn. Turn slowly so the dog is processing well and then test it by alternating slow, normal or fast about turns. Do not always turn the same amount; maybe it will be 30 degrees followed by a half or maybe 270 degrees followed by a fast pace. This is the same as forging through a right turn:
When training this way, make sure you are keeping your body very straight and correct so that your dog can follow you.
It’s not fair to make a fast about turn while your shoulder hangs back! Practice stair step heeling so the dog can never get up any momentum towards the right about turn. Make sure that your body stays straight over your feet! This is a good exercise to practice without a dog first and then videotape – make sure your handling is the same with or without a dog. Here’s Raika practicing stair steps – left, right, left, right, about turn, etc. Never more than a few steps in any direction. You’ll see how she starts to smooth out. (This video is a duplicate):
Finally, try performing about turns followed by an immediate halt before you go in the new direction – that gives your dog plenty to think about! If you practice indoors, most dogs can show better self control, so it’s a good place to start. Note that I still encourage her verbally to drive through the about turn – I don’t want her to start lagging! You can also see how I handle “less than perfect”. It’s no big deal but I don’t reward either:
All of these solutions are basically the same as recommended above for anticipating on right turns, which is why many of the videos are the same. Make the dog think; not just drive forward!
Lagging on About turns:
Lagging on about turns can be an attitude problem – check out the section on lagging from week 1 skill list. This is the most challenging situation because if the dog simply doesn’t care about the work, then no cure in the world will hold up when the rewards are not right there.
Lagging on about turns can be caused by footwork that “kicks” the dog as you complete the turn. This is particularly common with small dogs – keep your feet together on the turn to decrease this issue!
Lagging on about turns can be caused by dogs that have been worked too much to the left – the dog gets lazier and lazier until there is nothing left when you work to the right. It can also be caused by rewarding the dog behind correct heel position, or too many halts after the turn is completed. Finally, it can be caused by a dog that thinks too much – a dog that is very careful and is expecting a right turn – they’ll get left behind as the handler completes the full turn.
Take about turns out of heeling for awhile. Start practicing the about turn separately as a 180 degree pivot to the right. Reward every single one by throwing the cookie straight ahead. . At first, reward regardless of speed or effort. Here you can see that I’m going to throw whether Brito is there or not. Note that my shoulder stay over my feet and I throw the cookie straight ahead – no looking back!
When the dog is driving around with some improvement, switch to alternating the reward straight ahead or offered in heel position. It’s ok if the dog occasionally shoots out of heel position or sits crooked as a result of anticipating the cookie throw. You can deal with that later when the overall picture is better.
In this video, you’ll see I lose Brito’s attention. He is trying but he’s young and a bit fragile about heel position, so I give him some verbal help and I move the food down low to help draw him in, but I do not look backwards or twist my shoulder backwards:
Be prepared to do this for weeks. With my young terrier, he had a tendency to lag quite a lot and it took several weeks for him to understand to stay up in position and that food would be tossed straight ahead. I did not offer cookies in position until the overall issue was resolved – I threw them straight ahead. And I suspect that for maintenance I’ll be doing this for many more months until he’s a stronger worker overall. Other dogs will figure it out very quickly and will develop an anticipation problem so…think balance! Once the dog is more enthusiastic about the turn when it is isolated, you can return the about turn to regular training and see if you’ve gotten the desired improvement. Here is Brito working on heeling – note that the reward comes for the about turn and the cookie is tossed:
In addition, take a good look at your own body language! Lagging is often caused by letting your left shoulder hang back as you complete the turn. Don’t look at your dog on the about turn if your dog lags; look where you are going! I often focus on my right foot as I complete the turn.I’d strongly suggest practicing without your dog first and then add your dog. Then videotape so that you can be sure that you are not contributing to the problem. If your handling has contributed then the cure won’t be instant! Your dog will have to adapt to your new behavior. Be aware that it is common for dogs to cross behind you and end up on your right side when you first practice your new, correct handling. Simply drop your left hand down to help them target around your body as they learn. Note that in all of the above videos, I look where I am going, keep my feet together and keep my shoulders over my feet!
Wide on about turns
Dogs can choose to move wide on about turns for several reasons. Sometimes it is simply an attention problem; if the dog isn’t paying attention and does not see the turn, then they will end up wide. The solution is to increase your expectations for attention (see skill list week one for thoughts on attention).
Dogs also heel wide when their handlers struggle to hold a straight line; little dogs are at particular risk of getting stepped on or kicked and will quickly develop the habit of heeling wide on about turns. While the about turn does not cause the wide heeling, it does make it particularly obvious. See the skill list for week 1 to deal with generically wide heeling.
If you find that your dog is avoiding your feet, make a point of keeping your feet together on turns. This makes it much less like that you’ll step on your dog. In addition, be extremely careful about not drifting into your dog when moving and especially on turns. Pick a line and stick to it! It might help to put a line on the ground and make sure you are going out and back on the same line. Outdoor tennis courts and basketball areas are great for practicing walking straight; just get on a line and use it!
If your dog makes a wide about turn and then quickly moves back into position, try adding a halt right on the corner after the turn is completed. If your dog knows where they should be when you halt, they often begin to anticipate that and pull in closer on the corner itself
Finally, you can do some special footwork for training that makes your dog anticipate pulling in. After completing the about turn, immediately pull to the right for a step or two before continuing back in a straight line.