The past few weeks I concentrated on a few things with Brito:
Play with toys. That is coming along pretty well. Less good outside but hey, he’s a baby.
Play with me. That also suffers outside, but still…we’ll get there.
Retrieve. Super! Good boy Brito. Can do very easy retrieves outside and more complicated ones in the house.
Fronts/recalls. Work in progress but all is well.
Heeling. Uh oh. Made a little mistake here.
I focused on teaching Brito the position of heel and really, he’s pretty darned good at finding static position and staying there He can keep his body dead straight and in position pretty much no matter what I do – backwards, sideways, and forwards – if I move at a snail’s pace.
He’s so good at it that he’s slow. dull. boring. He places each foot with thought. He thinks so hard that there’s no joy – no movement – no energy to the work. And it’s been a bit harder to get that back than I expected.
My mistake was assuming that he’d love the movement once I went back to it but I forgot a small detail – Brito’s “natural” position in relation to me is to follow. If I take a walk in a new place, it is likely that he’s following along a few feet behind, or off exploring.
He is rarely “underfoot” and never pushes into my space. He’s not that kind of guy.
In short, I’ve created a dog that lags noticeably if I speed up at all.
Much of training is finding and maintaining balance points. In heeling, the balance point is between movement and control – you need both! Excess movement should be channeled up. “Up” can either be happy, flashy feet, or “up” can be energy throughout the body. If a dog has plenty of control but no movement, then you can get very accurate, but dull, heeling. Then you have a dog that is always right where he should be, but none of that sense of joy that I want to see in the work. And if a dog has too much movement but without control, then you’ll get barking, biting, wrapping, and forging.
Neither is really an issue of whether the dog “knows” heel position (but it can be). The problem is often an issue of channeling that energy appropriately – learning to heel correctly while expressing movement at the same time.
So…back to Brito.
For the past three days I have worked on movement. This is the start of “heeling games’ rather than “precision heeling”. If Brito shows up roughly in heel position on my left side, then I throw a cookie either forward or across my body. If I’m lucky this will give me the movement that I’m looking for, and when I’m ready I can combine that with the precision that I know he already has.
In effect, I’m breaking his precision by encouraging rough movement.
This method risks a dog that is less precise. I’m ok with that. With time, I’ll work on further refining the balance point to give me the picture I’m most comfortable with.
Because honestly, if all I can get out of a dog is ‘precise’ then I will leave the sport of obedience. Perfect heeling with a careful dog does not inspire me.
Here’s a video of Brito’s first heeling games plus generic training – note the overall pace of training. Dogs have a lot more fun when you practice lots of different things in a short period of time.
This is also the very beginnings of work outside with some kind of engagement. I’m beginning to “win” over the environment. Note – no leash! And no running off to pee on things! Major progress there.