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, but I’ll warn you now – 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. I’ve placed the skill list for Forging below to give you an idea of how the class runs. There are about five lectures and ten skill lists. The students who submit videos over the next six weeks will be the demo dogs for the class as a whole.
I hope to see you here or in one of the other classes at the school. Class starts June 1st and “late” registration ends on June 15th; send me a note through the “People” link at the academy if you need help selecting the right class for you. I’m also running the popular class “Bridging the Gap; Reducing Reinforcers, Proofing and Generalization” this term. I post the syllabus for each class, so that might help you decide what makes sense for you.
Anyway, regardless of whether you take the class, try out some of the ideas below if you have a forging dog. Good luck!
Dog Forges because of Incorrect Toy Reward Placement
This is extremely common when dogs are trained with toys. Many people offer toy rewards either forward (throwing a ball is an example) or in the front of their body (to play tug). Both of these errors make forging (and wrapping) extremely common. Here are two examples of toy presentation that will create forging and crowding 1) throwing balls straight ahead and 2) tugging back into your body: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5NMKCCwu_A
You can either switch to food as the reward for heeling or use the toys in a fashion that reinforces correct heeling position rather than a forged one. If you choose to use a toy for the reward, here are some possible positions to offer the toy: 1) on the ground and send the dog back to it; 2) straight down; or 3) back behind the dog (dog must turn out). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLBM83wRUus
Note that the toy is always passed behind the back and to the right hand to reward – coming from the front will exacerbate the problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZCJwyMZw1s
Dog Forges with Food Reward
If you have a higher drive dog that forges as much out of temperament as much as reward placement, here is a technique for you to try:
Feed behind your butt! The goal is to offset the dog’s innate desire to forge with reward placement – this tends to cause dogs to end up in the middle (over time): It is important that you force the dog to go back behind your back three fingers and to take the food from the pocket hand position – this keeps the rear end in. Here is Raika showing correct food, hand and finger placement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgl2rscui5A
Here is the same technique with a small dog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKFzpIO1SrI
Finally, In addition to food placement, watch for your criteria – are you catching errors of forging on the very first step or are you ignoring them for many steps in a row? If you ignore nine steps of forging and then attempt to fix the issue on the tenth step, your dog will not understand what you are trying to communicate and frustration and confusion often makes forging worse in a driven dog.
Dog Forges to see your face
Some dogs forge because they want to look up at you. Personally, I let dogs select their own focal point. I offer the pocket hand to put them in correct position and then I let them select on their own. If I am happy with how it looks, then I leave it alone. But if you taught your dog to watch your face and he then defaults to that in movement, then you need to re-evaluate the position of your pocket hand. Is it at your side in the correct position? Does your dog push their head against your hand or is your hand just sitting there while your dog’s head ignores it? If the dog uses your hand as a guide correctly, and if your hand is in the proper position then there is no way he can end up too far forward – all you’d have to do is move your hand back a bit to reset a better position. Every time your dog begins to forge, you must instantly put them back. But…don’t get in the habit of walking with your hand on your dog’s head – it is a “correction”. When the dog is correct, then take your hand off and let them try it alone for a step or two. If your dog succeeds, reward! Try it:). Here Cisu’s forging is extremely minor, but I still offer the pocket hand to fix her and then I remove it as quickly as possible. I also say “easy” when I use the pocket, so that she can learn the meaning of the word: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfEt66Uzo50
Dog Forges. Who knows why?
Sometimes we do everything right (we think, anyway) and STILL the dog forges! We are past the point of frequently rewarding the dog in training and we need a way to allow the dog some success even when we have nothing to offer. Try this game – the basis is a “fly” from heeling games, but now the fly is BEHIND the dog instead of ahead.
It looks like this with Raika: Note that the first several times I am actually teaching her to do it, and therefore I reward her for each successful repetition. Then I send her on a fly (behind) and continue with heeling. If you watch her carefully, you’ll see she begins to be on the verge of LAGGING, which is very atypical for her. Once your dog knows this behavior, you could do several fly’s within a heeling pattern without rewarding them at all. Most dogs enjoy “fly”.