Over the past few months I’ve written several blogs on the basics of footwork and handling for heeling, but none of these blogs would have been particularly helpful if you were trying to actually train your dog to heel. Training and handling are two very different things and this series focused on handling over training.
When training heeling, I’d suggest that you add in many more movements beyond forward, halt, left, right, about turn and changes of pace. I’d suggest that you include 270 and 360 degrees circles and spins in both directions. I’d include a change of gait that does not represent a change of pace (explained in the fast pace blog)and I’d be thinking about concepts like fast, faster and fastest! Straight lines should show up near the end of your heeling training and large, rhythmic right circles should be a mainstay of confidence and drive building work, punctuated with a variety of other possibilities. When combining patterns, what are all of the options available to you? How about fast to halt? Fast to backwards (with a reasonable transition)?, Backwards to 180 degree circle left and head quickly in the opposite direction? Left turn to fast? About turn to halt?
The sky is the limit, but consider your interests when choosing your combinations. If you’re trying to build motivation and drive, choose combinations that are intuitive and encourage your dog to drive forwards with little or no thought. How about a fast, faster, right turn combination? And if you have plenty of drive and enthusiasm and now you’d like to see a bit more precision and control, how about left turn to slow followed by fast to halt? These combinations require a lot more thought and control than the ones suggested for building a dog’s enthusiasm.
Good heeling training rarely looks like what you’ll see within the competition ring, unless you are specifically working on the skill of trial readiness or preparation. Good heeling is dynamic and your choices should be driven by the needs of the dog in front of you.
Regardless, you’ll need enough awareness of your footwork and body positioning that your dog can follow you as smoothly as possible, and that has been the purpose of this entire series; not to teach your dog to heel, but to ensure that your handling is smooth and rhythmic so that you and your dog can become a polished team!
Personally, I find fluid, dynamic, and engaged heeling with a dog one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring displays of teamwork possible between a dog and a person. I hope this series has helped you on your journey towards this picture. Good luck!
And on an unrelated note, if your non doggy friends cannot figure out why you are STILL training your dog (“isn’t he trained yet?”) show them this video. It does a good job showing the joy, animation and team work that drives many of us who choose to train and compete in dog sports. Produced by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.