Sunday, February 20, 2011

The force free heel


I joined a new facebook group called "Force Free Trainers". I love that term, Force Free. What a great term for positive training! So I borrowed it as my post title. Today I thought I'd share how I teach the heeling position. I will do my best to make the directions clear. It is much easier to show people what to do than to write it!
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There are many ways to teach dogs how to do things, this is just the way I have found that works best for me and my students. I typically teach heeling in stages to make it easier for everyone involved.
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The first thing you need to know is that true heeling is a position and not a movement. It means that your dog walks calmly by your left leg with no pulling on the leash. Their front shoulder should be in line with your leg. When you stop the dog also stops and sits. Because of this I make sure the dog already knows the sit action and cue. (word and hand signal for sit)
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When I teach sit I initially use the lure method. I do this because it also teaches the hand signal for the action because it is a modified version of that signal. To lure a sit you have a treat in your hand and start with it directly in front of the dogs nose. Slightly raise it up and back over the dogs head until they sit. Mark the sit with a verbal "Yes" or click and give the treat. Once the dog is responding to this with no hesitation, attach the word sit as they are going into the sit position. I like to attach the word in progress so they make the correct association.
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Aside from practicing the sit with the dog in front of you, for heeling we also need to practice the sit with them in the proper position by your left leg. You may need to lure the dog into the proper position by your left side before you give the sit cue. Simply use the treat and circle the dog around to that position before you give the hand signal or lure for the sit. Keep your feet straight and have the dog move to you, do not move into them to get both of you straight and looking forward. Practice this separately from the walk initially.
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Another thing that can help you later with heeling, depending on the dog you are working with, is the "touch" cue. Some call this targeting. For this I teach the dog to touch my flat palm with their nose. I teach both hands so I can use either one. This one is easy. Simply offer your hand and when they go to sniff it mark it "Yes" or click and give them a treat. Once they are consistent, say the cue "touch" as you offer your hand and they go to touch it. Move your hand around so they have to think about it and work for it. Keep it fun! This is an easy exercise you can use for many other things later as well.
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I used to teach heeling with luring where I would have them follow a treat in my left hand. I found that some dogs never made the connection however as they were to busy thinking only about getting the treat. I still might sometimes use this to get a dog to move around in a specific direction however the touch cue can be used instead. (tho you may need to bend over with a short dog or use a target stick) Simply dangle your left hand down and ask them to touch it to keep them in position. Touch is also a great exercise to refocus a dog whose attention might be drifting.
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I also recommend teaching a "watch me" command to get a dogs attention. If you have already taught your dog to look at you when you say their name you can use that instead. Be sure to always reward that eye contact. This is the beginning to a great recall as well. If you want to make it a separate exercise say "watch me" and mark and treat the moment they look you in the eyes. You can make it a challenge by holding both hands out horizontally with treats in them as a distraction. The dog will look at your hands. Wait the dog out. The moment he looks you in the eye mark and give the treat.
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The walk: I teach this in parts to make it easier. I simply take the dog for a walk and mark and reward what I want the dog to do. Remember training is really just about reinforcement. To set them up for heeling later I keep them on my left side as much as possible for all walking. As I walk the dog if they pull on the leash I use my no-reward mark word "auh-auh" and turn and walk in the other direction. I will say "let's go" when I change direction so they know I have changed direction. I do NOT yank on the leash to get their attention, I call them instead. Initially I am working just on getting the dog to walk without pulling. I do not concentrate on the heel position until they understand this rule first. I will also change direction frequently so they have the opportunity to earn their paycheck. When they walk with a loose leash or follow me at all I mark and treat or verbally praise them.
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To go to the next level I simply change what they get paid for. The moment they are in the heel position I mark and reward them as they are walking. I also mark and reward eye contact. I usually start the walk working on loose leash work and do the heeling practice near the end of the walk. This way the dog is usually calmer and more apt to pay attention to you. Set your dog up for success! Don't make it harder for them than it is or training will just be frustrating for you both. I use a very high rate of pay for heeling. I might give a treat every 3rd step if they are still in position. Remember to mark it every time you pay them so they understand what the paycheck is for. Only mark and treat the perfect heeling position as well. This will help the dog figure it out quicker.
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Once the dog is consistently in the proper heeling position throw in halts and sits. You halt, they sit. (this might not be until after the first few walks, always work at the rate your dog can understand) I slow down before I stop walking so I can telegraph to the dog that something is about to change. AS I stop walking I use my hand signal for sit to bring them into the sit position by my legs. This take practice! You may want to even practice the movement of stopping and doing the hand signal without your dog at first to get the feel of it. (I make my students do this. Muscle memory can really help you in training.)
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Slow down your walk, plant your left foot, as your right foot is coming up beside your left foot your right hand is coming over in front of your dogs nose and up to give the sit hand signal as you say the cue verbally as well. When I go to step off I make sure I step off with my left foot as I say "Heel". Left foot means heel, right foot is for a stay cue. If you ever plan on competing in obedience be sure to teach and practice this way. It will help your dog understand exactly what you want. So the only cues I use are Heel and Sit. Eventually with enough practice you won't need to use either verbal cue because your body cues the dog. (I admit that I still use my cues out of habit.)
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During my walks when I want to switch back to just loose leash walking I will give the dog a release command. I use "free dog". This means they do not have to stay in the heel position. I like to break up the walks so I don't bore the dog and to give me a break as well.
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Tips: If your dog has a crooked sit you can practice your halts close to a wall. This will give your dog no other option but to sit straight. With multiple repetitions you can move further away from the wall. Make sure you are getting your hand far enough over during your cue to sit as that can cause the sit to be crooked.
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So I hope someone finds this post useful. I never would have considered showing in obedience if I didn't have confidence in Jenny's heeling work. But even if you never plan on showing, heeling can make walking your dog so much easier. Especially in crowded areas. Good luck and if I've missed anything fee free to ask questions!
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Happy training!
Marie Finnegan
K-9 Solutions Dog Training Inc.

5 comments:

Mike said...

Great article! I would love a followup on "what to do with various ways your dog can not 'get'" what you're trying to teach.

We have an Akita, and we have had a consistent problem that unless we are inside, the world itself is more interesting than any treat I have, and therefore the turning around to get the loose leash walking just means "ok, we'll look at the stuff over *there* now."

Marie said...

Hi Mike,

OK here are a couple things that might help. One is to practice getting his attention when you are in the house. I wrote a post on this awhile back called "How to get your dogs attention". If you can't get you dogs attention in the house it can be impossible to do it outside with many more distractions to compete with.

The other thing you can do is to teach a specific trick using the clicker or verbal marker "yes!" so they learn how "the game" works. I like teaching dogs how to ring a desk bell for this lesson. Video of a session here: http://k-9solutionsdogtraininginc.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-video-to-share-and-blooper-too.html

Another thing that I found helps is to work the following in a large open outside area: Walk briskly and change direction ALOT. Every time the dog looses focus or pulls I speak to them "auh auh" and just turn and walk fast in the next direction. "Let's go!" Eventually the dog will start paying more attention to you because you are being unpredictable and interesting. Verbally praise the dog whenever they are walking with a loose leash. Walking fast means less time to be distracted. If your dog won't come along well on leash use a head collar. This gives you a leverage advantage as well as the ability to control the dogs line of sight.

When I walk my dogs I always walk using a brisk pace, not a meander. This means they are getting real exercise and I am keeping their attention. I make stops for the dog to relieve itself using the "free dog" cue. Then when it is time to walk again I use "let's go". This sets rules for the walk.

I hope that helps!

Marie said...

P.s. I mostly focus on loose leash walking. I only practice heeling in short spurts because it can be boring for many dogs. I also use real life rewards along the walks in the begining. If they have a stretch of good loose leash walking I let them stop and sniff a tree or check out a great scent. Or maybe play tug or fetch. These can also help create good focus on you. Again because you become more inmteresting than your surroundings. Happy training!

radio fence said...

I have watched your video Training Narcotic Detection Dogs and note that you use Pseudo narcotics in your training.

I have purchased Pseudo for use by myself, but there were so many warnings and restrictions enclosed with it that I haven't dared use it! Warnings include instructions to wear rubber gloves and face masks when handling the powder. In total there are about eight pages of hazardous chemical warnings included in the packaging. However, I saw in your film that the handlers were touching the powder barehanded and sprinkling it on training aids in such a way that the dogs had direct contact with it. Do you have a guide to using Pseudo, and if so, could you please let me have a copy so that I can make best use of it? Are there any dangers attached to using Pseudo? At the moment it is still in its packaging because I dare not touch the stuff! I have found your video to be most informative, and has given me some very good ideas to follow up.

Marie said...

Radio Fence,

I am unsure how you got here with a question about pseudo but I think you are looking for Leerberg.com I know they have a narcotics training video out showing the use of psuedo drugs. I never used pseudo drugs during my drug dog training days so I cannot advise you. I will say we did NOT touch any of the drugs with our hands when doing hides or we would have been contaminated.

Good luck!