Thursday, September 23, 2010

Heeling class

Several of you have expressed an interest in the heeling class I’m taking with Phoenix, so here’s a little info.

As advertised, it focuses on heeling skills and nothing else so is a good fit for dogs at any level of training, providing they have a good foundation with attention work. Of course, no one would heel their dogs for an entire hour but there are plenty of breaks so the dogs aren’t working constantly. The hour goes really fast and it’s a very high energy environment, which both dogs and handlers reflect.

We’ve only met twice but here are some of the things we’ve worked on:

• Teaching words to fine-tune heel position. These include cues to find heel position, move up, move back, get closer, get off and get your butt in. Personally, I tend not to use a lot of these words since my theory on heel position is there’s only one correct spot and if I have to adjust the dog to move up, move back, etc. once he’s there, then the dog is not taking enough responsibility for finding the correct spot in the first place.

BUT . . . it is VERY helpful for the dog to be able to adjust himself and maintain heel position out of the context of actual heeling. For example: if you set up two inches off the mark where the judge wants you in the ring, when you set up for sits/downs and then have to scoot over, etc. If you haven’t taught these little doodles, your poor dog won’t have any idea how to move himself accordingly and it can be a stress builder in the ring.

Plus, teaching the dog body awareness is extremely valuable when it comes to working glove/article turns as well as turns during heeling.

• Teaching words and body language to cue speed changes. I had never taught “hurry” before but it has turned out to be an incredible tool for tightening up our about turns and the outside turn of the Figure 8. Our instructor calls it the “dizzy turn” and that’s pretty much how you teach it — psyching the dog up to drive to the right while you turn in place. Phoenix thinks this is great fun. He’s probably just waiting for me to fall over.

• Group heeling! Those of you who started training back in the Dark Ages of jerk and yank may flinch at the memory of forced group heeling marches around a building, popping a choker and chanting “Heel, good dog, heel, good dog” while the instructor monotonously intoned “Pop and release, remember to praise.”

Our group heelwork has NOT been like that! With a variety of different dogs and handlers, all moving at different speeds, frequently stopping to reward/release and the instructor calling unexpected speed and direction changes, the group heeling sequences are definite energy builders. Phoenix’s tail probably hurts this morning because I don’t think he ever quit wagging it last night. This is a great confidence boost for both of us, since my overall goal for the class is to get my happy dog back. He’s working with a focus on releasing to play as a reward and I’m using very limited treats.

One of the unplanned benefits is that the class is held in a huge training building and half of the building is devoted to agility classes on that evening, so there is a constant trail of dogs and handlers going to/leaving the agility area, plus all the wonderfully enticing sounds of teeters banging and tunnels being pummeled. Many great opportunities to enforce and reward attention!

It’s also been very beneficial for working on Phoenix’s “strange dog” issues. He’s getting to hang out by dogs he doesn’t know and dogs he knows and doesn’t like and last night he even made a new friend, a cute little American Eskimo girl from the agility class.

1 comment:

  1. ". . . if I have to adjust the dog to move up, move back, etc. once he’s there, then the dog is not taking enough responsibility for finding the correct spot. . ."

    EXACTLY! It drives me nuts when people make the judge wait while they fiddle with their dog's position -- patting their knee, giving multiple postion commands, twitching their knee to get the dog to move. TELL the dog to 'find heel' or whatever your command is and quit enabling him by 'helping' him do it. It's HIS job!

    Sorry, had to rant.