Friday, February 11, 2011

Finally, The Heeling Fix

Wish I could say this is guaranteed to bring brilliant attention and 40 point heeling to all who desire it but alas, life and dog training rarely come with that sort of guarantee. In fact, it’s only guaranteed to work on one particular 53-pound malinois who likes this sort of thing. Beyond that, no promises. Try it and modify it to your own use and have fun with it.

First, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have put in the necessary hours teaching your dog to heel with heads-up attention. Cuz you can’t suddenly pull this on him and expect miracle results if there’s no foundation for it.

Let me back up just a bit: I really hate the word correction. Really HATE it. When I started training in the 1970s with my beagle on a choker, “correction” often meant “get angry and show your dog who’s boss.” Today, the word still carries a lot of that negative baggage. Too often, corrections turn into a show of physical dominance and all to frequently, emotion.

Yes, I believe in giving corrections but only in a way that gives the dog useful information. And the correction has to be fairly given. And it can’t be angry. And when it’s done you CANNOT let your dog sit around feeling sorry for himself. A “good” correction shouldn’t make the dog feel sorry for himself in he first place. It should make him think “Oh, THAT'S what she wants. I can do that!”

If you go all crabby on your dog, why would he WANT to watch you? If you are angry or upset, many dogs will look away in submission, hoping not to make you even more crabby, which inevitably does make you crabbier because you were crabby in the first place that the dog wasn't watching.

So, back to a correction for the dog whose brain drifts off to heaven knows where during heeling. Granted, heeling is not the most exciting thing in the world and I am NOT an advocate of working heeling by marching endlessly around the training building forever. But it’s not asking too much to expect my dog to stay engaged for 20 to 40 to 60 second segments of heelwork. (The heeling segment of the Utility signal exercise lasts about 45 seconds or less. Just so you know.)

So if I catch Phoenix going to his cat-filled happy place when he should be watching me, I take him quickly by the collar and bounce him out ahead of me. He understands how to “lift” when I have my hands on his collar so I’m not forcing him to do anything. It’s actually quite voluntary. There is no force, no emotion. It’s more of a GOTCHA! Then he pops back into heel position and we keep going for a bit. I'm usually laughing at him and he gets all wiggly and silly and it's all good.

That's it. Is that too simple?

This solution works for MY dog. It might work for your dog. It might not. Your dog might be totally offended by it, in which case it’s not going to be the right correction. Phoenix LIKES being bounced. He’s weird that way. It gets him all jazzed and silly and that’s what I want.

Have a great weekend!


  1. If the dog really enjoys the correction do you ever find that they make a "mistake" just to get the bounce? Or does that not happen ever? Or if does happen with some behaviors is it unlikely to happen when the correction is for loss of focus since if a dog is looking forward to an occurrence they are naturally going to be paying attention...? I'm just thinking out loud here :)

    I haven't bounce my dogs but I do lightly pinch the toller and get him jazzed up if he's not paying attention and haven't seen any fallout. But Vito has learned that barking gets my attention so it increases the behavior I don't like when I tell him to knock it off. It quiets him for that immediate time but in the long run rewards the bark.

  2. Reminds me of a seminar I went to a couple years ago - Celeste Meade I think - anyway she talked a lot about bouncing your dog and it seemed to work great for her too. So, I went home and tried bouncing my 180 pound Great Dane. Like you say, it may not work for all dogs :)

  3. Yeah, figured I'd better put that disclaimer in there for folks with dogs the size of Jackson and Falkor! Maybe you could throw in a spontaneous twirl or touch command? No bouncing required!

  4. What is "bouncing"? I've heard that term from so many people, but I don't know what that means.

  5. Sylvia Bishop says a dog can't pout when he's getting bounced.

    Terv bitches pout. Hence, Bouncing-R-Us!

  6. Thank you so much for posting about this Melinda! Falkor really likes to be bounced, so I should definitely try that when he gets distracted during heeling.

  7. I'm with "Laura, Lance and Vito". My dog would be very quick to figure out, if I look away, I get rewarded with something fun.