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It is an elusive goal, but worth pursuing if you want to compete in obedience since it is the gateway to everything else.

There are, of course, probably almost as many ways to teach heeling as there are trainers and exhibitors. I subscribe to one basic plan that my private trainer taught me with Javelin and she learned it from the people who are doing the workshop we are going to this weekend so what we do at the workshop will be related to what I normally do for heeling.

One thing I would suggest is watch great heeling at trials and on videos. You want to watch people who are in utility B since they are the most experienced handlers you will see and pay attention to the people who are scoring 198 up to 200.

Here are a few key items: heads up attention; never losing your dog's undivided attention; and giving your dog clear information in the form of: a straight path on the legs, consistent pace appropriate to your dog, good cues for turns and halts.

The place to start is with heads up attention without moving. To start this, have your dog on leash at your left side and be next to a wall or ring gate. Have a supply of five nice treats in your left hand and hold your hand above your dog's head so that it places itself at correct heel position. Lower one treat to your dog while also showing the dog that you have more cookies. This will teach the dog to look up at you. You don't need to see the dog's whole head since to do so you would have to throw your left shoulder back and that will tend to make the dog lag. If you have your head up facing forward the dog will work to look at you for the cookie and will be forged. Tilt your head slightly to the left and down and move your eyes more than your head. If the dog eats the cookie heads up and maintains the eye contact give another one by slowly lowering it to the dog after 3 seconds. Do this four times and then for the fifth cookie release the dog and have a little party for the fifth cookie. I have Javelin or Lily jump up on the orders "free" and "give hugs." Set the same thing up again and repeat. Do this several times each training session. As the dog gets better at this game increase the length of time between cookies, move out to the middle of the ring or training area and last add distractions in the form of a person standing where a judge would (still at first, then moving). Once you have a person involved have them step in to your left side. If the dog breaks eye contact with you that is an uh oh and you reset. Repeat until the dog does nothing more than an eye flick towards that person. Repeat with many different people and in many different places. If the dog looks at the other person after it has learned to focus on you have the other person stay close until the dog reconnects with you. They are applying pressure and the only way the pressure is removed is when the dog reconnects to you. As the dog improves you can have the person hold a clipboard and talk like a judge will. Have the "judge" move their hands too.

I would not take a single step until the dog can maintain heads up attention on you with the judge pressure and long intervals between cookies.

Any way if this is of interest to continue with LMK and I will add what to do stepwise. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions if you have other methods that have worked. Just remember we are talking competitive no points off heeling as the goal.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you, Catherine! I always enjoy reading your training threads, even though I'm not sure I'll compete in obedience.

That kind of attention works in rally too!
 

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It may take a few sessions, but I think you will like the results. Have fun at class.
 
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I’m glad you posted this, I find your training posts extremely helpful. I find heeling, real competition heeling is gorgeous to watch when well done and so hard to achieve.
 

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Truly beautiful heeling is a joy to see, especially I think with larger dogs who are good movers. The person and the dog both look very fluid when they are connected. My trainer often talks about good heeling as being like dancing where the partners really have a deep level of understanding one another.
 

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Noelle and I have been working on heeling for competition for almost a year. Attention is where everything starts. Eye contact while sitting in heel position deserves to be rewarded heavily, and reinforced often.

The Rally sign, One step, sit, two steps, sit, three steps, sit, is ideal for teaching moving while watching you. If you cannot do this sign 100% perfectly, there's no point in moving forward any more steps.

Delivering treats from your left hand, over the dog's muzzle to the outside of their face, will help line up a crooked rear end. (I was astonished when I learned this trick.)

If you see a mistake... Stop and reset.

If you see the same mistake over and over, take a deep breath, and remember Vince Lombardi's immortal words to the Green Bay Packers, "Gentlemen, this is a football."
Go back to basics. Attention while sitting in heel. One step forward, sit. Reward and release.

Do not rush this, do not expect competition style heeling to be perfected in a week or 10 days. It takes weeks - in my case months - of hard work to teach the dog where heel position is, and how to move smoothly at your side. The more I work on heeling, the more I need to work on heeling. But wow is it fun when Noelle gets it. Those moments are pure magic.
 

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Click, just yes.


One thing to remember is that heeling is not something that is pre-installed in a dog's brain waiting to be unlocked by simply doing it. It is an alien idea for them so you need to break it down into the smallest pieces possible and work them over and over to give your dog the muscle memory to acquire the smallest bits before you connect them together and take off and do a whole pattern.
 

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It's also not pre-installed in our brains, either! I find handler error is a big part of what throws off my dog's rhythm. Today we were heeling and I was listening to music. I chose a song that was too slow, and Noelle was not interested in what I was doing. I switched songs and suddenly I had her attention. FYI, this is Noelle's idea of a normal heeling pace.


That's quick for walking. Goes to show you that Noelle's idea of a "brisk pace", and my idea of a brisk pace, are not at all related. Noelle wants to move at a peppy pace, which makes my transition to slow her favorite thing to do. This is my song for slow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvThHk-wMRk&frags=pl%2Cwn

As you can imagine, I seriously decelerate on slow! I creep along, humming this song in my head. Then I speed right back up to Rhianna in my head on Normal. Fast is full out running, no need for music, then slow down back to Rhianna. The speed I am walking can make or break Noelle's attention. If I have her attention because I'm moving fast enough to keep it, we're in sync. If I move too slowly on "normal" I lose her.

Do you step out on your right foot when you heel, or left foot? I was taught left foot first in so many classes. Then Karen, my trainer, told us all to try saying, "Heel" and stepping out with our right foot first. Noelle has played enough follow the left leg games that when I step out with my right foot first, she follows my left leg much better. It's like it gives her a secondary cue that we're moving, and keeps Noelle from lagging from the start. I found that... interesting. Anyone else?
 

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Click, I didn't understand what you were talking about which foot to heel on.

I was taught to start to heel on the left. When you put your dog in a stay and walk away - then you lead on your right foot. So the left foot is a signal to the dog to heel and the right signals stay.

I have a problem with turning right and left. I don't know my right from my left so somethings I do thinks like hit my right hand hard enough that it stings - that can help me. But I get nervous when the teacher calls right or left and in my nervousness it panic and really struggle with right and left. Frankly I should just let Babykins follow the judge's call of right or left - and I follow her in heel position - could that work?

And it is a magical feeling when you and your dog are completely in sync and your dog is heeling perfectly.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I step off for heeling on my left foot and leave for stays and recalls on my right foot. That is what most people do I think,


Skylar my dogs do definitely understand words like right and left or back and such. However, I would not rely on Babykins being the leader to make heeling turns though. If she is leading then she is likely forging. One thing that helps tremendously with those issues is to watch the heeling pattern when the judge shows it and also to watch some people who go in before you if you can so that you can hear the judge call the pattern "live." For those in novice A you will have a briefing where the judge will walk you through it.


Practice turns without your dog as many times as you need to be able to make muscle memory for your footwork. The same concept applies to footwork to cue halts and things like glove pivot footwork.
 

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I step off for heeling on my left foot and leave for stays and recalls on my right foot. That is what most people do I think,


Skylar my dogs do definitely understand words like right and left or back and such. However, I would not rely on Babykins being the leader to make heeling turns though. If she is leading then she is likely forging. One thing that helps tremendously with those issues is to watch the heeling pattern when the judge shows it and also to watch some people who go in before you if you can so that you can hear the judge call the pattern "live." For those in novice A you will have a briefing where the judge will walk you through it.


Practice turns without your dog as many times as you need to be able to make muscle memory for your footwork. The same concept applies to footwork to cue halts and things like glove pivot footwork.
I was taught to step off on my left foot for heel, and right foot for stay. Then my trainer Karen suggested giving starting off on our right foot a try. If you have dog that lags when you start heeling, starting with your right foot gives them a single step to catch up before you've left them behind to lag.

It felt so weird, but I can see how it would be helpful for a lagging dog.

If you're right handed, when you hear right think WRITE and turn toward your writing hand so you can write right.

Left is for leash, the side your dog is on.

Leash turn! Write turn!
 

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Clever thinking on left and right reminders!


As to stepping off on the right foot I think I have too much muscle memory to possibly make that work for myself. Besides my problem is never lagging on the start of a heeling pattern. Instead I get anticipation and potentially a forge.
 

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Skylar my dogs do definitely understand words like right and left or back and such. However, I would not rely on Babykins being the leader to make heeling turns though.
haha - I was joking. I know she listens to the judge - we went through a short stage where she would "come" when the judge or trainer said - call your dog.

One thing that helps tremendously with those issues is to watch the heeling pattern when the judge shows it and also to watch some people who go in before you if you can so that you can hear the judge call the pattern "live." For those in novice A you will have a briefing where the judge will walk you through it.

Practice turns without your dog as many times as you need to be able to make muscle memory for your footwork. The same concept applies to footwork to cue halts and things like glove pivot footwork.
My problem is in training class when the trainer is calling out random things like turn right, turn right, turn right, turn left, about turn, fast, turn left - This is when I struggle. It's random and we're in a group so if you turn right when everyone turns left you can bang into someone. I dread when we do this in class.

I was taught to step off on my left foot for heel, and right foot for stay. Then my trainer Karen suggested giving starting off on our right foot a try. If you have dog that lags when you start heeling, starting with your right foot gives them a single step to catch up before you've left them behind to lag.

It felt so weird, but I can see how it would be helpful for a lagging dog.

If you're right handed, when you hear right think WRITE and turn toward your writing hand so you can write right.

Left is for leash, the side your dog is on.

Leash turn! Write turn!
Okay, that makes sense - give your dog a chance to get going with you. We've been practicing something to encourage Babykins to heel with me. You start in heel with your dog sitting. Give your signal to move forward and take one or two steps - immediately put your left hand out in front of where your dog should be if the dog is moving properly and ask them to touch then feed a treat. The idea is to get your dog to move toward that treat which means they want to move with you immediately and not lag.

I do have one trick - I start of write with my hand - then I know that's my right hand. My problem is these tricks take time as your brain figures it out - that's too long - people in class have already turned while I'm still figuring out which is right and left - that delay in my thinking delays my turning. As Catherine points out - in competition you get to see the pattern ahead of time so I just have to remember the pattern. And beginner novice has rally signs so that's not even a problem.

I will try to make the left for leash where my dog is located.
 

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Today i learned that Noelle lags on heel when we step off. So, I worked with my trainer, and guess what. Starting off with a half step on my right foot gives Noelle's brain a chance to say, oh, we're heeling now, when I move my left foot. I got a much more together heeling performance when I did that. I must admit, it feels very odd. But, for a dog that lags on the start, it's a huge help.

I also had a massive handful of imaginary treats. A great big fist of them. Before we started heeling, I teased her with my left hand. Noelle got very excited over the imaginary treats when we were doing our off leash heel. Head up, grinning at me, ready and fired up. With a Newfoundland doing an honor down in the center of the ring, too. She ignored the Newfoundland. Ignored the dog practicing in the open ring next to us. Focused, ready, head up, heel. I stepped off with my right foot (wrong foot?) And Noelle heeled right with me. It was awesome. She got real treats when I was done.

There's nothing quite as rewarding as a beautiful heel.
 

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That is really interesting. I have never had issues of lagging on a forward order. If anything and anticipatory forge is more my issue with Javelin so we have practiced set up for heeling a ton recently. He has gotten a lot better about waiting for my order. Every once in a blue moon Lily will get stuck on the sit because she is day dreaming, but that is very rare (rare enough to not do much about it). Click, having read your Noelle thread about you day yesterday, I just want to say I think you have a treasure in Karen. She sounds just fabulous. It is hard to find a great trainer who will look at what you are doing with an objective eye and who will share the smallest bits of what they know with their students.


When I get a chance later I will add a new post to talk about some other thing that is part of heeling. It will either be one type of turn or halts. If you all have a preference as to what is next LMK.
 
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Karen charges a ton for private lessons, so I am really, really blessed to get her instruction when she is just volunteering. We have fun together and I make her laugh. She bred apricot poodles for a while, too. She has a soft spot for Noelle and understands how to train poodles.

Now, on heeling, I'm learning not to stop on dime when the judge says halt. Karen chants in her head, "And sit straight," as she's coming to a stop on halt. Those two extra steps help a lot. If Noelle is paying attention, our right turns are wonderful. Left turns she can go wide on leash. Off leash, she stays with me better.

I lost Noelle on the about turn off leash. She kept heeling forward, and I was going the other way. Karen said, "Tell your dog to heel again and take the point off. It's just a point!" If I was after high scores that would matter. Novice A? Oh, who cares! I'll gladly take a combined score of 170.5, thank you very much.

About turn footwork, games, ideas?
 

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Okay then about turns it is. For any changes from normal forward heeling you have to build in ways to have pre-cues that aren't actually mark offs as extra orders. For turns it is your foot work and where you should be looking, into the turn and not looking to see where the dogs is in other words.


To tell the dog an about turn is coming turn your head to the right as you hear the order. If you look towards your left to see where the dog is you will cause it to lag. You want to show the dog that it has to drive to keep at heel. As you start the turn take a left foot step where you put your foot at a 45 deg angle in front of your right foot. Your right foot will then turn you around on your hips because you will turn the right foot in your new direction. Your last step will bring your left foot around to the new direction and square your hips back over your feet. As you do that return your head posture to look forward. Practice first with the perfectly performing invisible dog on an imaginary leash to get yourself some muscle memory. Then put something a little weighty on a leash or piece of twine. Watch from the corner of your eye what the weight does. Does it just come along with you or does it flare out or swing up in front of you? You want it to come along with you. Other movements suggest that your are throwing your body in ways that could possibly look like extra cues in the eyes of a judge with a sharp pencil.


Now that you have all that down, get a real dog on a real leash. Remember really beautiful heeling is always heads up. The dog needs to learn to trust that you aren't going to step on them or otherwise interfere with them to know they don't need to look away from you to make this big change in direction. Break the turn down into parts. Heel towards it and give your head cue. Give a treat for the dog heads up looking up but turning its head. Repeat repeat repeat. Now heel towards the turn and start into it slowly with your head turn and the left foot cue. Stop and look at the dog and give a treat if it is still heads up and in position. Repeat repeat repeat. Now heel towards the turn and turn your head, turn your left foot and bring your right foot into the new direction of travel. Check that the dog has its head up and is in position and give a treat if it is. I would couple giving the treats to a yes and a good marker. Yes means here is a treat. Good means that's right but keep going. If at any point the dog drops its head or goes out of heel then give it an oops or uh oh and restart the whole thing. Turns are just like straight lines, not pre-programmed all taught from scratch. So you do have to note when you see something that is wrong and then help the dog to understand what is right. If the dog wants to drop its head help it to know that isn't right by keeping a cookie on its nose. For all aspects of heeling as you are teaching I find it is very helpful to have string cheese peeled into long strips. Hold a strip between your index and middle finger of your left hand so the dog sees it by looking to the correct place you want it to look for heeling all of the time. To fade the food lure you will eventually dnagle the strip of cheese out of the left corner of your mouth and after that just put precut bits of cheese in your mouth so the dog can't see it but so that you can easily dispense a treat along with your "YES!" marker.


It often helps the dog to slow your pace to a slow as you teach the pieces and then bring the whole turn together. To help you know you are really making an about turn and not looping a sloppy right hander put a set of three or four cones fairly close together in a straight line to form a guide for the approach to and exit from the turn.


I think that is about it for about turns! Have fun.
 
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