In this article I will focus on the criteria that I believe are fundamental for building the competitive heeling exercise along with your dog.
Even if the task is not exactly easy to describe in a few lines, I believe that the expedients I am about to reveal may prove useful to all those dog lovers who are passionate about advanced training or to those who want to participate in competitions and sports trials.
In a seminar many years ago I heard for the first time that the construction of the heeling exercise is comparable to an inverted pyramid, where at the first level we find the heel position in active(repositioning from different angles), at the second level the maintenance of the position in the dynamic phase and with the variations of pace, at the third level the stops, at the fourth the turns and the turnaround(heeling pivot), at the fifth and last level we find the assemblage of all these commands united together.
The construction of the heeling exercise takes patience and dedication, TAKE YOUR TIME!
In this sense, it is advisable to insert one level at a time by introducing the difficulties in a progressive way .
When the first level is consolidated, I gradually initiate the dynamic phase (second level); once the dynamic phase begins to be clear to the dog I proceed with the third level and so on …
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IN HEELING TRAINING: FOOD DRIVE OR PLAYING DRIVE ?
Many dog handlers are pushed by their instructors or by their own convictions to use the play drive in the construction of the heel exercise from the very beginning.
This methodology, in my opinion, can be counterproductive; the excitement resulting from a very high expectation can be a potential deterrent in helping the dog to concentrate.
In fact, I urge owners to use the food resource a lot during the construction phase because I believe that food can help in the realization of a more calibrated exercise, avoiding the smudges that can arise when the dog has a high play drive .
Initially, playing can be useful at the end of the session.
Gradually I will be able to propose it also between one repetition and another, always paying attention to the dog in front of me, to its genetic predispositions and to the emotional flows taking place during the training.
Another very important aspect to take into account for this exercise is the scheduling of workouts in always different places.
The criterion to be chosen is always proportionate to the level of experience of the dog and the dog handler.
In new places I will tend to ask for simple behaviors gratifying a lot(treats or play), this to help the dog to perform them successfully, thus motivating him to propose them again in unusual contexts.
As the experience increases, I can request more complex exercises and strengthen (gratify) less.
As far as I’m concerned, the heeling exercise is one of the most complex to build, because there are countless problems that can arise in the execution of it.
One of the most common problems, especially when it comes to young dogs and inexperienced handlers, is a lack of concentration.
This problem occurs, more often than not, in both dogs and humans.
Another “imperfection” in the competitive heeling that I often find myself arranging is “the wide dog”( when the dog’s body does not remain parallel to the handler ).
This problem occurs both in the heelwork in motion (especially in the pivots) and in the static part of the exercise , in the stops.
Then there are the “great classics”, in which you have to strive with all your imagination to solve real defects in the construction of the heeling and I can say that they are the most challenging flaws to be remedied.
I refer to when the dog has been badly trained by incorrectly reinforcing its “advanced” position(couple of inches ahead respect the correct heel base position), or when in the dynamic phase it continues to jump like a kangaroo.
Normally these are imperfections consolidated over time, which happen to those binomials who have trained alone without being followed by a professional able to change these bad habits .
It must be said that concentrated, brilliant and technically correct conduct is the result of a lot of work.
In recent years I have been lucky enough to work with many dogs of different breeds and each of these has stimulated in me new ideas to help the handlers to get the maximum commitment from their dog.
Over time I have treasured these experiences and managed to find solutions for various problems that may arise in the heeling exercise’s construction.
Even now I find myself exploiting all the ingenuity I have to provide tailor-made solutions for each binomial, because competitive heeling is not an exact science, it is the result of complicity, fun and partnership between handler/trainer and dog!
If you want to learn more about this topic visit the video section.
You will find some interesting ideas that can help you build a correct heeling exercise.