Sunday, May 16, 2010
Choose to Heel
Heeling is one of the hardest behaviors to teach and maintain, or at least that's the conclusion I've come to over the past year and a half that I've been interested in competition. I read about people needing to "retrain" heeling, and I've even done it myself- although I guess it's more accurate to say that I didn't really know what I was doing the first time around, so now I'm actually training it.
Since I've already admitted that I'm not very good at doing structured, formal training sessions, I do most of my training while on walks. For heeling, I've done a lot of Dawn Jecs' "Choose to Heel" method. Surprisingly enough, I couldn't dig up a good description of "Choose to Heel" on the internet. Basically, you click/treat every time the dog comes into heel position on her own. I've found this to be a powerful way of teaching heel because it creates a reinforcement zone so powerful that the dog just loves to be next to your left leg. (I also click/treat for eye contact, regardless of her position. I figure that attention is one of the best things she can give me, and reward that accordingly.)
I discovered how powerful this can be last weekend at the state park. We had Maisy off leash, and she was happily running around, enjoying herself. After awhile, she ended up in heel position, so I rewarded her. As soon as I did, she took off, got about six feet... and you could almost see a light bulb go off over her head. She slowed down, dropped back into heel position, and got another treat. She took off like a shot, and again, more deliberately this time, dropped into heel position. Another cookie. This time she didn't go as far away, and soon she was choosing to heel past all manner of interesting sights and sounds and smells!
She does this a lot on our regular walks. Heel position is just an awesome place to be, but when you're on a six foot leash, it's not like you have a whole lot of options. Heel position kind of becomes a default. But to have her choose to heel while off-leash, in a brand new environment? I was thrilled. Better yet- it's been easy. I haven't had to do much work. And if I don't have a clicker and treats, a smile and some verbal praise seems to work, too!