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!


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I'm glad it's helping so much! I tend to reward the eye contact randomly on walks and usually after doing so the dogs drop back into a heel. Or rather Lance drops back into a very forged heel and then I tell him nope because I don't want him to practice being forged even if I didn't ask for it! I always release them verbally after a short bit since while I will reward it offered, I still want to be the one who decides when we're done. Even though the dogs would likely offer heeling for a long time after that 1st treat, if I'm done rewarding I want them to know so they don't start offering a nice long bout of heeling and then decide on their own that since a long time has passed without a treat that it must mean they can ignore me. Of course even after releasing I might reward the offer again after a bit of time has passed. I'm rambling, but basically I just wanted to say I like what you're doing :)

Crystal said...

It really is helping- the heeling I actually ask for is so much better, too, even in the face of distractions. :)

Jen said...

Just found your blog - I love it!

Great info and description of this 'choose to heel', I'm going to get out and try it with my foster dog who LOVES to pull!


Crystal said...

Welcome, Jen! Let me know how the Choose to Heel stuff goes for you- I've found it pretty incredible! :)

Anonymous said...

I do most loose leash walking or heeling skills off leash with dogs whenever possible. Partly because I don't enjoy leash walking dogs but also because it makes the experience much more pleasant for the dog- no leash tension or frustration to deal with.

My favorite game is- once the dog has gotten into position I toss a treat for them- 'find it!', and I keep walking. When they catch up to me and again find the sweet spot I can start adding more time before rewarding them with the treat toss, a step or two at a time. It's a double reward, treat and sniffing. I also use it to reinforce recall or keeping track of me behavior.

I know that it goes against click for behavior reward for position, but I find that many dogs just love the game so much they practically beg me to play it with them- 'here I am walking right next to you, see me down here?' It's our 'walk with me' game.

Crystal said...

I do most of my training off leash, or while on our daily walks. I prefer to train off leash so much that when we first starting competing, I struggled with leash handling skills!

I like to toss treats too- Maisy LOVES chasing them- but if I do it too much, she seems to think that running off is part of the behavior. *SIGH*