To Teach Heeling, "Walk in the Dog's Shoes"

by Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Before you start teaching the dog to heel, he should understand how to turn off the electronic collar by coming toward you. This was covered in our last two spaniel columns. In those columns, we taught the dog to come when called and to stay with you until released.

Staying with you until released is the foundation for heeling. The only thing new to the dog will be that you are walking while asking him to stay with you.

The "invisible circle"

Anytime the dog leaqves the imaginary eight-foot diameter circle, immediately press the buttom and repeat"Heel!"

When teaching a dog to heel off leash, begin by teaching him that, once he hears the command "Heel," an invisible circle forms around you. It moves with you as you walk.

To do this, imagine an eight-foot diameter circle, with you in the center. Once the dog is given the command to heel, he must stay inside this circle until released. The circle must be respected no matter what direction you turn, no matter how fast or how slow you go, and no matter how enticing the distractions may be.

The invisible circle technique will make a lot of sense to the dog, because it allows him to make an easy comparison. When he moves away from you and strays outside the circle, the collar turns on. When he stays inside the circle and travels with you, everything is wonderful and you are telling him how great he is.

Compare the leash and choke chain

Release the button as he re-enters the imaginary circle.

Let's look at things from the dog's point of view as we compare teaching the dog to heel using a leash and choke chain.

With the leash and choke chain method, the dog is given a series of quick jerks when he gets out of the heel position. Being jerked around by the neck gives the dog the feeling that you are upset with him, He is uncomfortable being next to you, and, from his perspective, being close to you is no fun. You become someone he'd just like to get away from.

Eventually, the dog will accept staying in the heel position when on leash. This takes time to accomplish. Furthermore, although the method works in the end, the dog feels that he has been forced to stay with you against his will.

The circle method using the electronic collar takes a fraction of the time. And there's no transition when the leash comes off, because neither dog nor handler is dependent upon it. Since the collar turns off whenever the dog gets near you, you'll still be his best friend, allowing you to develop the rapport that is so important between a spaniel and "his person."

Build on a foundation

The circle method for teaching a dog to heel takes advantage of three lessons which you've already taught your dog.

  1. Turn toward you to shut off the collar.
  2. Come all the way to you.
  3. Stay with you until released.

The only thing that's new to the dog is that now he must stay with you while you are moving.

First lessons on "Heel"

When you introduce heeling, the lessons should take place in the yard, not in the field. To start, call the dog and, when he gets to you, command "Heel." Start walking in a straight line. Any time he leaves the imaginary eight-foot circle, immediately turn and walk in the opposite direction. As you turn, press the button and repeat "Heel." Release the button as he re-enters the imaginary circle.

If the dog should get more than 10 feet away from you, stop walking and command "Here." Release the button as soon as he turns toward you.

Turning away from the dog widens the distance between the two of you, and makes it easy for him to identify the nature of his mistake. Also, because of his earlier training on bending (our first column), he'll turn to follow you when he sees you moving away. The similarity to a behavior he's already learned makes this new command "Heel" easy for him to master.

If the dog should get more than 10 feet away from you, stop walking. Stand still and command "Here" instead of "Heel." Release the button as soon as he turns toward you.

Refine the dog's understanding

Once the dog has mastered staying within the 8-foot circle as you walk, you can refine his under-standing of the "heel position." Now you can teach him to stay on one side of you when he heels. Just wiggle the antenna of your transmitter in front of his face whenever he "heels" on the wrong side, and he'll choose to correct himself. He will decide on his own to heel on the side you want.

Keep the dog in balance

Young dogs are impressionable, and you don't want to work your dog on heel so much that he thinks he shouldn't get out and hunt. So when you're teaching heeling, alternate your training sessions. After a session on heeling in the yard, spend the next training session hunting in the field.

First Appeared in:
The Retriever Journal, Vol.2 no.1 Oct./Nov.'96

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