Teaching a reliable heel and how to keep their focus?

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

Calamity- Jane

Barked: Sat Feb 9, '13 8:08am PST 
Basically, I want to teach my dogs to heel, especially on walks because I've totally lost control there. I also need ways to keep their focus on me during walks, since they are used to walking where they want, when they want, and it's just a nightmare to walk them now. The problem is, Jane is my first dog, and I've never trained a heel before, nor do I have a clue how to keep their attention on me when there are so many distractions out there. I have tried training them in low distraction areas first, but once we get out the front door, they don't pay any attention to me at all. I just need a few tips, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Lenny -The- Wrecking Ball
Barked: Sun Feb 10, '13 4:17am PST 
For me, it's adding the second dog when things get just WAY too crazy. Whether you're trying to teach an actually strict heel or just want your pups to just have some manners and not be walking you it's going to be easier if you walk them separately if you can. At least for my two, they feed off each other energy wise and so them together is just... it can be a little insane if one gets into hound mode and gets the other one going and then at that point I'm just following two crazed dogs pulling to track whatever it is they're smelling lol

I used the method for Lenny where you have the dog sit to your left and walk a step or two and stop and have the dog sit again. Gradually increase the number of steps, rewarding the dog for staying with you as well as focusing on you. I started in the kitchen, then the backyard, then the side walk in front of my house, then gradually around the neighborhood. I always used really high value treats for training this, like real chicken or steak or a little cheese here and there to spice it up. And I almost always followed it up with a good tug session when we were done, cause Lenny had a time when he really liked to tug when he was in the mood. You can always work on this in the pet store. I LOVED dogster Shayne's video of doing heel work in Petsmart. It's a great place to test a dog with distractions but is indoors. And on Asher's page there's a video of teaching heel.

I got a little lazy with Lenny so he didn't always walk right beside me, but he was good about walking on a loose leash and responding eagerly when I wanted his attention which was all I wanted anyways, but envision what you want it to look like before you start working on it. And you may want to teach your second dog to walk on the right, that's what I'm doing with mine (but I think that's more of a personal preference thing).

ETA: As for focus, I think it's important to practice and build a dog's focus on you not just on the leash. Work on it off leash, on leash. Indoors and out. I used clicker training with Lenny, but even if you're not using a clicker or marker word just reward your dog for any focus towards you. For example when they turn their head towards you, or orient their body towards you even if it's minor. Always reward eye contact. Teach a good "Watch me". If you practice it all the time it can become second nature and a little easier to incorporate or ask for on the walk. smile

Edited by author Sun Feb 10, '13 4:22am PST


Awesome Dog
Barked: Sun Feb 10, '13 6:32am PST 
Heel, in my opinion, isn't for going on walks. Heel is for competition only. It's taxing on a dog's body (and mind) to keep focused attention at heel position for a long period of time. I don't expect it on walks unless I'm taking a portion of that time for training purposes.

To be fair, however, I used to want that. I used to want Risa to be in perfect heel position with me on a walk and not wandering off to sniff or do other doggy things. I don't know why I wanted that but I did. I tried to train for it but I failed. Then I decided I didn't need that. As long as she doesn't pull on leash, I don't really care where she is or what she's doing. It's her walk. She can sniff and she can mark. The only time she needs to walk nicely alongside me is when we pass people or dogs (out of courtesy). For most of the walk, she's got the full range of her 6-foot leash.

However, if this is something you want to train (for walks or competition-only, it's your choice), you can start by finding a really boring outside place. Your backyard is probably a good choice if you have one. It's not new and exciting. It's ho-hum. Begin working on focus outside there before taking the show on the road. If the yard itself is still too crazy, keep working inside. Gradually increase the distractions inside your home so that, when you go outside to the boring yard where nothing is really going on, it will seem like a piece of cake to your dog and you can work it up from there.

Just remember, you need to really have the behavior solid before increasing the criteria. Only increase one at a time. If you go somewhere new, the distraction levels should be as close to nil as possible. If you're training in the same location, you can increase distractions (or duration) one at a time.

Member Since
Barked: Thu Feb 14, '13 9:54pm PST 
Do you mean loose leash walking or heeling?

If you mean loose leash walking, stop every time there's tension on the leash and resume the walk when the leash goes slack. It's not fun waiting around, they'll learn. Then let them go where they want (as much as you can) as long as they lead you with a slack leash. Once they learn that they can have fun without pulling you along, then you can go back to more structured walks without the constant stopping and weaving.

If you're looking for a true heel, I use hand targeting. Teach the dog to targe the palm of your hand on cue by saying "Heel" or whatever. Then you have your hand down and ask for targeting while you're on walks. They can only target your hand when they're in the heel position. It also takes their focus to target. Then you move on to lifting your hand away and putting it back down at random for targeting so they have to keep focus and watch for it.

Please don't use corrections. It's strictly a game and you reward them lavishly for compliance and that's what builds the compliance. If you move out of heel position, they miss your hand and they miss out on the reward. The game becomes self reinforcing because it's fun, so the game it's self becomes the reward. Eventually, when walking by your side on cue becomes a default behavior, you can stop hand targeting all the time. You want to also be sure to teach a release for them to stop heeling. Then you can turn it on and off for practice. For my own dog, I do a playful smack on the butt and a "Giddyup"! And for my other dog, I shuffle my feet and say, "Git!" Or I'll just use my general release word, "Okay."

But like said, a heel shouldn't be for your walks unless you're in a store, traffic, crowds, or whatever, or practicing it on and off. Walks should be mostly for fun, for the dog to engage their senses and this includes sniffing at things.

I dig in mud- puddles!
Barked: Thu Feb 14, '13 10:31pm PST 
I also don't use heel for a regular walk. As Risa mentioned, it's pretty demanding for your dog, especially if your heel includes constant eye contact (mine does).

I started teaching Rexy's competition heel indoors, rewarding her in position. I would place her in a sit, move beside her so that she was in heel position and feed her from my hip. We did this several times per day for a number of days before I added any sort of movement on my part. I'm continually striving for that heel position to be super rewarding for her.