What You Need to Know about the Heel Command Before You Start Training Your Dog

What You Need to Know about the Heel Command Before You Start Training Your Dog

Did you know that most owners seek help from trainers because their dog’s behavior is out of control in one way or another? Owner’s number one complaint is that their dog pulls on the leash. To get the help you need, without causing additional problems, you need to be aware that two approaches are used to teach a heel. You can train positively, or you can train negatively. It is essential to understand that they have scientifically discredited and outdated negative methods as abusive.

Negative Training:

Yes, eventually, some dogs will learn to remain in the heel position to avoid corrections. Another percentage will learn to aggressively react when their owners correct them or become leash aggressive toward other animals and people. If your dog reacts aggressively, who do you think it is more likely to bite – someone who is kind to it or someone who is cruel? If your dog does try to bite you, a negative trainer will suggest the use of even more abusive measures to teach your dog who is “alpha.” Studies show punishment can cause dogs to develop other behavior problems, including but not limited to aggression. Another percentage of dogs will into a behavioral meltdown meaning they refuse to do anything (picture your dog glued to a spot on the floor, trembling and unresponsive) in absolute terror of breaking some incomprehensible rule it does not understand.

Negative trainers encourage owners to use punitive methods and abusive equipment in training. What happens if either is “not enough?” Negative trainers have nothing left to fall back on, except to administer ever more abusive corrections including manhandling your dog. “More” includes but is not limited to choke, pinch and shock collars, ear pinches, toe pinches, and numerous other painful practices. It also includes “helicoptering” (using centrifugal force to cause a dog to go airborne circling around your body at the end of its leash.) Shock collars always have higher settings so if the first setting doesn’t work; it can always be turned up! All of these practices, including flat or belt style collars, can damage a dog’s neck veins, arteries, nerves or break various small neck bones. Further, it can cause hypothyroidism, ear and eye problems, excessive paw licking, front leg lameness, and other neck injuries such as tracheal collapse or whiplash.

If a trainer is willing for whatever reason (lack of knowledge, lack of concern) to abuse dogs under his tutelage, how is he going to treat you? He is not going to hesitate to call you out if you fail to follow orders or if you allow your dog fails to perform correctly. A negative trainer will continue to set you and your dog up to fail, that way he can correct you, and you can correct your dog.

Negative training takes time. During that time, problems may arise, possibly nothing as grave as described above, but the bond between you and your dog will suffer or be completely broken. Using punishments and corrections will reduce the trust your dog has in you; so, even if your dog does not develop any of undesirable behaviors or physical problems, your dog will never completely trust you again. That broken trust will make any future training you want to do more difficult. To cite an example, years ago a man was training his dog. He used a shock collar. The dog connected the punishment with its owner. When the dog broke free from its owner, and it occasionally did, it would run around wildly giving a wide berth to its owner. It would not come to the person who had been or was shocking it – it knew better. Eventually, if he acted like he was going to leave, it would come back, crawling to him and role over, submitting to the punishment it was about to receive. It was sad to watch. Obviously, I am not a devotee of correction/punishment based training.

Why would anyone pull or drag a dog into position when one does not have to? Why set a dog up for failure when one can set it up to succeed and reward it for its success? The reason has to do with some of the darkest aspects of human nature, for example, the need for control or to dominate others. Anger when one is unable to control an outcome. The need to punish someone, in this case, one’s dog, if it fails to respond appropriately and does not respond to one’s unrealistic expectations.

Positive Training:

If you train positively, you control the setup and the sessions, meaning you largely control the results. Your sessions are easy, exciting, fun and productive. Positive Training incorporates everything you like doing with your dog and that your dog loves doing with you and tops it off by adding rewards, usually treats early on in training. You teach your dog to move into the correct position relative to you using treats and, when it gets in the right position, you reward it. You are not limited to one way to get your dog into a heel position; there are lots of ways. You are happy, your dog is happy. Life is good.

This post is not a “do-it-yourself” guide; you will still need the guidance of a good positive trainer; however, understanding the basics, and knowing why you will be doing things in a certain way will make the training easier and more effective.

This description will help you visualize what “heeling” is. Heeling, once you cue it, means your dog should stop what it is doing, turn in your direction, move in your direction, and then take specific steps so that it ends up, close to but not touching, your left leg facing in the same direction as you are. Your dog should sit in that position until you release it or decide to move. If you move, your dog should move with you, staying in position, whether you move quickly, slowly or erratically step back or to either side. When you stop, your dog should stop and sit in the heel position beside you. It will take some time before your dog can heel this fluidly. Heeling is a chained behavior, not a single behavior, like down or sit. It involves a series of moves that your dog must learn one step at a time. Only then can you pull together the various steps in the final behavior we call “heeling.”

With positive training, should your dog “fail,” you address it by taking a few minutes to reflect on what caused the dog to fail. It could be that you need to go back and retrain one or more steps, making sure you sufficiently address the three Ds (distractions, distance, and duration) of training this time. You definitely need to rethink how you set up the exercises so, next time, failure is not an option. You just fix what caused the snag and continue training. It was merely a learning opportunity – no punishment necessary! You then keep setting your dog up for success, adding the steps one at a time, and your dog for moving into the correct position relative to you and remaining there whether you are walking, running or whatever. This is a more natural, humane, and scientific way to train. You and your dog will both enjoy the process.

I introduce heel in the second session of my basic classes because before we begin to teach a dog to heel, it needs to be familiar with three commands: attention, come and sit. I encourage owners to start training inside their home if at all possible. The only distractions in your home are ones already known by your dog. This will help your dog focus on you and the task at hand. Once your dog learns the basics inside your home, you can start to extend your dog’s dependability in relation to the three Ds of training in a variety of environments and situations. Work on distractions by moving to new locations that provide ever-increasing challenges for your dog. I usually suggest a backyard next, as long as there are no significant distractions there. If your neighbors have dogs that run the fence and bark, children who are active and loud, or there is a squirrel your dog loves to chase or a bird or cat that delights in taunting your dog, or moles or voles your dog loves to dig for, it is not suited for the next step in your dog’s training. You will have to find a more suitable place to work.

You should also keep in mind that you should only increase one of the three Ds at a time. You cannot go from an area with no or low distractions to one of significant or multiple distractions. You cannot go from a single step to a hundred or from a few steps in a straight line to a complex heeling pattern. If your dog does not come to heel from three feet, it certainly will not do so from 3 yards. All of these aspects have to be worked on one at a time, over time. This process can take weeks, even months, depending what your commitment and ultimate goals are. Ultimately, if you follow a positive training method to teach your dog heel, it will learn what you expect of it and be happy to meet your expectations. I have clients whose dogs were reactive to other animals and people who can now have nice walks with dogs that no longer pull or react to anything.

Finally, in doing this work with your dog, you will learn a lot about your dog and yourself. Learning to train positively will make you a better owner and, possibly, even a better person. This is why I prefer the positive approach; now that you understand the difference, I trust you will too.

Clever Hans or Conversation?

Clever Hans or Conversation?

As food for thought, I am going to share something that happened just this morning. I have a space heater. It is Winter. (My lizard blood is incompatible with cold.) Its filter needed cleaning. It is recommended that you use a vacuum cleaner and a brush to clean it. The process took several minutes. I am just finishing up cleaning the filter as I sit right next to my dog who likes to eat vacuum cleaners when they are on. I am vacuuming, and my dog is totally ignoring the vacuum cleaner. Nothing, no reaction from the dog. At the very end of my vacuuming, I was going to tell my dog it was good for not attacking the vacuum and, in so doing, I made the mistake of looking at my dog. Our eyes met, it saw my “what are you doing look” that was about to morph into my “good dog” look. My dog did not think twice. It interpreted my look to mean I thought it had missed something. It immediately turned into guard dog supreme. At this point, I actually got really harsh for us and uttered “hey” in a normal tone of voice. He immediately settled back in beside me and ignored the vacuum again. There is no way I can possibly describe this conversation, and it was a conversation, adequately to convey its depth and complexity to anyone who does not have that level of communication with their dog. Clever Hans effect or true communication? You be the judge

Donna Malone
Behavior Consultant and Trainer
(901) 488-9238
www.mypetpro.com
donna@mypetpro.com

Teach Your Dog to Greet People Politely

Teach Your Dog to Greet People Politely

When guests enter your home, does your dog jump on them? Would you prefer that your dog politely sit? After all, even if your dog is friendly, it can easily injure guests with its jumping. Your dog might knock a guest over, breaking a hip or worse. Its paws and claws can tear a guest’s skin or clothing. Have you noticed that some of your family or friends rarely or no longer visit? If so, it may be because your dog mauls them when they do.

 

You have probably noticed that your visitors have learned some coping responses to your dog’s overly enthusiastic greeting ritual. Some of your guests may enthusiastically welcome your dog, seemingly enjoying the interaction. They are enablers; they are encouraging your dog’s undesirable behavior. Other guests are obviously not happy with your dog’s behavior; but, they are unsure of what is acceptable or not to you in the way of corrections. Trying to reach a compromise between choking your dog to death or having the dog maul them to death, they look at it, tell it no, and may even use their hands to deflect its jumping. Either way, to the dog, it is winning the attention trifecta.

 

Despite all your best efforts to stop your dog, does it still jump every time someone crosses your threshold? Do you have to hold the dog back tightly so it cannot achieve lift off? When that does not work, do you find yourself trying to wrestle your dog unsuccessfully from atop your guests? If this sounds remotely familiar, you need help.

 

The first thing you need to do is accept that whatever you have been doing is not working. Most owners know why their dog is jumping. It is jumping for attention. To stop the jumping, all you need to remember are two basic principles: (1) If you reward your dog for jumping, it will keep jumping; and, (2) If you do not reward your dog for jumping, it will stop jumping, eventually.

 

Visualize what you want your dog to do when guests come in the door. You should think that you want your dog to sit calmly to greet guests. Does your dog know to sit on command? If it does, you need to help your dog generalize the sit to all people, all of the time. If it does not, you have to teach it to sit first.

 

The best way to teach your dog is to work with a trainer to teach your dog basic commands. (The trainer should use positive training methods.) Once your dog learns the basic commands, ask your dog to sit every time it approaches you. Your dog needs to learn to sit automatically in front of humans. Correctly rewarding your dog is a skill. It is not about being a Pez dispenser and doling out treats nonstop. You need to vary your dog’s rewards randomly. Your trainer can help you with this.

 

You can practice this inside your home and in your fenced yard. Once your dog is sitting every time it approaches you, go in and out the doors to your home and encourage your dog to sit calmly before you give it attention or another reward. Next, ask close family and friends (the ones who love you enough to visit you in spite of your dog) to help you generalize the dog’s automatic sit to other visitors.

 

There are two scenarios in which this new calm sit comes in handy. One is with family members and friends who visit your home; the other is for everyone else anywhere else in the big wide world.

 

Review: Teach Your Dog to Greet People Politely

 

  • To avoid rewarding your dog for jumping up, be sure your dog does not receive any attention at all for jumping up. Jumping should signal an immediate and complete end to any interaction with the dog.

 

  • No doubt your dog may occasionally jump as the two of you work to develop its new automatic, calm sit. If your dog jumps up on you, turn 180 degrees or more. Do not look at, touch or talk to the dog while it is jumping. You should find the turn causes your dog’s paws to fall off your body. If the dog jumps again, repeat. If turning is inadequate, turn and walk away. Once your dog stops jumping, turn back to it and ask for a sit. If it sits, reward it. If the dog pops up again, turn around and walk away again. Keep in mind that the longer your dog has been exhibiting this behavior, the longer it will take to extinguish it.

 

  • An alternative to the turning method is to use a leash to teach your dog a more appropriate greeting. You secure your dog to a 6-foot leash and, with a carabiner, attach it to a heavy piece of furniture, or create a tether station by screwing an eyebolt into a wall stud and clipping the tether to it. Once your dog is on its tether, approach it. If your dog leaps around or up in greeting, stand still and wait until your dog calmly sits and then reward it. Anytime your dog starts to act up, stop and stand still. You want to be close enough to touch your dog but not so close it can put its feet on you.

 

Initially, most dogs resume jumping up when petted. If this happens, step back out of the dog’s range and wait for it to sit again. You may have to repeat this approach/withdraw exercise numerous times before your dog understands that jumping up makes you go away and that, when it sits, you approach.

 

More than likely, there are enablers lurking in your immediate circle who may say they do not mind the dog jumping on them. If you do not prepare for this eventuality, it will, at the very least, confuse your dog and, at worse, erase all your hard work. To prepare for an enabler, train your dog to jump up on cue. The cue should be distinct. I use my open hands to pat myself on the chest and say “jump” to let my dog know I want it to jump up and put its paws on me. If your dog understands it is only allowed to jump when cued, the enabler’s actions will not thwart all your hard work.

 

If a tether is not immediately available, and you substantially outweigh your dog, you can use a six-foot leash. You should attach the leash to your dog’s collar as usual. Hold the loop end of the leash in one hand with your arm hanging down at your side. If your dog is beside you, allow the leash to touch the floor between you and your dog. Place your foot on top of the leash where it meets the floor and shift your weight onto the leash, this should prevent your dog from jumping up.

 

As with most types of training, your success depends on consistency, patience, repetition and time.

Donna Malone
Behavior Consultant and Trainer
(901) 488-9238
www.mypetpro.com
donna@mypetpro.com