Thursday, August 16, 2012

Training 101: Learning to Heel

One week after adopting Athena we enrolled her in a beginning obedience class at our local Petco.  Last week we learned about teaching Athena to heel.  This walking command is different than teaching a dog to loose leash walk which is our ultimate goal.  As of now, Athena is a pretty big leash puller when we walk her because she is so interested in investigating all of her surroundings.
Athena in her heel position

 For the past week we have been working with Athena to learn the heel command.  We practice with her off leash in the house and also practice this command while on walks in the neighborhood.

To teach the command, we first started by holding treats in our left hand and encouraging Athena to walk on our left side.  We took two or three steps, stopped, and said "heel."  Once Athena sits, we rewards her with a treat from our left hand.  The goal is for Athena to walk at our left side and get in a sit position every time that we stop walking no matter the distance between each stop.  This requires the dog to constantly "check in" with the person walking them so that they are focused on the walk.
Give me that cheese!!!!!

Once Athena became proficient at obeying the heel command off-leash in the house, we began to practice off-leash in the yard which provides more distractions for her to practice with.

We are currently working with Athena to heel on leashed walks.  As of now, Athena will respond to the heel command 90% of the time on our walks.  If there is something super distracting in the environment she will ignore us.  We are very proud that Athena is starting to recognize that when we stop walking, we want her in the sit position even if we don't give the verbal heel command.  She will put herself in a sit when we stop walking without a verbal command about 50% of the time.  We treat this behavior every time that she is successful.

One tip that our trainer gave us for perfecting the heel was the position in which we hold the leash.  She suggested that we have Athena walk on our left side and hold the leash in the right hand.  As you can see below, B has wrapped the leash around his back to hold it in his right hand.  Our trainer said that this can work for dogs who often pull when walking because it allows the walker to pull forward on the leash in their right hand to give the dog a gentle tug signaling them to back into heel form.
B holding the leash around his back with this right hand

B really likes the control that this leash position gives him.  However, I have found it harder to manage and have resorted back to holding the leash in my left hand.

-A
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