• Courtney Bray

    April 11, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Zee,

    Teaching a very good, effective heel takes a good bit of time, knowledge, and above all, patience. If you have and know the tools to teach it, it is well worth it, impressive, and satisfying for both owner and dog. I believe there are quite a number of heel videos Mike has posted which demonstrate Phase II heel (besides the Phase I videos).

    RESTLESS ENERGY: I won’t get into the details on the teaching of heel here; however, one thing I always recommend for pullers, hunters, and frankly ANY dog with excess energy or a need for trotting or running rather than walking, is to simply to get out that restless energy BEFORE you attempt walking or heeling or teaching the walk or the heel.

    My family’s Weimaraner is about 4 yrs old, we still don’t attempt to walk him until he has run for 15-20 minutes without a break. He’s built to run, and asking him to heel or walk well until that edge is out of his body is simply not fair. One of my client’s Pyreneese, on the other hand, is quite content with one walk a day. Bottom line? Also breed related rgd level of restless energy.

    FETCH? TUGGING? Does your 6-year old like to fetch or tug? If a dog likes both, I do both or at least one of those before working on heel or walking.

    Non-reactive breeds or dogs: you can get them together with possible playmates or dogs they know beforehand or for breaks during training. Socializing/play is another option in working out that restless energy. Clearly, that possibility necessitates non-reactivity. Not always an option, especially sometimes for a GS.

    If your dog neither enjoys fetching, tugging, or socializing, you could always opt for basic training first (work sits, downs, do long recalls/come on a long-line, etc.) just to take off that mental ‘edge’. Can all help. Some Malamute/Husky owners go roller-blading… some toss a stick or ball into the ocean…

    DISTRACTION LEVEL: Another issue to consider while teaching the heel or walking/basic leash manners (and frankly any command), is that until you (and he) are perfect-or with limited corrections-in a NON-DISTRACTED environment, putting yourself in a very distracted environment before you both know what to expect will only lead to a whole lot of failure and frustration. Or, in other words, results that are not as satisfying.

    Recipe? Start non-distracted, gradually add more distraction, finding that ‘level’ where your dog is able to learn, receive gentle and consistent corrections, but not be overwhelmed. This goes for you to. Everyone has to practice staying calm in a distracted environment, sometimes the handler as much as the dog.

    INCREASING DISTRACTIONS: Added gradual distraction might include tossing treats, squeaky balls or throwing balls, having another person knock on the door, ring door, pull a ‘UPS!!!’ etc etc. Become next to perfect with those distractions. Then progress to a ‘busier’ environment with people and other dogs, cars, etc. Going from your living room or backyard with zero distraction to a busy street or park or downtown x is pretty much guaranteed failure without doing the time in middle distraction.

    DESENSITIZING THE PRONG? The other downside to an environment that is to distracting before either of you are ready is that you can sometimes eventually desensitize your dog to the prong collar. That is also never fun, not to mention unnecessary.

    PRONG FIT: Double-check that your fitting is ok, ie not to tight or loose. This can also limit the effectiveness of the collar. Rarely the meat of the issue, but you’d be surprised.

    PRAISE: This goes for the entire training process, BUT if you incorporate praise and praise reward (I mean a good enthusiastic ‘pet’ of some sort) while they are performing a command, but still make it clear they need to ‘hold’ the command (ie not break the sit or down or heel while you physically praise them), this will help you later if you have a reactive dog. You’d be amazed how much more interesting you can be than 12 reactive dogs in a room barking and lunging if your praise means something, is enthusiastic, and a part of the learning process from day 1.

    Prerequisite for your praise having meaning: leadership in the home and not ‘free’ love. Ie always make your dog work for love (sit first, down first, etc before petting) as opposed to getting it for free. If your dog always has to ‘earn’ it, he’s going to be more inclined to work for you as well as treasure your praise/love.

    ECOLLAR: It does not sound like this is the dog you have, but the reality of an effective heel for reactive/protective/defensive dogs is that sometimes you will plateau out on the heel in Phase II.

    Meaning: if (and only if!) you have taken the time to patiently teach your dog heel, and they know exactly when they can move and when they can’t, and what to expect when they move at the wrong time, and the dog is still lunging or ‘reacting’ to other dogs or people without your permission, you will likely need to then move to Phase III with the ecollar.

    PATIENCE: This should not be rushed though, as the dog still needs to know when to move with your legs, ie when he can walk or heel.
    The ecollar doesn’t teach that.
    It only allows you to rule out reactivity/match motivational levels once your dog knows when and when not to move with your legs. I really consider it the icing on the cake of heel, in the case of a reactive dog. Sometimes you can’t and will not get that icing until you move to Phase III.

    PHASE II OR III? I’ve had both clients who did not want to move to Phase III who had just as reactive dogs as a client who DID move to Phase III.
    It takes way longer with reactive dogs to establish a non-reactive Phase II heel vs reactive dogs in Phase III training, but it is sometimes possible. Depends on dog, handler, and patience.

    On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t depend on patience or handler. if you have a previous fighting and game pitbull (just as an example), all the patience in the world won’t change the fact that some dogs would rather fight and/or defend, and if you don’t have the Phase III option, it will always be tough or even impossible to match motivation.

    AGAIN, PATIENCE.. No matter if you have the very reactive dog, my first choice would still be no other dogs or people until you and your dog are solid in Phase II heel. Then try Phase II with more people or dogs, judge at which distance you can work without flooding your dog (again, enough corrections for them to learn but not be overwhelmed), and slowly improve.

    PHASE III: Once you are sure your dog is doing the best he can (but perhaps is nevertheless choosing to lunge) and knows Phase II solidly, that would be the moment to move on to ecollar Phase III heel. This is likely where you would definitely need some feedback from a knowledgeable trainer.

    Where you are at (from what you have described) is a whole lot o’ Phase I and someone to show you (or try and pick up from the online videos), once your dog knows where to ‘hang out’ with treats, Phase II training. And, I’m guessing, more useful exercise before you even attempt to train out ‘in the world’ or even in your yard. I honestly wouldn’t go on big walks until things are much better. Do your time close to the house in a non-distracted environment for now.

    Just a few things to consider in the complicated – yet magnificent! – world of heeling…