When I trained heelwork with Yarpen, my main focus was building up the duration. I didn’t spend much time initially on the position, by simply luring him to where I wanted and starting from single steps, on the lure. The results were satisfactory…. for a while. While I managed to extinguish the lure and work on hand (or face) target, which allowed us to achieve success in lower classes in obedience, I felt this wasn’t the best we could have done. It’s quite obvious in the video from the Inter-regional competition we took part in (and gained second place in our class!).
Soon after the competition, I started going to more advanced training seminars and found out about the importance of the position. Unfortunately, when we started working more intensively, Yarpen’s dysplasia flared up. His wellbeing was my paramount, so I decided to retire him at this point.
Now, I am starting the training with a completely different approach. My plan is to combine the method of Sylvia Trkman (very well presented in her two videos, Heeling is just another trick and Puppy Diary), and advice of our trainer Jo Hill. The broad idea is to first develop a great position at heel, classically conditioning it to be The Best Place To Be, and only starting to move ahead when the dog WANTS to be there.
The planned steps are:
- front feet on a platform
- moving back feet around the platform
- pivoting with front paws on the platform
- finding position against my right and left leg
- pivoting on smaller and smaller platforms, until she can do it without a platform
- practising turns in all directions, stationary
- moving a step backward, forward and to the sides
- moving forward
This was one of the first sessions of shaping front paws on the platform. I am rewarding heavily when both paws are on to build a positive association with the object. By rewarding on the platform I wanted to draw her attention to it (later on I changed the reward placement).
In this rather poor quality video, I am starting to reward for back feet movement.
In this initial stage I was trying to reward any movement, but now I know I should be more careful in the direction in which I was “resetting” her (by tossing treats on the floor). The way I did it, she was almost always coming on directly in front of me. After reset I was lowering criteria and rewarded for just stepping on the platform. But, because of the direction, she was always rewarded for being directly opposite to me. This caused problems later on when I wanted to build up on the full turn, as she would only turn by 90 degrees each way.