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Rewards in Heeling

Last blog post I went into how I reinforce dogs who are forging.

Rewarding in the "perfect position" is rarely the answer to fixing your heeling problems whether you have dogs who forge or dogs who lag!

The fastest way I find to change a behavior is to overexaggerate what you want!

I recently made a series of videos showcasing how I reinforce my current group of dogs in heel position. They are all pretty young and have different temperaments, leading to different reward plaements!

Mayhem- 8 month old Toller

Mayhem isn't fully confident yet with her heeling and as a result needs more work on bringing her energy to the table. I do lots of:

  • Big right circles so she has to move fast!!

  • Jump up for the cookie in heel

  • Reward tossed forward

  • Games where I run away from her and reward catching up

Because she is also still learning precision and I suspect that she might be more prone to forging in the future as well, I'm also doing lots of slow heeling "doodles" working pivots, sidesteps, etc. During this, I reward by:

  • Feeding on the outside of her head, pulling her butt in

Loot- 10 month old Border Collie

Loot is very different than Mayhem! As I touched on in the last blog post, his primary issue is forging and crabbing as he tries to get ahead of me. He is also complicated as he doesn't really like food and I need to do lots of cookie tosses between reps to bring up his motivation. Unfortunately, this also brings up his arousal levels and makes it harder for him to think precision thoughts!

I primarily focus on doing lots of slower heeling, especially left pivots and side steps to pull his butt in. The vast majority of his rewards come directly from these moves.

I reinforce him primarily through:

  • "Behind" which means spin left and get the reward on my right side

  • Reward tossed behind me, having him turn left to go get it (primarily toys as food gets lost easier this way)

  • Feeding at my side, turning his head out to pull his butt in (done less frequently as he doesn't really like it)

  • Jumping up to rest his chin to my hand at my arm pit, then a cookie is presented (done to briefly calm him before the treat comes so he doesn't shark me!)

Grace- 2.75 years old Toller

Grace is not my dog, however I raised her as a puppy and she now lives with my mother who is continuing to train her for obedience.

Grace LOVES her cookies and working, but is a bit sensitive. She mostly is a nice balance of drive and precision although she can focus too much on the rewards and start to crab out.

I reinforce primarily in these ways:

  • Hand touch at my armpit before almost all rewards

  • Passing the treat behind my back to feed her in heel, pulling her butt in

  • Jump up for a cookie in my hand occasionally

  • Lots of zen hand review!!

Her heeling patterns are usually focused on the transitions from powering forward on right circles or straight lines, followed by some tight precision work, and then back to the power heeling.

While the video was meant to showcase reward patterns so I reinforce frequently, in most training sessions she is working on heeling longer before the reward and on heeling with the rewards off my body.

There are lots of ways to reinforce your dog!!

Look at what your dog is prone to overtime as battling certain issues can be lifelong maintenance!

But don't forget to evaluate the dog you have today as well! You may need to modify your reinforcement strategies as your continues to improve their heeling.

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