Three Purposes of the Heeling Training that We Provide
There are three purposes for the work we do with our puppies on heeling. How you want to continue the heeling aspect of training and how you want to use what we’ve already trained is up to you.
The three purposes are:
- to provide a tool for socialization and environmental desensitization
- to give a tool to get an out-of-position dog back in position during a pleasure walk
- to build strong internal qualities into our puppies.
Socialization and Environmental Desensitization
From the time you get home until the puppy is four months of age, the most important aspect of raising your puppy is to continue his socialization and environmental desensitization. Socialization walks should come prior to pleasure walks. I’ll explain what a socialization walk is in a minute.
We recommend that your puppy’s first walks not be for the purpose of exercise. We also believe first walks shouldn’t be merely for pleasure. Your puppy needs to focus his attention on too many new things. He needs to focus on and acclimate to all the things in his environment prior to being asked to focus on staying in heel position.
Until your puppy is four months of age, it is extremely beneficial for your puppy to be acclimated to as many sights, sounds, places, and types of people as possible. This is especially important if you plan on taking your puppy to a big variety of places throughout his life.
How to Do the Socialization Walk
After your puppy has acclimated to your home and your family and after you and your puppy have learned the basics of training together through at-home training, it’s time to take your training away from your home.
As with everything in our training system, we recommend starting with the easiest places. Your front yard might be a good starting place. Attach the leash to your collar. Put on your treat bag and adjust it where it is positioned on the backside of your left hip.
How to Position the Treat Bag
Initially, when learning to work with your puppy on the heeling exercises, it is easier to pull the treats out of a bag positioned on the backside of your right hip with your right hand. Then, you can transfer the food to your left hand. Transferring the food from one hand to the other allows you to pull the food out with one hand while you are rewarding with the other. This will result in quicker rewards. Initially, your puppy will need to be rewarded quickly in order for him to understand that you are working with him.
However, before you take your puppy on a socialization walk, your relationship with your puppy and your ability to handle your food needs to be such that you can pull your treats out and deliver them without the help of your right hand. Once you leave your home, your right hand will need to be holding the leash.
Start in the Front Yard
Walk to the front yard and see what your puppy does. Initially your puppy may be too distracted (or possibly too fearful of certain things) to pay any attention to you. If that is the case, let him look at, smell and touch these things if possible, and experience whatever he is distracted by or fearful of. Once he is comfortable with everything, he will probably want to work with you. (Keep in mind that your puppy must already be enjoying working with you inside or in the back yard.)
Your puppy will communicate that he is comfortable by offering behaviors. This is your que that it is time to practice the heeling and/or the stay exercises. See our video that show Jenna training our puppies down by the highway for more details.
Heel a Short Distance Down the Street
Once your puppy is focused and working in your current location, heel with him down the street while you reward him often. Continue working with your puppy until he is either distracted or worried about something else. Stop and let him acclimate to whatever has caught your puppy’s attention in this new location before moving on again. Expose your puppy to as many places and situations as you can.
The Pleasure Walk
Once your puppy is solidly comfortable and able to focus on you with frequent rewards along the entire path that you want to enjoy walking on, you can begin what I call pleasure walks. These walks are for both yours and your puppy’s enjoyment.
On these walks, treats are no longer necessary unless you think there might be something pop up that might be distracting or scary.
Initially, until your puppy is rarely experiencing anything that scares him or rarely experiencing major distractions, take the treats just in case you need them. If you encounter something that overwhelms your puppy, simply switch from pleasure walk mode back to desensitization mode. The difference between the two modes is that in desensitization mode, you reward with food for focused heeling.
A New Reward
The first times you go for pleasure walks without rewarding with food, your puppy will probably begin the walk with focus. However, when your puppy realizes that his efforts are no longer paying off, he will begin looking at what’s going on around him instead of at you. That’s okay at this point as long as the puppy is keeping you in his peripheral vision and keeping himself in somewhat good heel position.
Your puppy’s reward for staying in good position and keeping you in his peripheral vision is the privilege of forward motion and enjoying the walk.
A New Standard for Heel Position
All of the practice staying in perfect position doing our heeling exercises should give your puppy a really good feel for where heel position is so that he is able to maintain it. However, his doing two things at once presents a new challenge. Sometimes his enjoyment of all that is going on around him will cause him to temporarily forget you, move forward too much, and lose sight of you.
When your puppy is half a body’s length ahead of you, he can no longer see you in peripheral vision. You need to address the problem before he hits the end of the leash. This is where the “right here” command comes in handy. Take a step back. Say “right here” and your puppy should loop back around and get back in heel position. There is no food reward. The reward should be verbal praise continuing your forward moving walk.
Getting in and Staying in Heel Position
Most young puppies lack the physical coordination to walk backwards. Therefore, we teach our puppies to turn around and loop back behind us. Eventually, most of them will learn to walk backwards to get back in position. How they get in position is not important. Let the puppy decide.
Learning to stay in position while at the same time enjoying a walk is a new experience. Don’t be surprised if your initial experiences with it include many “right here’s”. However, if you are doing it correctly, your puppy shouldn’t be hitting the end of the leash. Further, your puppy should be getting out of position less and less the more you practice.
If your puppy hits the end of the leash, make sure you are addressing his being out of position promptly just as soon as he is a half body’s length ahead of you. Addressing the problem early should fix a slightly out of position puppy before he hits the end of the leash if the problem is simply a puppy who is excited about the walk.
Out of Position Because of Distractions
However, if your puppy is pulling ahead because of a new big distraction that he is overly excited about, you need to let him look at and experience it. In this case, simply stop walking until your puppy gets bored of the new distraction and turns his attention back to you.
Out of Position Because of Worry
If your puppy is out of position because of something that he is afraid of, you need to handle the situation very differently. Usually dogs that are afraid are not pulling ahead, but are rather dragging behind. In this situation, stop moving, and allow the dog to acclimate to the scary thing in his own time. If the puppy wants to go over and sniff it, allow him to experience it in any way that is safe.
When to Start Pleasure Walks
Some puppies are ready for pleasure walks in certain environments sooner than others. You must ascertain your particular puppy’s readiness in your current particular environment.
The Purpose of the Leash
In our training protocol, the leash is never used for training. It is used only for safety. Therefore, you should refrain from using the leash to pull your puppy in position. He has been trained to get himself back in position with the “right here” command if he should get out. It is important that the puppy takes responsibility for his own position.
Building Internal Character Qualities
The last and most important reason that we train our puppies to heel is that our method for teaching heeling is a fantastic tool for building focus, confidence, self-control, and a strong desire to work with and please a person.