Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Once you have proceeded through the process -- and don't be a doofus, it is a process; shortcuts don't work -- and you've got the treat at your waist with Trixie homed in on it, you're ready to introduce the attention stick.  It's sometimes called a "heeling helper," depending on who's selling it.

The attention stick seems largely to be a California thing, the brainchild of AnneMarie Silverton.  I find that most trainers in the eastern two-thirds of the United States have never heard of it.

It is about an eighth of an inch in diameter and varies in length.  I use one about seven inches long.  It's slightly beveled at one end to make it easy to slip little cubes of food on it. (I use Pet Botanics.  It's nuritionally balanced, comes in a roll and is available at PetSmart.  Red Barn makes a similar product.)  The other end of the stick is threaded to screw into a plate which the handler first wears on a belt, directly above the seam of the left pants leg; later it progresses to a focal point above the left elbow, wrapped around the armband.

But first things first.  As I introduce the stick with food on it, I hold it in position belt-high and aligned with the seam of my pants.  The pitfalls here have to do with holding the stick absolutely still.  Remember, you're trying to teach perfect heel position, not heeling in the same zip code.  So if you wave the stick around, heel position keeps changing, doesn't it?  Worse, if you allow the hand and the stick to drift forward, you'll pull the dog forward, encouraging forging and wrapping.  It's optional whether you carry the stick in your left hand or right hand.  I've chosen the extend my right arm across the front of my body, anchoring the stick/treat right where I want it.  Too, it frees my left hand to carry a leash if I'm using one.

The stick serves three purposes:
  -- First, it helps get my dog in the habit of looking up.  Two things are working for me here:  motivation (food drive) and habit formation.  And the teat is now very obvious, perched out there on the end of the stick.
  -- Second, properly  and consistently positioned, the stick teaches pinpoint heeling.
  -- And, properly and consistently positioned, it discourages a multitude of heeling sins -- forging, lagging, crowding, inattention.  And it keeps the dog in a straight line.

"But," you say, "isn't Fluffy going to try to steal the food?"  YES!  I tell my students this:  "As long as she's trying to steal the treat, she's looking at it.  Which is what you want, isn't it?"  You combat that by fending her off with your free hand.  And remember the command, "Get it"?  We introduced that way back when the little puppy was crawling up the front of you to get the treat out of your mouth.  "Get it!" has been your command to get the treat ever since.  By now that command is well-established.

So at the same time you're teaching Fluffy to get the food only on your command,  you aren't sweating the stealing.  I've found that stealing of the food somehow solves itself when the stick gets up to the armband.

But first, after you've gotten Phydeaux used to the food on the stick, you'll screw the stick into the plate on the special belt (right above the seam of the pants).   Note that both hands are free -- the better to fend off your plundering dog. And the stick can't drift.

Again, we stay at this point until the dog is doing really well.

Next:  The treat moves to the armband.



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