Friday, November 4, 2011


Once you're certain that Rover is committed to following that treat . . . that's perched out at the end of the stick . . . that protrudes from your belt . . .directly above the seam of your pants . . . it's time to move the stick and the treat to the armband position.

Think about it.  What can you take into the ring as a training aid to help your dog maintain perfect heeling position?  Certainly not food concealed in your hand.  Certainly not a toy concealed in your armpit.  But what if you turn your armband into a focal point?  YES!

That's what we're doing here.  That's the end product of all we've done, beginning with the little follow exercises when Fluffy was a puppy.

The plate now attaches to a one-inch-wide strip of Velcro.  That Velcro strip goes around the bicep, over the armband. The stick, now considerably shorter, remains screwed into the plate.  I start this phase with the stick about two inches long.  Now my dog sees the treat perched on the end of the shortened stick emanating from the armband.  Once we reach this stage, I always have my armband on when I train . . . always, always!

Let's pause right here.  I want to caution as strongly as I can about a pifall that should be avoided if you want this system to work.

I'm never without the armband and the treat.  At practice matches I wear it in the ring.  At trials the Velcro band comes off right before we enter the ring.  People see me heeling around that way, my dog well focused.  Occasionally someone wants to know where to get one of those things they see on my arm.  I try to warn them.  I'm all too familiar with the trap they're about to fall into.  Because once upon a time I fell into it.

Back in the day . . .  Bebop, my first border collie, was a world-class forger/wrapper.  If points had been awarded for forging, we'd have gone high in trial at every show.  Unfortunately, they're deducted.

Once, in Open B, my little maniac decided to wrap almost all the way around in front of me just as our judge called a fast.  I leapt over him.  Bebop quickly scrambled back into heel position . . . and we won the class.

I'd see Louise Meredith heeling her dogs around before shows, her attention stick on her left bicep, her dogs in perfect heel position.  And I knew that device was exactly what I needed to fix that infernal forging.  So I asked her where I could get one of those things.  I didn't know Louise very well at the time and she was too nice to tell me I was barking up the wrong tree.

The attention stick came in the mail.  I put it on and away we went. It didn't make one bit of difference.  Bebop continued to forge until the day I retired him with a UDX 2.

Here comes the gospel, folks:  What I've been describing in this series is a process.  You can't let the problems take root, then slap the attention stick on and expect it to work.  It won't.  Let me repeat:  Pinpoint heeling is a long, arduous process. 

It was sometime later that Louise gave me a piece of advice I'll never forget.  "How do you stop your dogs from forging?" I asked her. Her answer:  "I never let them start."  And that's what pinpoint heeling is all about.

Enough warning.

Once the stick and the food get to my armband, I treat the introduction the same way I treat each step of the process.  We don't just go marching off.  We start with, "Look!"  Then two or three steps, then, Get it!"  Then we build from there.

I keep the stick and treat in their original position for a long, long time.  Eventually, after Bowser is really focused, I cut the stick way back -- a half inch, max.  Then I turn it around so that the treat is under my arm, not so visible.  When I say, "Get it!"  I raise my arm to make the treat accessible.

One more thing about where I carry my supply of treats.  Every shirt I own for training or showing has two generous breast pockets, preferably with flaps.  The treats that go on the stick come out of the upper left pocket.  Doesn't that make sense?  If you want the dog's focus to be up there, shouldn't he know that's where the treats come from?  Not from a fanny pack on your right side or in back, or from a pants pocket that you dig around in to eventually come up with a treat.  And certainly not from your mouth -- that causes the dog to focus on your face and invites wrapping.

The rest of this story can be summed up by the following old joke:  A stranger in Manhattan is trying to attend a concert, but he's lost.  He comes upon a hippie.  "Excuse me," the stranger says, "can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"  And the hippie replies, "Practice, man, practice!"

* * *

The pinpoint heeling equipment mentioned in this series (as well as plenty of other good stuff) is available from Laurie Burnam.  You can visit her website at . Laurie can be reached at .  Or by phone at 1-818-784-8440.
Laurie told me she'll give a 10% discount to anyone who mentions this blog.  Such a deal!

Next (and last in this series):  One way to teach signals for maximum attention


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