There's a rumor skulking about in the land that teaching heeling is b-o-r-i-n-g for the dog. Shh! My dogs don't know that.
Presto! and I arrived in Phoenix from Chicago on a Wednesday evening. He had his first competition obedience lesson late Thursday morning. Little fun things, each of which served as foundation building for the competition exercises of the future.
Embedded in that 10 minutes of fun was the important prelude (well, more like pre-prelude) to heeling. Louise Meredith, the doyenne of all this stuff, calls this first phase "little follows." Okay, little follow exercises on day one of my little guy's training.
With Presto! in front of me -- well, sort of in front of me, they skitter around at eight weeks of age -- I held a little treat in both hands, the treat plainly visible. Way down there at nose level. Then I took a few steps backward. Presto! followed, straining to get the treat. We did that a few times, the purpose being to get the little guy head up, focused on the treat. Indeed he was; he was right on it.
By Friday morning I was convinced he was locked in and I started leading him in little figure eights around my legs.
Soon I added the piece de resistance for the little follows phase. Now the treat ( PetBotanics, quarter-inch squares) moved to my left hand, between my thumb and forefinger. At this point heel position means nothing. I go to him, meeting him where he is, positioning myself so that he's on my left side -- in the same zip code as heel position. The treat is held maybe half an inch above his nose.
At this point I introduce the command, "Strut!" That will be my command to move out when the judge says, "Forward." Here at the dawn of Presto!'s heeling experience I only want Presto! to hear the word and begin to associate it with moving forward. A few steps and Presto! gets the treat and a ton of quiet praise.
Except when I call my dog from a distance, all my verbalizations are quiet. Those who yell at their dogs during training are simply betraying weakness and ineptitude. And God help you if one of them is in the next ring when you are showing.
Oh, my achin' back!