Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heeling (part two)

     I don't have a platform for marking heeling position, but I did find a scrap carpet, folded it in half and used that has a mat. I would stand by it and have Mickey in heel position using the mat. (This concept explained more in the previous blog entry.)

     With my low vision, I think a platform will be much better as the contrast and distinction will be much easier to see. But since I have little time to find a platform, I'm winging it for now. I will try to hit the yard/garage sales to find maybe an aerobic platform, step exercise equipment that no one wants anymore. think it is large enough for Mickey. Oh well, no time today to look for one, make one or pay a lot of money for one, I'll just keep training. Figure it all out with what I have for now.

     However, in the meantime, I'm still sh aping my way. I call what I'm doing as dabbling. Because I'm really not sure what my criteria should be sometimes. How do I shape for this or what do I need to shape? So I just start shaping to see where it takes me. Trial and Error through this maze of precision training.

      Last night I saw that Mickey was understanding the correct place for heeling. I was careful not to feed from my body and have him lean over to get the treat. This swings his rump out. SO I'm learning that all treats in heel position must come straight down over his head. This is not only true for his sitting heel position, but for his fronts as well.

       I had recently went to two trainers, both top competitor, one having been to the National Obedience Invitational and has gotten an OTCh (Obedience Title Champion) and the other having gotten an OTCh with scores of 200. Both instructed me to use a lure for heeling. Both slightly different.

        I then thought I would try putting my left hand on my abdomen. Since I had been luring his heel, he was very focused on my hand. One second after I placed my hand on the abdomen while he was in heel position, he scooted up to make sure he could see my hand, waiting and anticipating when I would say "Yes!" My hand to Mickey is a target, it brings the life of a treat to him. He has followed that hand many times and knows to follow it.

        I had to think about changing his perception since he cannot scoot forward to look at my hand in the obedience ring. I would loose points. This also tells me that Mickey's world is following that hand, not understanding his position in the heel. As so many trainers know, the dog follows the hand with the treat, not necessarily knowing that you are really treating for a position. This is where shaping does come in. Luring is an excellent tool, but we need to know when to get rid of it and when we can start shaping behaviors where the dog is not so focused on our hands when working so close to us. I use luring constantly in service dog work to place him in a tight area under a table, or chair, or under a seat on an bus, airplane etc. This direction has also taught him where to lie down when out in public as sometimes i need him on my left side, right side, behind me or in front of me. The hand is a target, lure, and cue for working Service Dog work.

         The fascination I have with shaping is trying to set my criteria. Sometimes I don't know what that is until I dabble and shape to see what I need and want. Competition obedience is such precision training, and this higher level of precision is new to me, so I need to play around and dabble. Then I get set in what I need. So how do I keep Mickey in place in his heelp position, while I have my hand, that he has been highly conditioned to follow? This is the beauty of clicker training is that you can play around with luring or shaping until you get what you need. Again, I'm so fortunate to have a dog that can handle the changes as I go through this maze of figuring out what is the best way to shape obedience behaviors specifically for Mickey. Each dog is different.

          I put Mickey in heel position at my left side. I then placed my hand on my abdomen. Clicked and then the key point, where I delivered the treat. If I treated him anywhere, that allowed him to get out of position, this is defeating my purpose. So just like my fronts, I took the treat, raised it above his head so he is still in perfect position, and treated. His body must be straight with mine. No rump sticking in or out. No legs sticking way forward. So many "little" things to think about and yes, when you are shaping, one criteria at a time. So his rump will be reasonably in place as his feet. I will later shape specifically for feet and rump to be perfect straight.

          After a few repetitions of clicking with my left hand on my abdomen, I wanted to do the big test. Moving forward. This also was a challenge because Mickey wants to keep his eye on that hand. When I move forward to heel, he will adjust himself forward with rump out to the self side. Next placement to fix. He's out of heel position. I did it with one step. The old rule is break down the criteria if the dog is not doing the placement or the behavior you want. So I did a half step. EUREKA! PERFECT position YIPPIE! treat and of course TREAT in appropriate position.

           This morning I was in my long t-shirt nightie, and bare feet. I was waiting for my coffee and thought I would do a 2 minute dabble. For the dog, I changed the environment. I was not in shoes, I was not in pants. How does the dog adjust themselves for a heel? By my shoes? Pants? but...they are gone right now. His heel wasnt' perfect, but a little more shaping and he got it. I then jumped around, which is usually a no-no in training because you don't want to confuse your dog, but I put him in the front and wanted to get him into the finished (heeling at my self side) position. When I put my left hand down, he went behind me and then pushed on my hand wise, WHERE'S THE TREAT! Hmmm, what have I been teaching Mickey? This can't happen in the ring, what do I do? How do I problem solve to change this? Again, that hand is so conditioned from luring and following that treat in the hand, he can't be focused on it in the ring. So shaping to the rescue. I left my hand dangle. I shaped him a few times in heel sitting position, but fed with my right hand. To keep his good position so he wouldn't start focusing on what my right hand was doing, I fed above his head, bringing my hand down and giving him the treat. I also succeed in getting the focus off the left hand. The old rule of treat for position, even after you marked or clicked. A few repetitions of this and he lost interest in my left hand. Now let's try the finish again. A few repetitions and he lost interest in the hand, allowing it to dangle. Beautiful! Exercise Finished!

      In the obedience competition ring, I can put my hand on my abdomen during a walking heel. But when I do a come, front, finish exercise, my hand must be down at its side. All these rules to remember. Can I do it? Will I be able to do a 20 year dream of wanting to enter ti obedience ring and didn't because I despised corrections, my first method of learning obedience and then my perception of precision training was obscure. Now I see the beauty of the journey in precision training. Mickey is right there with me, waiting for the next thing to do. A willing dog. He's so willing that when I'm sitting at my computer, he literally will come up to me, bop my elbow like a true Belgian, and want to train. Am I anthropomorphizing? That he really wants to train? He had dinner already! Is this true, this boring obedience stuff, and he loves it? I'm starting to, after 20 years loving the journey of figuring out these micro behaviors. What a fun journey! I can't wait to get into the ring!

      All this precision training is really allowing me to break down the behaviors carefully. Look at each aspect and environment in how the dog sees the world and shape for that tiny micro moment, position and behavior.


  1. For a platform, would Mickey fit on the top of a rubber maid container lid? I have used one of those in the past as a platform for a flat coat. It has a raised edge on the side making it easier to see as a distinct edge.

  2. Anyway you'd be willing to remove the CAPTCHA/word verification from being required to comment? To change go to settings, comments then change the radio button of "show word verification for comments?" to no

  3. Glad I found your blog! I'm excited to read about how you use +R training for obedience. I currently take Murphy to classes with the Obedience Club of San Diego & they typically encourage -R in the form of choke chain corrections. I haven't been following their rules though, and recently Murphy got his 1st title in Rally!

    I admit though, he is super sloppy and I'm not sure he'd cut it in the obedience ring. That's why I'm excited to see your blog & try out some of the techniques you are describing. If possible could you include some video?


  4. I heel Darit with my hand on my abdomen too. You can't go straight to the hand on the abdomen. Start with your hand just in front of the hip. To reward, turn your hand out with it over where you want the head. Gradually move your hand more towards the center of your abdomen over time, always rewarding by moving your hand back towards the hip and then over the head - you want to call attention to your hip as a marker for him. You can also tuck a small tug under your arm pit and release the toy by opening up your arm pit - if you haven't thought of that already. - Chris