Heeling is when a dog walks on your left side with their shoulder in line with your pant seam. The task is to keep in that position the whole time when heeling in the competition obedience ring. The dog will need to stay in this position when turning left, right, about turn, slowing down, walking faster, walking in a figure eight pattern, etc. How well the dog walks with you in position is rated and scored. This one exercise of a few done in the ring.
There are many ways to teach this task. Traditionally was the snap of a choke chain to get the dog to heel in perfect fashion with you. The science behind this method was the dog is avoiding the aversion of the snap of the choke chain to stay in line to heel with you. Some people today still train with this method.
Then there is luring. The dog follows a treat in your hand. The treat is periodically given, but the dog is basically following the treat in the hand while walking on your left side. Eventually the hand will have to be removed since this is not how you can do heel work in the competition obedience ring. I have been trying some luring and find that when I put my left hand on my abdomen, my dog wants to focus on my hand. This type of focus is moving him forward where is not in line of my pant seem. He is slightly forward from position. I find that my dog focus more on what my hand is doing and what it is telling him, he is cuing off the hand, rather than staying in place. This is mostly because I have in the past used my hands like a target to move him where I need him to go. For some dogs this luring can work well, but due to how I use my hands in luring for direction, I will need to use another method.
Some people have used target sticks to keep dogs in heel position. I have not experimented with this method, but there are some people who have had some have success with a target stick.
There is also the platform or mat where the dog is stationed on a mat or platform to shape position. Once this is solid, the trainer can remove the platforms and get the dog in position without the platform. This has been successfully done with shaping. Then you will go to the next criteria to shaping the heeling while moving forward.Clicking at one step, then increasing the criteria to two steps and depending how well the dog is succeeding with this, will determine the future increments of how many steps the handler takes before clicking and treating.
I'm going to experiment with the latter. I'm using a folded over piece of carpet. Been shaping Mickey to stand on it. Of course he is thinking his previous shaped behaviors using a mat, which is to lie down on it. He would also put his foot on the carpet and move from it fast and look from me, so I started to feed him on the mad. Treat for position is the old rule. Which helped him slow down and stay on the mat for awhile. I didn't want to lure so he wouldn't be focused on my hand and not think that he is actually standing on a carpet. I noticed when I did lure, it was following the hand, not paying attention to where his feet were being placed. SO back to shaping.
I'm too impatient and since Mickey knows a loose heeling, I started walking forward to see if he will stay in place. Then, I realized, ok, I'm really not ready for this. I'm too impatient and trying to jump ahead because I know he isn't a beginner, but he's not quiet doing what I need. Communication break down. Poor dog, what do you expect when all of a sudden you are trying a different approach.
I need to work on the mat placements a bit more so I can give this approach enough time do it right. With Mickey doing loose lead walking with me in public as a service dog for 5 years, it is almost like we are going backwards to try this different approach. But the foundation for this method. When I jumped my criteria too fast, I realized Mickey was not understanding what I wanted and I quickly reverted to other methods I have used. Talk about confusing! To do this method justice, I need to slow down, think of what I am doing and think it through to get that picture in my head of what is needed. Just like when I started out with the fronts, this will take a little time to dabble and find my comfort zone that works for me. Mickey is so patient with these different approaches. What a trooper! I'm so fortunate to have this dog that is willing to allow me to dabble and experiment.
My goal and focus will always be using positive reinforcement. I will not use any corrective means as that is not the purpose of why I am going into the obedience ring. It is to show it can be done by all positive reinforcement. It is a lot of dabbling, but since there are only a handful of people who do positive obedience, sometimes you are on your own. A pioneer that has to sweat figuring out the maze, but in the end, it will work out and before long, Mickey will be showing in the ring, happy and eager to see what is next in the exercise.