Heelwork is something that many people with me work a lot on and sometimes struggle with. “How hard can it be to just walk there?” We think. “Very difficult and terribly boring – all the fun happens in front of me” the dog probably thinks. And that is exactly what is the key – because (almost) all the fun is happening in front of us and not by my side it is to get the dog to understand that it pays to walk by my side because then it (sometimes) gets to do exciting stuff.

The problem is that we as handlers do not always have the ability to be so consistent – it is so much more fun to just cast the dog! Often that leads to the dogs getting so excited that they forget to be biddable and miss the handler turning away for example. On trial and above all when hunting, that might mean that the dog misses a mark because it looked elsewhere. Furthermore, it doesn’t look good if it takes unnecessary time to set up and make the dog ready – it reduces the overall impression.

Dog on leash to avoid mistraining

With mistraining I mean training that counteract what I actually want to teach the dog. Something that happens when I forget to maintain my criteria or when I think that I am training something else and forget that the dog learns all the time.

To solve that I think it is important to think about this beforehand and have a strategy for different situations – so that mistraining doesn’t just happen. As I mentioned before, the dog learns all the time – not just when I want it to (or what I want it to learn). If the heelwork is poor and the dog is allowed to do that marked retrieve it is rewarded for the poor heelwork. It’s simply our usual saying “train, prevent, interrupt”. I train what I want, I prevent what I don’t want (i.e. I don’t want mistraining) and I make sure that I can interrupt the dog (without intimidating it) if it doesn’t do what I wanted it to.

My strategy to avoid mistraining in heelwork is to be aware of what my dog can manage and not – and adapt the training accordingly. In some situations I train the dog to walk properly before I cast it, in some I train it to walk properly and then cast it in another direction and in others I make sure to find a mode of transport that in any case does not reward a poor heelwork (mistraining), such as a treat magnet, hold the collar or have the dog on leash. On Agility right from the start’s web page you’ll find a video with examples of different ways of transporting the dog without leaving your “training bubble”: https://www.agilityrightfromthestart.com/exercises.html

Today’s exercise

    • Think about your own heelwork strategies. When and how do you train it and when does mistraining just happen? How can you eliminate the mistraining?
    • Train heelwork at least once. (Note how many sessions and minutes of heelwork you do. Train what you and your dog need – it doesn’t have to be the training in the blog post of the day.)
    • Feel free to tell us and others about your training by commenting on the posts on our website and/or Facebook page.
    • If you haven’t participated in the challenge from the start, read here to find out how it works: Day 1: Heelwork challenge.

Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training
Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training

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