“My dog can walk to heel for a long time as long as there are no distractions nearby” is something I hear often. And that’s right – when we train at home or walk longer distances, it usually doesn’t happen much, so the dog just tags along. But when something happens it obviously becomes so very exciting. Therefore, we must make sure to train with distractions as well.

I like to add distractions early on and I do it in all training: heelwork, delivery to hand, stop whistle training and so on. It also means that the dog learns to recognize the concept “if I control myself, I get something fun”.

An initial distraction that I like to work with in the heelwork training is food bowls – it helps the dog to look forward while walking to heel instead of looking at me. The fact that I have several food bowls in various locations is also good for controlling the dog’s expectations. If it gets too expectant for the food bowl in front of it and ends up too far ahead of me, I just turn around and go towards another food bowl.

Distraction Training

Place one food bowl in front of you and one behind, with at least 20 meters between. If you put them closer to each other you will soon find that it is too tight for you to walk between them and if you and get too close to the bowls it becomes unnecessarily difficult for the dog in the beginning. Show the dog that there are treats in the bowls. Start from the middle and walk towards one of the bowls. If the dog walks in correct position and looks forward, you either give a reward from your hand or cast the dog to the bowl. If it gets too far ahead, you turn around and walk towards the bowl behind you.

Here Elsa shows food bowl training with Diesel – and Ludde sometimes sneaks in as an extra distraction.

In the beginning, it is enough that the dog walks just one step in the right position and looks forward to get its reward. Then you gradually extend the time – but rather increase the distraction before the duration initially. In order not to get too much anticipation of running forward, I reward from my hand maybe 3 out of 5 times. Be sure to reward close to your left leg, preferably with your left hand as well.

Heelwork training with distractions.

Other distractions may be that an assistant holds the bowl or that there is a toy or dummy there instead. You can also use things you find on your walk as distractions joggers, other dogs, the neighbor’s chickens. But then I reward from the hand all the time and not with the dog running there and say “hi”.  

Today’s exercise

    • Try at least three different distractions while walking to heel.
    • 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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