“Dull heelwork” means that the dog just tags along by my side. The dog will not be able to heel by anticipation a whole hunting day, so I want to create a feeling of calm in the heelwork as early as possible, especially with eager dogs. In this way, I also get the dog used to the notion that nothing interesting is going to happen. It is like our usual coffee training to create calmness – but in motion. Simply habituation. I mainly do this with eager dogs and only once the dog has started to get an understanding of the heel position by voluntarily finding it’s position by my side. Depending on the dog, it may be when it is 7–8 months or older.


I have the dog on leash by my side (on a slip lead with a stopper so it doesn’t pull too tight around the dogs neck or on a flat collar, the leash should be just long enough that it’s not tense when the dog is in the position I want) and then we just walk. For a long time. 15–20 minutes or more, so that the dog settles down and doesn’t pull on the leash. The faster the dog wants to walk, the slower I walk. And if the dog starts to wind himself up, I focus on my own breathing – slow and deep.

I usually put the leash behind my back and hold it in my right hand so that the leash is the same length all the time. If it is too difficult to walk forward all the time, I walk in circles or in a square formation so that nothing new and exciting happens. I also adjust the distance to any distractions so it’s not too difficult to start with.

“Dull heelwork” – nice and calm with a loose leash behind my back

In the beginning I always have the dog on leash, but when the dog is able to walk a whole session without the leash tightening, I try to do the same without the leash. I start with short sessions without the leash. If the heelwork deteriorates (i.e. the dog doesn’t walk in the position where I want it), I put the leash back on and walk with the leash on for a while again.

Of course, the dog will still get excited every now and then, but then I have the “dull heelwork” in my “backpack” and can remind the dog about it by, for example, by starting to walk very slowly or walking around in circles. It is very useful to be able to regulate the dog’s emotional state and anticipation in this way.

Naturally I always start my training after letting the dog pee and poo – the “dull heelwork” is like any other training where the dog doesn’t run around freely, sniffing and peeing all the time. Thus it’s not something that replace my usual walks or other “doggy” stuff. If I do 30 minutes of “dull heelwork” the dog has 23.5 hours left of it’s day to do other “doggy” stuff 🙂 In addition to making sure the dog has relieved itself it can be easier for the dog to calm down if it first has been allowed to run around and blow off some steam. So in the beginning I usually do this at the end of my walks. Then I can do it in the beginning, or for a while in the middle of my walk. Or I go somewhere else just to practice heelwork. Or combine it with other training – some “dull heelwork”, a few retrieves, a couple of stop whistles and then maybe some more “dull heelwork”.

At the beginning of the heelwork challenge I mentioned Lisa Falck at Fabelika’s kennel and that she had inspired me to start this challenge on our website. Her heelwork challenge is to do “dull heelwork” at least 15 minutes a day during February. I have walked 30 minutes every day so far and I notice a big difference in Keen. We have trained heelwork like this during the fall, but not on a daily basis and to do it every day has really done the trick. The first day it took roughly 10-15 minutes before he calmed down. Then it has required less and less time for him to calm down. Today we walked to heel with the leash on for 15 minutes and then without for 15 minutes while maintaining the position! 🙂

Today’s exercise

    • How long does it take for your dog to calm down in the “dull heelwork”?
    • 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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