When I was in England visiting Phillippa Williams last summer (www.dogsforlife.co.uk) we got to try a slightly different way of training heelwork. Simply put we teach the dog to go forward when we move our left foot and stop when we raise our right foot. Besides looking extremely funny when a whole group is doing it simultaneously, and being called “flamingo walk” by Phillippa, it creates a more focused heelwork where the dog gets a clear signal to stop.
The first thing we do is to teach the dog to stand still when our right foot is raised. First we reward the dog for standing by our side, then we raise our right leg quite high (somewhat like a flamingo) and reward the dog for staying put. We also challenge the dog a bit by moving our right leg forward and bringing the foot down towards the ground, as if we were about to take a step, and reward the dog for staying put.
After this we take a step with our left leg (rewarding the dog for following if necessary) and then stop and raise our right leg again – the dog should now stop according to what we just taught it. When the dog stops we reward it. If it doesn’t stop we’ll continue training standing still when the right foot is raised and are quick to reward it at the first sign of stopping.
Once this works its time to start combining everything! Take one step with your left foot, raise your right foot and reward the dog for stopping. Take two steps and reward the dog for stopping at the raising of the right foot again and so on. As you go on you return to a more natural walking style (rather than the exaggerated “flamingo steps”), but the trick is to mix in the exaggerated right foot raises from time to time, and soon you stopping and slightly raising your right foot should bring your dog to heel properly by your side – and thus you’ve added an extra brake to your heelwork. 🙂