Day 15: Heelwork – level: Nerd

I like measurable things, bars and charts. If it’s possible to measure something, I would love to do so – preferably in Excel. When I started to clicker train , I did a lot of logging of different behaviors I trained, but in the gun dog training I haven’t been logging very much, just mostly trained what I thought we needed for the moment. But I have a very good example of when I have benefited from logging even in the gun dog training, and that is for the heelwork.

Just over a year and a half ago, I participated in a cold game trial with Seeker for the first time. It went unexpectedly well, but in the heelwork it really did not feel like we had any contact so after the trial I started a heelwork campaign.

Heelwork at Seeker’s cold game trial debut.

Since Seeker was a puppy, I have trained heelwork every day – as soon as we have passed through the gate we have walked to heel out into the woods. So, at home he walked great to heel, but in more difficult environments it didn’t work as well at all. To motivate myself, I logged where and when, and how much I trained and how difficult the environment was. In just over a month, I did 31 sessions in 16 different places and could really see how it improved. In the pictures below you will find summaries of the progress.

Every session I logged the date, location, session length, difficulty level (where 1 is really easy environment / difficulty level and 5 very difficult), how long it took before the heelwork as calm / as I wanted it and a descriptive comment.
Summary of difficulty, how many sessions I did on each level of difficulty and trend over how long it took to get him to walk a calmly. The trend shows that we were moving in the right direction, especially on difficulty level 4 and 5.

In environments where he had no expectations, it went great even in new places, as you can see in the video from our training at the central station in Gothenburg below.

Heelwork at the central station in Gothenburg – nice and calm, without expectation despite pigeons as a distraction.
Heelwork where Seeker walks in a good position – I struggle with the uphill slope and cannot cope with my position

However, what continued to be terribly difficult and which we worked on even after I stopped logging the training was of course the expectation in exciting hunting situations. He walked nice and calm away from distractions, but as soon as we returned the expectation was back. With tenacity and focus on managing expectations, it went in the right direction, but it is quite boring training to keep up. In the video below, you see what it looked like on his second cold game trial.

Heelwork on a cold game trial after our campaign – great improvement, but still much anticipation in such exciting situations (around minute 4 the most heelwork is visible).
Calm heelwork without expectations (my husband does not have the same requirements for position as I have in training)

Today’s exercise

  • Think about how your heelwork has developed. What do you need to motivate yourself to train the heelwork? How can you measure your progress?
  • 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.
  • Subscribe to our blog to receive emails when new training tips are available.

Want to improve your heelwork even more? Check out our online courses and webinar on heelwork!

4 thoughts on “Day 15: Heelwork – level: Nerd”

  1. I am a nerd, but useless at being a training nerd. This has really made me think about a spreadsheet 🙂
    I am following your suggestions and it is brilliant and inspiring. It is really challenging me into thinking more about what we do on walks. I had got lazy about control around letting the dogs off the leads, they all sit and wait now until the release cue. They all distract each other at the moment, so not introducing more for the time being. Aim to get them all walking next to me for a few paces next.
    Yesterday Laine (2) decided to walk beautifully to heel for over 100m. She was calm and she was rewarded with the odd treat. Loch (8months) decided to join us for the last 50m and it was lovely to have 2 calm and relaxed young dogs happily walking to heel.
    Next stage for me is to be more rigorous in rewarding with my left hand on the panty line.
    Thank you for the challenge….

  2. not heelwork – but great to see Seeker coming out of water and back to youwith the bird – without shaking. This is something I’m struggling with with my dogs (also golden retrievers)

    1. Thank you, we’ve spent quite a bit of training on that! Yes, it can be tricky to get them to understand the point of that – it seems much more natural to shake first 😉

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