Dog Training For Competition Heeling – What To Do When Your Dog Stops?

I have a pupil with a 3 year-old Golden Retriever who came to me about 6 weeks ago because the dog was bolting out of the ring (and lots of other places) on the heel off lead.  [Editor’s note:  The ring refers to the AKC or UKC competition obedience ring.]  With the help of the e-collar [Innotek electronic remote training collar] we have cured him of this problem.  Now though, because he feels he can’t bolt during heeling off lead, he just stops dead and won’t move.

We are using the e-collar again and have prepared him with long lines etc. calling him up into heel position, but he just doesn’t “get” it.  Once the lead is off, he just stands there and puts up with the stimulation.  Put the lead on again, together with the stimulation, and he closes up.  Take the lead off and he stops.  On a No. 1 stimulation he just stands there, No.2 he turns his head, No. 3 he scratches the collar, No. 4 he scratches it harder, even though it has been explained to him, many times, that when he moves toward heel position the stimulation turns off.  Please help.  (I have your book and it is my bible for general problems).

Maxene Ricketts, Australia.sf¨¨

Dear Maxene:

Excellent question!

I’ve seen this behavior many times, myself.  And while I personally don’t like using the collar in this “low stimulation shuts off upon compliance” manner (I just don’t think it works as well as everyone thinks it does)… I will tell you what’s likely going on in your dog’s head.

Basically, you’ve got a dog that learns through association in a very EXTREME manner.  That is, he understands a behavior in one context (when the leash is on) but the minute you change one element, it throws the dog off.

Another way of saying this is that the dog is likely very high on the trainability scale, but low on the intelligence scale.

Or it could have something to do with the way the low-stimulation collar was introduced to the dog.  Proponents of this approach advocate that you must first go through an exercise called the Three-Action-Introduction.

But I digress…

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Once the dog has stopped (without the line on him) walk back to the dog, place your hand on his collar, give a slight tug with your hand and then repeat the command to heel.  As he starts to move forward-because you’re gently pulling him forward with your hand on the collar-release the stimulation.

As the dog then begins to walk in the heel position, reward with food and release immediately.  Then reward with more food.  (Remember… it’s okay to use food for competition training, which strives for different goals than street-smart training).

After a number of repetitions, you’ll likely see the dog start to move towards the heel position if you simply take a step backwards (shoulders still pointing forward) and re-issue the command.

It’s all about repetition at this point, before you see that proverbial light bulb go on above the dog’s head.  Then praise and reward.