Two questions - focused heeling and crooked sits - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-09-2010, 11:38 PM Thread Starter
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Two questions - focused heeling and crooked sits

Alright, two quick questions that have come up in my training, particularly this weekend.


First -

Folks who do obedience competition obviously train for focus during heeling. I am curious whether you have a way of "turning on" competition mode with your dogs when you enter the ring?

I have a word to start training at home ("let's train!") and end training at home (show hands and say "Done!") For Therapy Dog work, both my pups have their bandanas, which signifies to them that they're going on a visit and are expected to be on very good behavior and go interact with people. When I get out the harness, Ronja knows it's time to do bite work.

Do those of you who compete have something that signifies to your dog, "we are now working and I need your very best behaviors"? Like a specific word/command or a specific lead/collar?


Second -

When Ronja IS focusing well on heeling, I am having an issue with the sit on stopping. I guess it's an issue with her position in relation to me, as she is not really lined up in the heel position for the sit, she's kind of at an angle. It's like her front stops but her back goes another step to the side before the sit.

Any suggestions on straightening sits in the heel position? Sits in the front position are nice and straight.

Malinois Ronja - fastest K-9 in VT
=^^= Finn, Ratchet & Ollie

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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:11 PM Thread Starter
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Anyone?

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=^^= Finn, Ratchet & Ollie

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:29 PM
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I am anxious for this advice as well...

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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:36 PM
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1. Yes. I usually warm up prior to trial, ask my dog's if they're ready, we play with the ball, do a few drive building exercises, I might smack the dog on the side a couple of times (that usually makes them excited) and we're off. We start just like we do in training. I usually hand my ball off to someone before we go on the field.

I think it has to do more with body language than equipment for me in obedience. I train with a bunch of different collars, sometimes no collar, and most of the time no leash. I have certain ways I move when we are working, my voice is usually higher and happier, and of course if I've done my job training then all the commands are habitually full of drive and enthusiasm because it's a conditioned response

2. It *sounds* like she's forging/crabbing a little since she's at an angle. Which isn't unusual at all. If you consider that a dog's body follows it's head, and her head is turned in towards you, consequently the butt must be out a little. Unless you've done the foundation work that teaches them how to turn their head and keep their body moving straight.

Generally a couple of things you can do, is go back and make sure she understands how she's supposed to be sitting next to you. When she finishes is she straight or does she crook out there also? How does she finish? Around the back and crooked out means she's coming around too far, flip turn and crooked out and she's not going far enough. That can be a place to start so she understands the position. Another good thing to do is work the position and the heeling on a fence. This way there is a physical barrier that prevents her from swinging out, and if you do it enough times it will build muscle memory.

A lot of straightening her out can be done with the hind end awareness exercises like perch work, spins, pivoting, lateral movement and so on.

Other things that work on less of a foundational level are left turns. Left turns automatically put the dog off of you because you are turning into the dog, oppositely right turns bring a dog forward because they have to move quicker to be next to you. Lots of left turns and minimal right turns will help the forging/crabbing dog to be more straight. Also lots of quick halts on larger left circles...Like 2 steps...halt Sit!. The instant you get a straight one reward.
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Last edited by JKlatsky; 08-10-2010 at 03:38 PM.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:38 PM
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As far as turning it on for competition I do a couple different things. First, focus has it's own command that just means watch me, whether the dog is heeling or in some other position. Second, I teach two different types of heel. One for competition, with focus, and one for just going for a walk. So the dog quickly learns to differentiate between the two. I can "walk" the dog to the ring/trial field, then when we get there switch to the competition "fu" and the dog tightens up and gives focus because that's what the command means. I also have a cue phrase for obedience in general, which over time the dog comes to associate with coming into drive and getting into the obedience state of mind so by the time we trial that cue phrase alone gets the dog in drive, focused and ready to perform. I also move very differently and express a different attitude when doing formal competition heeling compared to going for a walk, and that alone provides a huge cue to the dog what is expected.

For crooked heeling and/or sits, there are several common things that cause this. The most common being frequent rewards being delivered in front, leading the dog to sign track to where the reward delivery point is likely to be. So whether rewarding out of the heel or out of the auto sit, really pay attention to where you deliver the reward and don't deliver it in front of you.

If the problem is only on the sits, not the heeling in general, simply bringing the sit command back into play and saying sit while stopping abruptly can help fix this too. When giving the command the dog will sit so quickly right away that he doesn't have time to swing the butt out. Once the dog is reconditioned to sitting quick and straight, gradually fade the command again.

Bringing out a food lure and luring the head straight up when you stop so the dog drops straight back into a sit and has no time, or reason, to swing out crooked.

Heeling along a wall/fence or other barrier that keeps the dog straight and prevents the dog from getting crooked either when walking or when stopping. Then gradually fade that barrier out (going from wall to using curbs as an intermediate step where the dog can no longer see the barrier but can feel it can help there too). Then once you move away from heeling along the barrier still practice stops next to a barrier for a time to reinforce that.

Teaching rear end awareness, like perch work, and giving a verbal cue to the behavior so you can communicate to the dog what she isn't doing correct and needs to fix when she does get crooked. Find the leg work, focusing on very straight sits, can help too.

There really aren't many quick fixes as generally this requires rebuilding muscle memory and that takes a while. Unless the sole cause of this is sign tracking to the reward delivery spot on the sits, in which case once the handler fixes that the dog will straighten right back up. So that's the first thing I'd try to see if that is the cause, as it's an easy handling change to make. If crooked sits are habitual, then more work needs to be done.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:45 PM
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Just thought of one more common cause to watch out for, which may be contributing to it. Pay attention to your upper body position. Lots of time people get into the habit of dipping their shoulder and turning their upper body a bit to watch the dog and maintain eye contact. Women are particularly prone to this due to the, er.... protrusions... in front that block our sight line to the dog. But if the dog is conditioned to that picture then when the handler straightens up and faces forward, now the dog creeps around in front and gets crooked because she's trying to maintain the same sight picture she is used to and believes to be correct. Another situation where handlers need to really pay attention to what they are doing and the picture being presented to the dog.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 03:46 PM
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Here's my 2 cents...
re: the "on" switch: I always ask my dog is she's "ready" in the ring. Prior to giving a "forward" command, the judge will always ask if I'm ready. I look at my dog and say "ready?" This, to the dog, is her command to pay attention. Now we're working! Once I have her attention, I can confidently say to the judge, "Yes, I'm ready!".

re: the crooked sit: with long dogs like GSD's a couple of things are especially important to achieve a straight sit during the heeling exercise: 1. The dog must be balanced in line with you. Dogs who are taught to heel with their heads turned to watch the handlers face commonly find themselves trickling out of line and end up unbalanced, with their front end closer to the handler and the back end swinging out a bit. This makes it easier for the dog to watch your face, but leaves them in an "out of position" place to get a straight sit. This will also cause a crowding error on left turns. Many GSDs are "velcro dogs", this "sticking to your leg" behavior creates the same problem with the dog too close to your left leg in front and the back end swinging wider. The goal is make sure she is heeling with her back end and her front end BOTH parallel to your body; don't let her get into the habit of heeling with her rear end slightly out. I retrain this frequently by holding a treat in my LEFT hand, over her muzzle and in a forward line. Never treat with your right hand; this encourages your dog to want to wrap around in front of you to get the treat (thus again putting her rear end out of position). 2. Cue your dog to sit by standing up, lifting your head, and placing your feet properly BEFORE you come to a stop. Your dog has 4 feet, you only have 2. She needs the cue in the proper place to be able to perform the sit straight and smooth.
Good luck!
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-11-2010, 08:27 PM Thread Starter
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Super! Thanks for all the advice!

I also have a set of the Michael Ellis DVDs coming in the mail and expect that they will be extremely helpful as I go back and revisit some of the things on which we've been slacking, such as hind-end awareness and focus.

Quote:
Just thought of one more common cause to watch out for, which may be contributing to it. Pay attention to your upper body position. Lots of time people get into the habit of dipping their shoulder and turning their upper body a bit to watch the dog and maintain eye contact. Women are particularly prone to this due to the, er.... protrusions... in front that block our sight line to the dog. But if the dog is conditioned to that picture then when the handler straightens up and faces forward, now the dog creeps around in front and gets crooked because she's trying to maintain the same sight picture she is used to and believes to be correct. Another situation where handlers need to really pay attention to what they are doing and the picture being presented to the dog.
That, I think, is really, really spot on. I was looking at photos my friend took of Ronja and I in obedience and rally last weekend and I need to be REALLY aware not to lean forward. I had no idea I was leaning as far as I am and I will definitely be taking steps to correct that, even if I have to tape a stick to my back! (lol)

I did notice that Ronja does cue on very small things and that I need to be really aware of where my hands and feet are, how my shoulders line up, how straight I am standing. Definitely much more conscious of all that now after this last weekend.

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=^^= Finn, Ratchet & Ollie

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