Thanks everyone! I really do appreciate you all taking the time to respond. Here's some more details:
If I give exuberant verbal praise while he is in heel position he will break it. While heeling I'll give a more subdued "good boy", "yes!" or give his ear a scratch or even slip him a bit of freeze dried tripe (He is not so stressed during heel work that he refuses to take his bait). I do carry a tug toy with me and after Several times in a session, After I release him from heel. I tell him what an amazing good boy he is. Crazy-he-just-brought-me-$100-bill praise and then a quick game of tug. I often let him carry his tug for a few minutes after the game when he is back into heel.He likes chomping on it a bit.
What do I need to do to give a more appropriate amount of praise while he is in heel? I had a similar issue with long down stays. Praise would cause him to break. I offered subdued verbal praise while in position, verbal corrections if he began to break, then crazy party type praise and tug after the release.
The way I taught heel was this: I waited for several months after he had learned the rules of loose leash walking. Well after the point where the slightest amount of tension on the lead would have him racing back to me. I actually had to wait until he was tall enough as I prefer to use a traffic tab when training heel and didn't want to be bending over too much. Put him in a sit next to me, and held the traffic tab slightly behind me so that moving out of the heel position I wanted would cause tension on the leash. I gave the command, did the ol' left foot step off. If tension was on the lead and he didn't immediately correct himself he got an "ah ah", as the previous work on LLW he had already learned to heed to leash tension. We would go only a few feet at first. My goal was to try to release him before he would need a correction,keeping it as positive as possible. Each release in the beginning was rewarded with tug. We gradually built up distance of the last 6 months and have graduated from traffic tab, to his regular leash and collar, to off leash completely. I alternate his rewards now, sometimes he is rewarded by LLW and verbal praise, other times it's verbal praise and a game of tug, every so often it's a bit of a snack.
That's kinda always how I've taught heel. I'm not a fan of the methods of the other trainers I have used. One wanted me to randomly drop food on the ground, I didn't think that was the best idea seeing as how I didn't want him looking at the ground. *shrug* I find using a food lure for regular heel a bit awkward, the bending while walking hurts my back. Focused heel is much easier on me in that regards since when he is looking up his nose is at a more comfortable level for me. If I need to start over from scratch on this I will, and I'll make it work even if it means being in pain or having someone else actually teaching it.
Clearly something is not working though
He does have to collect himself quite a bit to walk at my pace. I'm a fat old cow with hip bursitis, so I am slooow. He has such an exaggerated high step in heel. Brainstorming a bit here, years ago I had a dressage horse that took several seasons to build up the proper muscle tone to be able to collect comfortably. Maybe it is taxing on him physically instead of mentally? I'll have my boyfriend jog him in heel sometime over the next few days so I can see if there is a difference.
Oh! He also does have a breaking point with heel. If I push him too far he will jump up and grab his leash. This of course has gotten much much better over the past 6 months, he only does it now if for some reason I am not paying attention to him and miss the signs that he has had too much. he'll start flicking his ears a bit and be looking at me a lot more when he get close to his limit. I do my best to release him from heel well before that happens. I'm guessing now that, that is his way to let out all his pent up stress? He hit a bit of a jerk stage at 10 months, where he began testing and trying to figure out if he REALLY had to do what I told him to. Teenagers. We went few a few weeks of a lot of verbal corrections it seemed. At first I thought I lost him there, but thinking back on it he was probably stressed out from heeling long before then? God. I feel like such a tool if I've put him through this for that long.
It's frustrating. He knows the command. I've been thinking on this all evening. Just a few minutes ago, I stood in the middle of the living room, called him, told him to heel. He went into position and walked down the hall at my side. He had his ears back even in the house, but no tightness in the corner of his mouth or the extra eye animation that was concerning me earlier. I released him and he ran back to the living room grabbed a toy and came back to me ready to play.
I guess the plan of action now is going to be observation to see when he is stressed out in heel work. If it's only at certain places or paces or if it is an all the time thing and go from there?
thanks again for all the help