Looks stressed while heeling. Too many corrections? How to fix? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-05-2016, 07:25 PM Thread Starter
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Looks stressed while heeling. Too many corrections? How to fix?

I was watching a video of myself working Mako in heel. And I wasn't too pleased.

We were alternating between a focused heel, heel and loose leash walking.

I haven't been able to get with my obedience trainer for a while so I was using the video to check form and position for the focused heel. I am very happy with the focused heel so far. We are still a bit sloppy. He looses composure a bit when the walking surface changes. But he is getting better. He is very focused. Very engaged. Looks happy to be working.

Heel is another story. He looked stressed. Like he was afraid to make a mistake. I'm a little miffed that all the classes we have took this wasn't pointed out to me. Maybe I just noticed it because I know the dog better. Doesn't matter. Lesson learned: watch videos of myself working the dog far more often.

I haven't given physical corrections for leash pulling. Never had him on a prong or anything. I use a verbal "ah ah" which is enough to get him back into position pretty much every time. I remember one leash correction given after he didn't respond to his verbal when he was very interested in a half run over snake. Leash pop with a slip lead. He's been called a sensitive dog. He's generally very eager to please.

Heel is one of the few things I taught without shaping with a clicker. I put him in the position. Praised when he was in position and verbal correction when he broke it.

He knows the command. He can be off leash sniffing something and he will run to my side when given the command. He rarely breaks position now. Sometimes he gets a little ahead of me and I give a verbal. His walking pace is much quicker then mine. (I wonder if that has anything to do with it?) It's Just as we are walking he has a lot of eye darting and he is keeping his ears back. A bit tight in the face as well. Just not a happy looking pup.

I'm thinking about starting over. Using a whole new command and retraining the behavior from the get go.

But how to do it?

I'm concerned about using the clicker because he gets very very revved up with the clicker. Which is great for things that I want intensity in. But heel I want to be a calmer, more relaxed thing.

Maybe I am not using enough praise? I had to cut back a bit in the intensity of my 'good boy' as he would get excited and break position. Didn't want to set him up to fail. *sigh*

I was wandering if maybe I should use a different correction method. Perhaps my verbal correction is too harsh for this dog? Maybe a very light prong pop would be better? Is that even possible? To some dogs a verbal correction is "worse" then a physical one?

Any insight would be great and much appreciated.
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-05-2016, 07:43 PM
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Maybe he's not sure exactly where he's supposed to be?Do you keep the leash the same length all of the time?If it were me I would try a leash pop to the side and no verbal.See if he starts self correcting when he feels the leash tighten.I'm no trainer of course,but from your description it sounds like you're on the right track.


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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-05-2016, 07:53 PM
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how is his demeanor if you increase your pace to one that is more natural for him? a lot of dogs can be tight in a heel - even more so at a slower and more exhaggerated pace. their thinking cap is on and they're focusing on staying in position as oppose to other commands that have a beginning and an end w/o a long lapse of time between... or a focused heel where they're focusing on you. he may become more relaxed when he's traveling at a pace that's relaxing for him. of course you should be able to set the tone and pace for heeling but if you can cater to his needs temporarily - it could improve his attitude and increase his confidence.

it's hard to say w/o seeing the video but ears back can be and often is a relaxed position for gsd.

I teach heel with a clicker and haven't had trouble with exhuberant dogs because I focus more on turns and pivots and recalls to heel rather than straight line travel - which comes later.

adding more frequent break off can make it fun and create more opportunities for him to be successful too.
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Last edited by Fodder; 05-05-2016 at 07:55 PM.
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-05-2016, 07:57 PM
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I just posted about this in another thread -- my trainer has often told me that he has a harder time getting people to praise as enthusiastically as they correct. Many people blow right past the praise, or mumble it on the way to the next command/correction. He says it's the bad habit he spends the most time correcting in people.

Clickers have the one advantage of making it clear to the dog when it's doing something right, but you know that you can do the same thing yourself with your voice marker (yes, good, bravo, whatever you use). Just check your frame of mind and focus on letting the dog really know when your happy with him or her (with love and enthusiasm in the present, not just mumbled words as your brain is already focusing on the next thing you want out of the dog). It's kind of amazing the change this brings about in soft dogs who are stressed out by corrections.

Are you praising him when he's heeling properly so he knows when he's doing what you want?
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-05-2016, 08:28 PM
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If your dog looks stressed then I would say you are not engaging him enough and you aren't rewarding him enough.

If he's a young dog, you shouldn't be correcting him. You need to be luring him and rewarding him. You'll lure him for a LONG time.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-06-2016, 01:01 AM Thread Starter
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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
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 05-07-2016, 12:47 PM Thread Starter
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Had the signif work him in heel at different paces today.

He looked right pleased when heeling at a jog/fast trot. He did good at a fast walk as well. He still seemed pretty miserable at a slow walk though.
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