Re: Heeling backwards?
I started teaching my dogs to heel backwards long before rally became popular (the highest level of rally obedience requires heeling backwards three steps). I've always enjoyed having my dogs stay in heel position regardless of what I'm doing, which is a real test of their understanding of "heel".
There are two things that I think are vitally important when teaching a dog to maintain heel position regardless of what you're doing. One is that they understand "heel" as a POSITION, not as a MOVEMENT. Most people tend to teach their dogs that heel means they move forward in heel position - they say "heel" and move forward and the dog goes with them. I teach my dogs that "heel" means "be at my left side in heel position". I do a lot of reinforcement of my dogs when they're on my left, and I do little sideways movements, left turns, etc. from the very beginning to help them understand that moving to stay in heel position is what gets the reward.
The second thing I think is vitally important is that the dog understands how to move the hind end on command. If you watch most people heel their dogs on a left turn or even a tight left 360 turn, you'll see that the dog's front end moves around and the hind end just kind of trails behind. I teach my dogs to move their haunches back so that a left turn is where they stop forward motion and swing the rump back. This is done early in training, too, although you can do it later in training (all of my competitive obedience students teach their dogs this kind of turn, and many of those dogs are several years old before they come to my class - it's just easier to teach it young).
I tend not to use things like walls or chairs to teach my turns or backing up. I find that it generally takes longer (with less understanding on the part of the dog) if you use a "prop" like that (although it can work too). I start out by having a flat collar on my dog and a short leash. With my dog standing in heel position (may have to step forward to get the stand) I slide my hand under the top of the collar (fingers pointing toward rump) and then I PIVOT left very slightly while slightly twisting the collar. I don't bump the dog (remember, it was a pivot, not a turn). Then I stand there quietly, smiling, and I wait for the dog to make a comfort move. This means that the dog will step slightly to the left to straighten out the body. The twisted collar is not tightly twisted in any way - just enough for the dog to feel slightly pressured - and then I let the dog figure it out. It may take a little while. If the dog sits, I simply start over (maybe say things like "c'mon, silly girl, get that rump up" while I clap my hands and move forward - need to keep things happy because this is a strange thing for the dog).
As SOON as the dog moves the rump over a step or even a fraction of a step, I mark that with an enthusiastic "YESSS!" and then release the collar and reward with treats or a toy. And then I set the dog up and do it again. We do maybe 4 or 5 times and then I stop.
When the dog catches on and starts moving the rump quickly over, you can start increasing (gradually) the amount of movement you expect before marking and rewarding the behavior. And then you put it on verbal command (I don't mess with the verbal initially because the dog wouldn't understand it and it would be confusing - I add it once the behavior is established) and then fade out the collar pressure. I use "get back" as my command to have the dog move their rump around behind me.
When I teach the backing up, I use my control of the front end and the hind end to show the dog that they need to move both ends backwards. I use a combination of "get back" and "heel" to maintain straightness.
My chow, Khana, earned her Rally Excellent title last summer with good scores and one of the things that the judges really commented on was her backing - she backed quickly, smoothly, and straight. They told me (and the crowd when they handed out ribbons) that she had the best back they'd seen all day. I think I was the only one not to lose any points on that exercise. Khana started young with learning how to pivot left and back up - she's a backing fool and one of our freestyle moves is when she backs circles around me.
I think that it's only bad for a dog if the dog has bad hips or back problems to start with. Backing up isn't an unnatural behavior. I'm sure it uses some muscles in a different way from normal and dogs who haven't built up those muscles may look awkward and uncomfortable until the muscles become accustomed to it.
Melanie and the gang in Alaska
Positive 1ST! More reward, less correction makes a GREAT trainer.
Chows: Khana CD RE SD & Dora NA NAJ GSD: Tazer SDIT
Total of 2UDs 3CDXs 12CDs 2REs 8AgilityTitles 1BH Chow!
20 Yrs Training/Teaching Experience