focus while heeling - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-14-2008, 06:04 AM Thread Starter
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Location: Lancs, England
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focus while heeling

Having read through the sticky on teaching focus & being amazed at the pictures, I have taught both my dogs to focus using this method. I would now like to progress to getting them to focus whilst heeling & am wondering the best way to do it. Should I teach both seperately then merge the 2 behaviours or teach the heel then add the focus or just start taking steps while getting focus?

Catherine, Sasha & Ozzy
Jake 14.05.1996-04.09.2008
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-14-2008, 07:39 AM
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Re: focus while heeling

I ask for the focus in heel position from the very beginning, if that's what I want to develop in my dog.

If you've taught focus already, you're a big step ahead. First thing is to make sure that your dog understands how to look up at you when in heel position. I don't know if you've already taught focus in heel position or if the main part of your attention training has been with the dog in front of you, so I'll explain what I do.

I have my dog sit. Anywhere. And then I say "stay", and I step into proper heel position. I keep my shoulders straight and I look down at the dog without moving my body (as much as possible). Most of the time my dog is already looking up, so I smile and say "YESS!" and reward the behavior. I don't lure with a treat in order to bring my dog's head up (if they're not looking at me, I give my "look at me" command and then wait for the attention to focus on me). But I do keep treats on me at first, and later have them in an easily accessed place (on a chair, table, shelf, etc.).

Once I've marked and rewarded the behavior, the dog is free to break out of the heel position and I let them IF they choose to do that. If they don't, and you can get in another reward marker (YESS!) and treat then that's fantastic. But if they do move out of heel position, that's fine. Give another "sit" command and "stay", then step into proper heel position again and do the focus/mark behavior/reward sequence.

I do this several times per session until my dog is willingly holding focus for a good 30 seconds or more before I reward. I gradually build up the amount of time that is held before I mark and reward the behavior. I want a dog that stares intently at me when in heel position, and making that a very strong behavior in a stationary position is the first step.

Once my dog really understands the concept of focus in heel position, I'm going to ask for a single step. Now, some dogs will stay in position because they don't understand they need to move forward (and they've been told "stay" for this behavior). So you may have to encourage your dog forward a few times. You can either do this verbally, or use a treat to lure them forward. I hold the treat in my left hand with my hand at my waist if I'm going to do this. I say "heel" and step forward ONE STEP with my left foot. And when my dog maintains eye contact upwards and moves forward with me, I immediately mark/reward. I don't want my dog to sit at this point - I want focus in heel position and sitting is just nagging if I add that in right now.

I drop the lure as quickly as possible because lures actually slow down learning if used too much. But I keep all my body language the same. The first couple of times I step out without the lure, I keep my fingers posed as if they still have a treat in them, and then I fade that out too so that my hand can be relaxed and natural.

I work this one step for some time - maybe 2-3 sessions a day for a week or more, depending on the dog. I want the focus for that one step to be absolute. I don't want the dog glancing away. If that happens, I simply break out of the heel, clap my hands and say (in a happy voice) "Let's try that again". No correction - my dog is learning. We simply reset and go on.

And when I take this one step, I stop with my legs IN STRIDE. I don't bring my right foot up to meet my left foot. That first step should be a short one so that the dog has time to react and move with you (even when your dog is advanced). Bringing my feet together will later be a "sit" signal. So right now I only move my left foot that half-step forward and my right stays in place.

When the one step is solid with focus, then I add in a second step. Again, I stop in stride - I do a short step with my left foot, a normal stride with my right and I stop at that point. My right foot will be ahead of my left. Some people benefit by practicing footwork without the dog at first so that you don't have to think about it, so that's an option that can be considered if this all seems awkward.

With the two steps, I mark/reward only if the dog maintains focus on me. Just like before, I simply reset if the dog ends up glancing away. It's best to teach this in a low distraction area with no other dogs or people at first, so that both you and your dog can focus on each other easily.

And once my dog is good with two steps, I add another and another until I can do several steps in a row. Then I teach turns, all separately so that the dog learns to drive forward on right and about turns, and swings the rump back on left and U turns. And then finally we put it all together!

Something I also add in along the way is shaping. I do this with really young pups (I don't expect real focused behavior but they can learn heel position). I start walking and I encourage my dog to come to my left side. As soon as the dog steps into heel position, I mark that behavior and reward. If the dog doesn't come to heel position, we just get some exercise .. *L*. It's not a formal training but it helps teach a dog to find heel position from any place. Right now I could go out in the shop and start walking briskly, and all four of my dogs would be jockeying to get into heel position. I reward whoever gets there first and while they're eating the treat, I keep walking and one of the others gets into heel position. It's fun for all of us. I don't give a "heel" command - they simply choose to heel because they've been taught that it's a fun exercise. And that's the attitude I prefer in my dogs.

Hope this gave you some ideas!

Melanie and the gang in Alaska

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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-14-2008, 08:25 AM Thread Starter
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Re: focus while heeling

Brilliant,thanks for that Melanie, it was just what I was looking for. I have a 3 year old who is very nervy and reactive and it would be great to be able to get her to do this when we are near one of her triggers. I also have a 4 month old pup who is just learning focus so I wanted to make sure I started doing it right from the beginning with him. So far,most of their focus work has been with them sat in front of me so will start working them at my side. Thanks again

Catherine, Sasha & Ozzy
Jake 14.05.1996-04.09.2008
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 01-02-2009, 09:25 AM
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Re: focus while heeling

Melaine that is very good information, and I'm actually going to start working on the focus while heeling. It's actually a question I was going to pose, so you saved me from having to post a question.

my 4.5 month panzer knows heel and focus...just not together. And I was wondering how to get him to look at me when heeling. Thanks for that.
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