Left side heeling - an impractical standard? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 04:17 PM Thread Starter
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Left side heeling - an impractical standard?

It seems that the left side heel is pretty standard. Every book, class, and competition seems to default to it.

As I was out running with my dog again this morning my mind was wandering and I started to wonder about this. Trail etiquette has people staying to the right and faster traffic passing to the left (hopefully with a shouted warning, but often that isn't even given). So, why would we place a dog on the left where they must meet all oncoming people, bikes, dogs and be in the way of passing bikes and roller blades? Even with a well trained dog, you're putting them in the most likely path of conflict. I had never really thought about this until I noticed I instinctively end up moving the dog to my right when I see poorly trained dogs or carefree kids coming. I also recalled a guy in my neighborhood who has a well trained dog that does an excellent off leash heel while he rides his bicycle. But the guy has to ride up the left side of all the jogging paths into oncoming traffic and yell ahead asking people to move over because the dog only heels on his left side.

I am thinking about introducing a directional heel, so we can do either side on command. Anybody else teach this?

Any idea about why the left handed heel is still such a standard?
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 04:21 PM
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Unless it's competition and there are rules, you can have your dog heel on any side you want. If you want either side, train it and use a different word.

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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 05:08 PM
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I've been wondering many of the same things. I've just decided to go with my right since that is the best for me. I am right handed and because of the standard of walking on the right side of paths. If I had a dollar for every unruly dog that came up to me that was being walked to the owner's left..or the toddler that waddles over.. I'd be rich. Plus, with my dog on my right, I have more control and the dog has less to worry about. I wish more people that trail or path walk put their dog on their right. Also, we walk on a bike trail often. Only a small percentage of bikers ever announce they are coming from behind. This is a hazard in so many respects. I call walking to my right in heel position "with me" so that leaves "heel" open if I happen to need it in the future.
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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 05:28 PM
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It was pointed by many GSD breed historians including Max Stephanitz himself that German Shepherd dogs were designed for war and police work. Originally, your dog has to be at your left thigh because your right hand holds your weapon. But, during training. it was noticed that dogs tend to be on the left of their leader, and this behavior is absolutely natural to canines, typically a pack of wolves moves through the terrain, right flank is led by alphas and betas whilst younger inferiors run after on the left. This technique is used in Husky racing as well.
There's a big difference for your dog in where to park his body - on your bed, or on the floor, their levels means change in status for him. If you know what you do in training - you may get fantastic results, but what if you don't? If I knew your dog then I could tell you about advantages and disadvantages of training to heel on both sides.
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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 05:35 PM
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Originally Posted by rfra View Post
I am thinking about introducing a directional heel, so we can do either side on command. Anybody else teach this?

Any idea about why the left handed heel is still such a standard?
As Jax said, the left side heel is necessary for competition. That does not mean that you can't have a right side command, as she also points out, and in some sports, such as agility, you will need to be able to work your dog on both sides.

If you don't plan on competing in obedience and don't see the need to ever have a left side heel, then go ahead and train it on your right. If you think you may want a left and right heel, then train both sides.

When I'm out on the trail with my dogs, I'll sometimes move to the far left, especially when large groups are coming towards me, so my dog is still on my left, but I'm between him/her and the people coming towards us. If there's plenty of room, I don't bother, but sometimes there will be families with small children or a couple of moms with babies in strollers. I think it's just common courtesy to not expect them to walk right by my large dog, no matter how well behaved they're being.

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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 05:38 PM
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Another thing to consider, for me, is that I have a weak knee, and I walk with a trekking pole. The weak knee is the right one, so I use the pole in my left hand. It will make more sense for me to keep my future shepherd to my right side, where my free hand is. I am sure many others with some physical issues/limitations may have the same issue.
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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 05:47 PM
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Or, if you are in a hurry to squeeze through a crowd during some festival, by slapping on your right or on your left thigh you can signal your dog to change sides in places when someone in front of you is walking too slow.
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 08:47 PM
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For me, the horse is on my right when being led. If I am wheeling a bicycle, it is on my right, I get on horse/bike from the left... I'm right handed so it just works in my situation to have the dog on the left.
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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-20-2016, 11:34 PM
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Luckily, over here, keeping to the left is the norm
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 03-21-2016, 11:48 AM
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Out on the trail, street or alley, heel your dog wherever it is safest for your both. If you can direct your companion to one side or the other based on the environmental circumstances, great.

Close side heeling can be especially dangerous if you are running. No matter how well trained and synched your dog is, if a sudden, unforeseen animal bolts in front of you, a loose aggressive dog, bicyclist lacking “etiquette”, etc can result in a fall.

If you are a runner, or the path is narrow, you may find the dog slightly ahead of you (or even behind) with a little lead tension is safest to avert an entanglement.
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