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I just started teaching Kodee to heel. We are starting out veerrry slowly, off-lead (in the house) with one step at a time. He is the first dog I've ever trained, and so I am learning "how" to train him, as I'm doing it, so bear with me.

Tonight I used a cut-up hotdog for his lure/reward. We started out w/him on my left side in a sit, then I said "heel", took one exaggerated step forward with my left leg, and lured him into position w/the hotdog. It worked pretty well. I literally just did one step each time, and marked and rewarded for being in the correct position. He did great, and I kept it brief, so he was still eager to train.

My question is: Is there a way to use a ball as the lure/reward? Kodee will do anything for his ball, and I normally use it as his reward when we practice commands that he's already learned. I normally use food mainly for the teaching phase. I think I saw somewhere (don't remember where) that you could drop a ball from your armpit for your dog while teaching the heel, but I have no idea if that really works. I can't see how you could do it without the dog getting totally distracted. But I wanted to ask, because if there is a way to do it, Kodee would probably be the dog to train with that method.

TIA!
 

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I don't know how other people train using a ball or other toy reward, but here is what I would do starting out to train that way.

Hold the ball in your hand like you would a treat to lure him for the step, then mark the behavior and praise him, then bounce the ball onto the floor for him to chase.

As you get further into it, you should be able to have the ball in the opposite hand (or a pocket) as you no longer have to use it as a lure, and then just bounce it at the end as the reward - then eventually phase it out.

You can get special training jackets that have pockets from which a ball or other toy can be released / dropped.
 

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I was at a seminar not too long ago where Phil Hoelcher was explaining how he uses the ball as a reward for heeling (competition heeling). This is how it goes from what I understood...(and of course there are different ways) You teach the dog to watch even with the distraction of the ball, so that you can move the ball in your hand without the dog taking their attention from your face and then reward the dog with the ball by having the dog grab the ball (on a string) from your hand in a position near your chest or face on the release command (I use "okay"). The idea here is that the dog never has to look away from the general area of your face for his reward.

I taught initially by holding the ball by my chest and asking for watch. This made life a little more difficult later on because I had to phase out the view of the ball and actually make him look at my face. It involved more correction when he was older, but it wasn't super difficult and he got the idea.

Many dogs have been taught to look for the ball reward under the armpit (please be careful with this, a high drive dog may accidentally grab more than you wish getting impatient for the ball), or holding the ball up by your chest with your right hand, this is also similar to the ball drop vests that people use. The problem with this can be a crutch you use to get attention (as I found out) and the dog ends up just looking for the toy or for the vest. I think Chris Wild said something about that in a post about the number vest people use to trick their dogs for competition.

Some pictures from when we started...




Release command and Ball Drop...
 

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Hold the ball in your left hand near the top of your shoulder. Dog should wach the ball as you move, stop, etc. Be ready when the dog does it correctly to immediately drop the ball to dog as a reward. Keep repeating.

When the dog gets that right, move the ball lower and repeat. Finally move the ball outside the dog's head and the dog shouldn't even notice if heeling corectly.

Better than food
 
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