Building Value for Heel Position: Engaging Games to Teach Your Dog to Find Heel

Staying in heel position is a fundamental behavior in rally and obedience training. To ensure your dog maintains heel position throughout a course, building value and enthusiasm for being in that position is essential. In this blog post, we'll explore engaging games to increase your dog's excitement and success by finding and staying in the heel position. You'll enjoy happier and more successful performances by teaching your dog these games!

Start with the Pivot Bowl

 Begin by introducing a pivot bowl as a prop for teaching your dog to find and stay in heel position. Use treats to lure your dog onto the pivot bowl and reward them for staying in position. Once they understand this concept, start luring them off the bowl with a treat. If they return to heel position on the bowl, mark and reward them. If not, help them find the heel position and reward their effort. Start with easy repetitions to build confidence and gradually increase the difficulty.

Here's a video of Excel learning this game. The cone in this exercise is optional. It shows the dog that they should not go in front and gives the dog something to wrap around when they start finding heel from the front and off to the right.

Toss the Treat

Once your dog can confidently find and maintain heel position from various angles, you can add an extra challenge by tossing the treat. Begin by tossing the treat behind you to encourage your dog to return to heel position quickly. As your dog gains understanding, try tossing the treat at different angles, requiring them to find heel position regardless of where they are. Reward their successful returns with praise and treats.

Transition to Sit Platform

Gradually transition from the pivot bowl to a sit platform for playing the same games. Start by luring your dog off the platform with a treat and reward them for returning to heel position. Then, progress to tossing the treat off the platform and quickly reinforce your dog for finding heel. The sit platform provides a visual cue and helps your dog generalize the behavior of finding heel in different contexts.

Game without Props

Once your dog understands the concept of finding heel, you can remove the props and play the games without any aids. Guide your dog to the heel position using body language and cues if help is needed. If they make a mistake, such as sitting wide, perform a right sidestep or left pivot to bring their rear into position. Reward your dog for their effort, even if they are not perfect. Address any patterns of mistakes by breaking them down into specific training exercises to help your dog become more accurate.

Maintain High Value

Consistency and a high rate of reinforcement are key to maintaining the value of the heel position for your dog. Play these games frequently, ensuring that heel position is highly rewarding. By putting in the effort to keep the heel position valuable to your dog, they will work hard to find and stay in it during training sessions and performances.

E325: Deb Jones, PhD - "Canine Cooperative Care"
E324: Other Dog Sports with Melissa Breau, Hélène ...

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