Heel! Location Specific Reinforcement Cues For Improving Position

Location specific reinforcement cues are extremely helpful for improving position while heeling. Because where you deliver the treats affects where the dog wants to be, you can use that to your advantage for whatever tendencies your dog might have.

Reinforcement cues tell the dog that he or she is right. Location-specific reinforcement cues take that a step farther by delivering the reward in a specific way or area, therefore affecting how the dog might perform the behavior in future repetitions. Because dogs are very efficient creatures, they will quickly figure out how to most effectively get the treat. Therefore, they tend to gravitate towards where the treat comes from. If we can be strategic about reward placement, we can affect the tendencies of the dog over time.

Let's look at some common location-specific reward markers in heeling.

Reward Marker Cues: Yes! Get It! And More...

Yes is the most common reward marker. For most people, it means "come to my hand and get the treat." You can get a whole lot of training done with just this reward marker! Pay attention to where you put your hand to give the treat. You can really change your dog's tendencies by where the treat is delivered.

For example, say you always reward from your left hand but it's out in front of your body. Guess what your dog will start doing? That's right, he's going to start heeling in a way to get closer to that treat, which will cause forging and wrapping. This can also happen when you feed from your right hand in the front of your body.

To help with this, feed at your hip, on the side of your body. Feed with your left hand, not with your right. 

If your dog wraps/forges and feeding at your left hip isn't quite enough, you can start feeding from behind. In this case, I keep treats in my right hand on my right side, out of sight from the dog. I pass the treats behind my back and feed with my left hand in heel position at my side. This can really help forging! But be aware, some dogs consistently flare their rear end out before they duck behind to get the treat, which can create other problems. When you change your reward tendencies, pay attention that you are really reinforcing what you want to reinforce.

If your dog is one to flare out, you can use a reinforcement cue that means spin away before going behind. Or you could simply spin the dog away and back to get a toy.

If your dog lags, tossing treats ahead or teaching the dog to circle around you can be beneficial, as can doing high hand touches out in front. When I toss a treat, I say get it. If your dog is wide, teach the dog to spin away from you and go behind you to your right side to get the treat. If you need more head up behavior, try a reward marker like bounce to get the dog focusing and coming up to get the reward. If your dog forges, place a treat/toy/dish behind you and send the dog backward.

Each of these reward markers has a word. "Tush" means go behind me to my right. "Bounce" means jump straight up. "Bee" means get the treat behind you. "Get it" is a tossed treat. "Dish" means take the treat from the dish. You can choose whatever words you want!

Here is a heeling video with some markers/reward strategies that I use in heeling.

How to Train

Teaching location-specific reinforcement cues is pretty easy, because the dog gets rewarded every time. Simply say the word and make the treat appear in the location that you want to associate with that marker word. The most important thing to consider is that you are consistent in the words you use and where the treat is placed. It won't take your dog long to figure out the game!

If thinking about all these location-specific reward markers is overwhelming, start with just one or two! Which ones will be most helpful for your dog? Start there!

We'll talk about these reinforcement cues in my upcoming online heeling class! From Pivots to Practical Heeling will start on June 1st at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. During this class you'll learn how to get off the bowl and moving forward in a fun and efficient way.

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