Improving Your Heeling the Easy Way!!

Does your dog heel wide? Does he forge or sit crooked? Is she wrapping around your body? It's likely that your reward placement has contributed to these problems!

Heeling is such a complicated behavior. Pair that with the fact that dogs want to go where the rewards come from, and you can have a mess on your hands pretty quickly!

When I help my students with heeling troubleshooting, so often the fix, or at least part of it, is changing the reward placement. It's pretty incredible what a change this can make!

Many people hold treats in their right hands, and they reward by reaching across the front of their bodies and treating the dog, either from the right hand or by passing it to the left. Generally when I see people give the dog the treat, it's being delivered with the dog's head wrapped in front of the handler's left leg. Reward this way a few dozen times, and you'll see your dog wrapping and forging in order to get closer to where those treats are coming from!

Another common way to reward the dog for heeling is by spitting food. Sounds like a great way to teach the dog attention, right? Here's the problem - in order for the dog to see your face, he has to forge and wrap.

You can see how rewarding this way can set up the dog for some issues, yet most people aren't even aware that they are doing it! Thankfully, it's a simple fix that can make a big difference!

A Simple Fix for a Big Difference: Heeling Reward Placement

Take a good look of the behavior that your dog is showing you today. Is he forging? Is she a little laggy? Is he nearly heeling sideways as he strives to see your face? Maybe she's heeling wide. Figure out what your dog's tendency is right now. Then come up with a plan to change that tendency.

Remember that dogs go where the reward comes from. So if your dog is lagging, reward out in front. If she's wide, reward on your right. Is his butt out? Spin him away from you. Is she forging? Send her back to a toy that has been placed behind you. Do you want to encourage head-up behavior? Use a reward marker like bounce, where you reward in your armpit area.

As you change your placement of reward, your dog may swing the other way! Be sure you are always evaluating what's working and what is not so you can adjust your plan. And most importantly, remember that how and where you deliver the treat only rewards the behavior that just happened, but it affects future reps of that behavior.

Here are a few examples of different reward strategies to use with heeling.

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