Why is heel work so hard?
Heel work is one of my favourite skill sets but I often see owners struggle to implement heelwork technique with their dog. Pulling can soon become a habit and can be hard to retrain.
When starting teaching heel, look at reinforcement history – what does the dog get from pulling? To get to the park quicker? To say hello to people and other dogs? To go play? Usually, pulling stems from the dog anticipating something exciting about to happen and can be a very self-rewarding experience for the dog.
Set your expectations of where you would like your dog's position to be. Look at the cue you use and when you use it! Timing is everything! Equipment plays a part too if the dog is used to pulling whilst going out on a certain piece of equipment they can associate it with pulling. There are no magic pieces of equipment that can ‘fix’ pulling, these usually inhibit the behaviour in some way more often than not causing a part of the body to be restricted.
I often find that adding duration to heel work, being consistent and owner expectations are the hardest part of this behaviour.
Sometimes when you go out you aren’t focusing on training and just want to enjoy a walk with your dog. Building in a release cue is a great way to restore the balance between walks and training sessions or using a different piece of equipment to walk your dog with.
When you are training, reward your dog highly. Rewards are often quickly faded out which is where you may see a regression in your dog's behaviour.
When training create yourself a goal to work towards breaking it into small easy to achieve steps rather than expecting the finished result after one training session.
For some dogs if it is a habit that has been occurring for a longer period of time it may be easier taking them somewhere new and starting from scratch so it is not an environment they know that they can pull in and work back towards to their usual walk routes.