Competition Heeling: Stopping on the "Fast"

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Competition heeling - more problem solving

Last month we wrote about using the remote trainer for problem solving in heeling. We gave the chronic forger a comparison between the forged position (mildly uncomfortable), and the correct position (where he's praised and comfortable).

Quitting on the "fast"

Now we'll look at a different problem: the dog that quits heeling completely on the "fast." Usually, these dogs have learned that the "picture" of the trainer going into the fast pace predictably led to a jerk on the neck for lagging.

Why does this happen? Sometimes an individual dog doesn't make the connection that the way to avoid the leash correction is to avoid getting into the lagged position in the first place. For reasons unique to him, making this connection is tough. For example, he may be physically slow by nature. Or he may be a dog that tends to "freeze up" when he feels insecure. Or maybe he's just not a real bright dog.

A cycle of failure

For whatever reason, he falls into a cycle of failure in which the fast pace leads to lagging, which in turn leads to him getting corrected. Finally he deals with it by quitting and stopping cold, or leaving the ring entirely, whenever asked for a fast.

Tougher physical corrections with the leash will only make this dog worse. He sees them as coming from the trainer, and they strengthen his belief that the trainer is someone he doesn't want to be near. So he's more determined than ever to stop cold, or leave the scene entirely, when the fast starts.

Sometimes a dog that quits on the fast can be helped by starting over. Using positive motivation (food, toys, play-release, etc.), the trainer teaches the dog how to jump quickly into a fast pace, and does a thorough job of teaching this before making the dog responsible for maintaining the heel position during the fast. In essence, the dog is given the physical habit, as well as the attitude improvement, he needs to "solve the problem" when the lag starts to occur.

However, if the quit problem has become chronic and severe, the "re-teaching" approach may not work. This happens because the dog has already decided that quitting "works" to prevent all difficulties experienced during the fast exercise. At the same time, his attitude toward the exercise is such that nothing you can do will convince him that there are no "difficulties" lurking in it.

Understand the role of the "safety response"

Whenever you try to re-train a dog, you're fighting history. The dog that quits on the fast has decided that quitting "solves his problem." Once he believes in this form of "safety," neither more of the familiar corrections (even if more severe), nor a 100% inducive, penalty-free environment during the exercise will undo his prior conditioning.

Any use of the old corrections just increases the dog's anxiety, and strengthens his resolve to achieve safety by the method he already believes in: quitting. This is a no-brainer.

The limitation in using a solely inducive technique is more complicated. The problem lies in the dog's earlier negative experience with leash corrections on the fast. This experience assures that the picture alone (the start of the fast) is enough to bring on the desire to seek safety.

As soon as the dog feels apprehensive on the fast and quits, and nothing bad happens, he's positively reinforced by his own feelings of safety ("Whew! Beat that one!"). Make no mistake: his feelings of relief at that moment are PROFOUNDLY positive. The fact that quitting meant that he didn't get your offered reward of food, toys or fun hardly breaks his heart.

So the mere fact that you've stopped correcting, and have gone only to positive motivation, does not always "cure" the dog who has firmly decided that quitting "works."

Help from the remote trainer

The remote trainer can help in this situation, because using the remote trainer reverses the dog's perception of "safety." He doesn't see these corrections as coming from the trainer, but rather associates the mild displeasure with his physical position of being away from the trainer. It becomes easy to cause the dog to understand that the way to turn the collar off when he's in the lagged position is to move closer to the trainer.

Now he wants to be with the trainer for safety, instead of out of the training environment entirely. If you do things right, he'll see you as his very best friend during the heeling exercise. The remote trainer gives him the mild negative comparison he needs to encourage him to make the choices you want.

Laying the foundation

It is not necessary that the dog be familiar with the remote trainer and electrical stimulation to use the e-collar for this one problem. But if your dog isn't already a "collar dog," remember you MUST lay some foundation BEFORE you use the remote trainer in the actual exercise where you're experiencing the problem. Otherwise, the first association the dog will make is that a novel unpleasant sensation is connected with the exercise he is already worried about!

This use of the collar comes under the "first action"

The necessary foundation for working on a "quit" during the fast is found in the "first action" of our collar introduction program. The first action teaches the dog to come toward the handler to turn off the collar.

If your dog is unfamiliar with the remote trainer, you should at least teach the first step of "bending," (teaching an at-liberty dog to turn off the collar by turning toward a continually moving handler). We covered this topic in our third Front & Finish article.

We also strongly recommend that you teach him the "closing-up heeling" exercise, covered in our fourth Front & Finish article. The "picture" your dog sees in this exercise (closing the distance to you while your back is to him) is the same as he sees when he lags during the fast.

The dog does not need the foundation work of the second or third actions if you only use the remote trainer for limited problem solving dealing with the "quit" situation.

Remember you must test the dog's physical sensitivity before you begin training with the remote trainer, a topic covered in our second Front & Finish article. Otherwise, the plug or contact point you select may be too high or too low for effective training.

You will need a collar that offers low-level "continuous" stimulation (stimulation stays on until you release the button).

Applying the solution

Once your dog understands to move toward you to turn off the collar, you can use the remote trainer to correct him during the actual exercise.

During heeling, go into your fast. When the dog quits, press the low button, and call him to you (any command he knows that will get him moving toward you is fine). If he doesn't respond well when you call, use whatever "body English" he needs to get him to move toward you.

Continue giving whatever encouragement is needed to keep him moving toward you, but don't release the button until he has moved toward you about six feet, or gets within three feet of you, whichever comes first. Remember, most collars will turn off on their own after 5 or 10 seconds, depending on the type of collar. So make sure you get him moving before stimulation stops automatically.

If you really need it, you can use a long line or flexi to help him move toward you. Snap it to a flat collar and keep tension on it, so that you are guiding rather than jerking the dog toward you.

Once you've released the button, use more praise if needed to help him finish the job of getting to you. After he's familiar with the correction in the context of the exercise, and his movement toward you in response to it is confident, use a higher level of stimulation if corrections are still needed.

There are three keys to success

First, this is one time in dog training when the "late" correction is preferred. Let significant distance open up between you and the dog before you first correct. This will help the dog see being near you as where he wants to be. So don't correct him for a small lag of two feet or so. Let him really commit himself, and either quit or lag at least six feet, then correct.

Second, make yourself the good guy. Pile on the fun and praise as you call him to you, and praise him with enthusiasm when he regains the heel position. Stay happy and "up." Let the remote trainer show him the negative alternative. This gives him the comparison he needs. Staying with you is fun; staying away isn't fun at all.

Third (and it's critical), the dog needs to wear the collar any time he might make the mistake until his old bad habit of quitting is thoroughly gone. Put the collar on him as soon as you get him out in a training area, whether it's for work, play, pottying or just hanging out. Don't just put it on for your heel work. And if (despite our advice!) for some reason he's not wearing the e-collar during training, don't practice the "fast" in that session.

As a final step in your re-training for the "quit" problem, you will have to run him through a routine in the ring in some match-type situations, collar and all. Of course you will leave the bait, toys, light lines etc., outside the ring, and your "judge" will not be your familiar training buddy. Behave as though you were showing, or you're wasting your effort. For example, don't train on the grounds, and don't correct anything but the quit or lag on the fast.

You must make sure that the show situation doesn't operate as a cue to the dog that it's okay to quit. Remember, he'll probably be more up-tight in such an environment, and more likely to fall back on his old technique for dealing with it. So don't waste all your earlier training effort. Be ready for a "quit" whenever you're in a new environment until your re-training is complete.

First Appeared in:
Front & Finish

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