I am a huge believer of the dog giving effort during training. And, this does not just mean the exercise itself…it also means coming out of the crate, entering the ring and moving between exercises. If you allow your dog to “turn off” during these activities it WILL bleed over into your formal exercises.
How do you get effort? Wow, million dollar question, isn’t it? Every dog is different, so you need to figure out what works for your dog. Not very helpful, is it? 🙂
Examples of how I require effort from my dog or my students’ dogs:
- If the dog is lagging, the behavior is marked and the handler quietly takes a hold of the dog’s collar (normally from the left side of the dog’s head) and pushes him forward into heel position. While doing this, the handler tells the dog what they are doing “We’re heeling, good heel”, etc. Then the collar is released and the team continues forward a few steps before releasing the dog.
- If the dog is forging, the behavior is marked and the handler quietly takes a hold of the collar (same as in #1 above) and brings the dog back to heel position. The handler then slows their speed and asks the dog to maintain heel position. It takes a lot more impulse control for these dogs to maintain a slower speed and it allows you to address issues more timely.
- If the dog shuts off between exercises and is following numbly behind me, I address it similar to the lagging dog. But, I may just do a “with me” correction (a TRAINED behavior), instead of a “we’re heeling” correction.
- During a left finish, if the dog under rotates, the handler pivots left during the finish (helping the dog verbally if needed).
- During a right finish, if the dog stops short, the handler is either prepared with their left foot back or they take a slight step forward or to the side during the finish.
- If the dog is not coming into a front straight, I mark the behavior, then pivot or sidestep, while reminding the dog of their job.
- If the dog is not getting his rear in on a left turn, I ask him to do a left spin in heel position DURING the left turn.
The key…if your dog isn’t working hard enough, help him work HARDER. If your dog understands what you are asking from him, do not automatically make the exercise easier. As much as possible, train like you show….meaning not throwing in a whole bunch of extra physical cues or guides. Make doing the correct thing easy and the wrong thing much more work on the dog’s part.
Don’t forget to tell your dog when he’s doing something incorrectly. How else will he know what he can or can’t do? This doesn’t mean yelling “NO!” and running at your dog. A simple “wrong” or “oops” or “try again” works just fine. Keep your voice light and your hands soft. If your dog deflates, get him back in drive before continuing.
And, likewise, tell your dog when he’s doing something right! Even if it is just a smile, let your dog know he is awesome! Remember, you can smile all you want in the ring. Also, in Novice and Open, you can use any word for your heel command. So, why not say “AWESOME” as you move forward, instead of “heel”? This may also help you get a little spunk into your heeling if your dog is worried about the environment. (Disclaimer…Don’t say “Awesome, Fido heel”, that may be pushing it for most judges.)
As always…Train hard. Play harder.