My son heeling with Tilley, many years ago. This photo was used for an article on Positive Reinforcement published in Off Lead & Natural Pet Sept 2005
As I said in yesterday's blog, I'm going to write about an incident at the beach and elaborate on it. We'd had our fun on the sand and were heading back to the car when to my left I heard a commotion. I stopped and glanced over; what I saw was a man having a fit at his dogs, one in particular. He was walking two large and boisterous Golden Retrievers, it looked like two males but I'm not sure of that. The man was yelling very angrily; then he stopped, yanked on his dogs really harshly and slapped one on the rear. When I first noticed him he was yelling "heel, heel, heel." Now I can almost guarantee that neither of the dogs knew what heel meant.
Does your dog know what heel means? I cannot count the number of times that I've asked this question. It is so funny to see people shouting out "heel, heel, heel" when their dog has no idea what heel means. I use to run into a gentleman walking or being dragged I should say by his two dogs at the park. As he walked by and his dogs lunged at Luke and I he would shout, "stay, heel, stay, heel." I always walked by laughing to myself. When someone shouts out an untrained heel command in attempts to get some sort of control and they are usually very frustrated.
FACT: Dogs do not come to us loaded with the knowledge of a great heel.
Heel is one of the tougher behaviors to teach; it is not a simple act like sitting or lying down. It is continual and they must learn to stay at your side as you move about. Not only must they follow along in the appropriate position; they must also sit when you stop. This means that they need to being paying attention; this is probably one of the most difficult things to teach.
Watching the man at the beach in such a state of fluster and frustration sucks the fun out of it all. When I get to the beach I expect bad behavior; not crazy bad but over excited bad, heck we're at the beach. The dogs know what the beach is, they know that fun is just down the sandy walkway. I do not allow them to drag me to the beach and I do demand control; out of control dogs are never good. We make frequent stops on our walk to the beach, they sit and get a treat. The dogs must sit before being released and wait for their release word. But all of this is work, hard work that takes a great deal of patience, calm and time.
When someone becomes flustered by their dogs behavior it fuels the dogs excitement. The owner is in fact displaying the same unruly behavior that the dogs is. The owner needs to get a grip before they can attempt at a grip with their dog. Now, asking your dog to heel when they have had no heel training is just ridiculous. I am currently working on heel with Elsa, it is tough work. We are working in non distraction areas still and will move to minor distractions once she is more solid. I'm not much of a heel walker myself; as long as my dogs are not pulling, I'm happy. But I teach heel because I like them to know that being by my side is a good thing. I also teach my dogs to go to heel position when they are away from me. I often use the "finish" and "swing" when out with my dogs. Both are behaviors where your dog learns to go to your side.
The fact that this man had Goldens with him and was losing it was even sadder. Goldens are extremely intelligent; I often tell Golden owners to just give their dog the obedience book and let them read it. They learn quickly and are typically very happy to comply. If you do not take the time to teach your dog how to act then you cannot expect anything but a lack of knowing how to act appropriately. If you have not educated your dog how to walk by your side under high distraction environmental surroundings then DO NOT ask for something that is just going to frustrate both you and your dog. Looking for obedience at this point is futile.