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Before introducing your dog to focus heeling, your dog should have good food/prey drive, be well socialized and confident in his surroundings. The dog should also have been properly introduced to a corrective collar. We usually start training focus heeling with food, so the dog will remain calm, focused and will learn more quickly. Once the dog has learned its basic commands and basic positions, we can use prey as well as food to reward the behavior.
Start with your dog in the basic sit position and just work on focus and eye contact.
To attain focus you will need to have food in your left hand. This will allow you to manipulate the dogs head to the desired position and eye contact. This focus/eye contact should be done in increments of 5 seconds building up to 30 seconds. As your time increases, you should include minor distractions. The reward must be given immediately after each successful increment. This reward must be presented as if it was on a string from your eye line to your dog's eye line.
You must maintain eye contact and be sure the reward is not given out of position.
Throughout this foundation, the dog will become distracted and loose focus. The dog must immediately be corrected verbally as well as with the leash and collar. The correction should be given with a sharp snap of the leash. The direction of the snap should be again on the same eye line between you and your dog.
The amount of your correction will depend on your dog. The correction should be firm enough to break the distraction and regain your dog's attention.
Once your dog can maintain 30 seconds of focus/eye contact with distractions in the basic sit position, we can then start to make focus heeling.
Start off with five paces of focus heeling and then sit and reward. Work in increments of 5 paces up to 30. Again if your dog looses focus or becomes distracted the correction should be given immediately. Once you have regained focus again for the desired paces; stop, sit and reward your dog.
After you have accomplished 30 paces of consistent heeling with good focus, you can start to make 90 degree right and left turns. You can also begin to change the speed of you heeling. Be sure to give the heel command when changing speeds and remember anytime your dog looses focus or get distracted you must give an immediate correction. After you regain their focus for 5-10 paces reward your dog promptly. At this point you should begin to decrease your handler help, lengthen your heeling patterns and the intervals at which you reward your dog.
When your dog truly understands focus, attention, heel, sit and its basic position you can then start to bridge the first gap. We now stop manipulating the dog with the food and start demanding the behaviors that we have taught the dog. When they display the same level of focus, attention and basic position you can now reward the dog with a prey item (ball, tug toy). The reward (toy) can come from your jacket/vest pocket, but must be presented from the same eye line between you and your dog so they understand the reward is coming from them maintaining focus and attention.
This prey reward will bring up the speed and drive of the training, but the dog will have the tendency to become slightly incorrect when introducing the prey.
It is important that you maintain the basic sit and heel positions correctly throughout your training. As this is your foundation for all of your obedience later on. If your foundation is sloppy or incorrect, then all of your obedience will be incorrect and sloppy.
In any aspect of dog training, you must create clear boundaries for your dog. They only understand right and wrong or black and white, not grey. The grey area only causes conflict and confusion for your dog. So try and be very clear with your dog and what you're teaching them and what is right and wrong.
The techniques described in this article have been used by many world class trainers for decades. I have trained hundreds of dogs with this method and have found it to be one of the most successful ways to teach focus heeling. If you have any questions regarding this method please feel free to contact me.
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