As with most training systems there is more than one way to teach an exercise. I will explain to you the program that I use and why I like it. This particular method was taught to me about 20 years ago by my mentor AnneMarie Silverton. I learned the method from start to finish on my first competition Golden, Indy (SHORELAND’S INDY TWO-HUNDRED Can. OTCH, UDT, MH, WCX,CGC, TT, OHF Am. OTCH. UDT, MH, WCX, OHF – multiple perfect 200 scores) and I have never strayed from it since.
The goal of this method is to teach a focal point. The focal point is the outside of your left arm, where your armband is. This insures that your dog’s head and body remain straight and thru this, when your dog comes into a halt, he has a much better chance of a straight sit, because his body is in-line. I do not have food in my mouth when heeling, nor do I encourage or have any eye contact with my dog when they are in heel position. When I see dogs heeling with handlers that use too much eye contact or that have food in their mouth, I see dogs having to forge out of heel position to look at the handlers face. Not only does the dog forge, but his rear goes out as his head cranks around trying to see his handler’s eyes or face. I also see the dog crowding and bumping his handler, all things that cost us precious points in the obedience ring. I am going to lay out the heeling program for you step by step. Your progression thru each stage largely depends on how often you train. My rule of thumb for progression is this, once your dog can heel happily with 100% attention, and in distracting locations (ie Supermarket parking lots, training centers, etc) then you should feel confident to move onto the next stage.
Long gone are the days of jerk and pull to get your dog to heel. In today’s world we have better methods to teach a dog to heel, but the most important tool, is building your relationship with your dog during this training. Food is a wonderful training tool, but it will not build a relationship with your dog. If you rely on food alone it rarely carries over well into a good ring performance. You must build a relationship with your dog by interacting with him physically, emotionally, verbally and have frequent fun play sessions during your training. The success of any training method depends on developing a bond with your dog.