Jul 10, 2018
Head: Solid Foundation
Sub: Just like dribble, pass and shoot are the basic elements of basketball, sit, recall and heel are form the basis of successful dog training
By Jeremy Moore
In the last edition of Badger Sportsman, I discussed the idea of where to start when training new dogs or puppies. Start in the beginning: heel, sit, stay and recall.
This is quite a simple concept. If you’ve been reading and following the articles I’ve written for Badger Sportsman’s “Dog’s Eye View” department over that last several issues, you’ll likely recognize simplicity and “not getting too complicated” accurately describes my approach to training and raising dogs. I do, however, think it takes an understanding of basic principles, a plan of action, a good amount of commitment and work, and ultimately a lot of patience.
We recently finished a series of three DogBone Handlers workshops this spring in Wisconsin. Over three long weekends in April and May, we worked with 40 different dogs and handlers from nine different states. The focus of these workshops was not training dogs, but rather focused on training people.
The first workshop, called “The Next Steps,” transitioned our training from the yard to the field as it applies to shed hunting. The three-day workshop in the hills of Buffalo County enabled the group to get into the woods and pick up several sheds and a few dead heads, despite the record-setting blizzard we endured that weekend.
The next two workshops, called “Foundation,” were held at our DogBone headquarters near Pulaski and focused on building a solid foundation underneath our dogs in order to take the next steps in training. The foundation workshop is a prerequisite in order to take the “Next Steps” workshop. The level of importance a solid foundation has when it comes to your dog and you finding success cannot be overstated.
Sub: The X’s and O’s
I’m a sports fan and find it easy to relate working with the dogs back to sports analogies. I use these analogies to help folks understand there is more to developing a hunting dog than the hunting part itself. Instead, the hunting part is at the top pyramid and requires the least amount of input from the handler. The bottom of the pyramid is the largest and most important as it relates to being able to stand up.
The hunt – or top of the pyramid for a basketball team – are the games, and ultimately tournaments. As an example, if your team simply plays games and enters tournaments, you will not see the same improvement than a team gains after spending many hours working on their fundamentals and foundation. Before anything there are a few skill sets needed to play the game: dribbling, shooting, passing. If you’re missing any of these three skills, basketball will be difficult, if not impossible.
Heel, sit and recall – those are my dribble, shoot and pass when it comes to dog training. Each are important and necessary, some tend to come relatively easy, while others take more work.
I believe all training is simply building repetition and consistency until something becomes a habit. “Sit” is a lot like dribbling in that it is used a lot. It can be practiced just about anywhere, anytime and under any conditions. For the next 24 hours, keep track of how many times you use the command “sit.” I think we use sit with our dogs as often as any other command throughout the day. It’s a staple and necessary. It’s an easy way to reel them back in and regain their focus. It’s something we do every time before letting them in and out of the kennel or crate, every time before we come in or out of a doorway, every time before we let them eat, and every time I need them to just stay in one spot for any period of time.
You’ll note that we rarely differentiate the use of “sit” and “stay.” Stay would just be a sit for a long time, so we just put our dogs on sit until we call them off.
Sit is also usually one of the easier skills for a pup or young dog to pick up. A few simple mechanical techniques make it easy for them to understand that when they park their butt – cued by your words, tone, whistle or simple body language – you then time the action precisely with the appropriate praise and … bingo.
This skill can and should be practiced in all locations, and the results should match regardless of outside influence. As with anything in training, start out in a controlled location with few distractions in order to form the habit first, then add in more levels or layers of outside influence without results wavering. Sit is like dribbling because you need it all the time and you can practice it all the time.
The ability to pass the ball is like the recall or “here” command.
We’ve all played with or seen the ball hog. It’s all about them! They constantly call for the ball and when they get it, they don’t give it up easily. Too much dribbling leads to turnovers, and too many forced shots lead to a lot of misses. This is a sure way to lose a lot of games. On the other hand, a player that sees the court well and has the ability to put the ball exactly where it needs to be in order for others to score is the kind of teammate we all look for and welcome to the roster.
A dog that works so independently and does not come to you when called is equally annoying. It is also disrespectful and extremely frustrating. Recalling is another skill that is relatively easy to hone early on when young pups have a tendency to stick close to us. By using the time in the seven- to 14-week range to engrain the habit of preceding the action of recall or coming to us with a verbal command, whistle and or body language, we form a habit that later will be tested and proven stronger than potential outside influences or distractions.
But what about older dogs beyond 14 weeks – can they still be trained to come when called? Of course, but you may have your work cut out for you depending on how strong the habits have already been formed. It seems to only take a moment for bad habits to form, but much longer to reverse them. It can happen, but it takes a lot of time and repetition.
The best way I have found to build in, fix or improve a dog that has poor recall is by using a simple drill called “reverse heel.” But in order to effectively use that drill, you need what’s coming next – heel work. The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT a shock collar!
Again, by setting your dog up for success and then rewarding and praising the appropriate behavior at the correct time, we are building a key foundational tool used often in training, and ultimately in everyday scenarios.
I liken heel work to shooting a basketball for a few reasons. First, shooting in basketball is usually looked at as “fun stuff.” For me, good heel work is fun because it allows me to do so many enjoyable activities with the dog. When we get really good at it, we’re able to do heel work off-lead with confidence, which adds a whole other level of freedom and true teamwork.
I use the term “heel” meaning to have the dog in a specific position in relation to myself. For me, I like the dog on my left side with their front right shoulder equal to or slightly behind my left knee or thigh. The specific spot – right or left side, etc. – isn’t important, however being consistent is important, particularly when first learning the skill.
Pick one side or the other to start, and if you decide to switch or add the other side down the road, that’s fine. I always start my dogs on the left-hand side, and as they get older and understand the idea, I find it handy to have them able to heel well on both sides of me, depending on the situation.
I also use the shooting analogy with heel because both take an incredible amount of work to perfect. It’s nothing for a good shooter to put up 1,000 shots in a workout session. That might not sound like a lot, but try it once – after about 200 shots, my arms are about ready to fall off!
Long sessions are not recommended when it comes to working with your dog, but the amount of sessions and the ongoing work when it comes to heel can be wearing. It’s a lot easier to just let them run about or pull you along when out for a stroll. That’s your dog taking you for a walk – we want the reverse.
The connection between you and the dog in those scenarios is little to none. Heel work requires the dog to “feel” you and for you to “feel” the dog. It starts physically through the use of the lead or leash and collar, and eventually – if done properly – you can begin to eliminate the need for the leads and collars altogether. It’s the best way I know to hook in with my dogs, feel connection and ultimately build trust and develop the ability to read each other – all critical skills for both the handler and the dog.
Heel work is not complicated, and with the use of several simple drills and then variations of those drills, you will have your dog looking for you to lead as well as set the pace and tempo. They literally will be looking to you, and when you start to get their eyes, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Use these three simple skills to build your dog’s foundation. Once you have those three mastered, you are limited by very little as far as where you take your dog’s training. Missing any of those links in the chain will become clear when you go to the field to work on more advanced drills. The foundation is so critical to all of my training that I spend the majority of time on it when it comes to handlers workshops.
I recently spent a great amount of time and effort revising and re-filming several training DVD’s in a series we produced, which are now available. What was once over 2 ½ hours of training information in our old DVD covering the foundation has now been expanded to more than seven hours of instruction. And of that information, I would say 85 percent covers the three things mentioned in this article: sit, recall and heel. It’s just that important if you have aspirations to achieve the stuff on the top of the triangle.
Best of luck in your training.
Jeremy Moore has trained dogs for more than 15 years. His approach to training is to maximize a dog’s potential without using force and bring out their natural abilities. He created the DogBone training products line, which is designed to allow all dog owners to successfully train their own dog by combining the right tools with the information to put those tools to use. Visit www.dogbonehunter or FB, IG, Twitter and YouTube @dogbonehunter for more information.