This is something that bothers me a little bit... and I'm not really sure if I should accept this because of my dog's age or be happy with the exchange, but back when Jacks was 2 years old or so - we were at our most polished point with the heeling. Meaning that he had both the energy and discipline to stay in heel position throughout. And of course he had the desire to stay with me because of his "mom don't leave me!!!!" issues. But his stays were wobbly to begin with.
The first show I ever entered him in when he was a 2 year old - we lost no points on the heeling. Had we qualified, we would have taken HIT and done so in front of a LOT of top trainers from our area who were all standing around watching us. It was that positive I took out of that terrible experience, as that was the point when his stays completely unraveled. The judge leaned over him and hit him in the face with his tie during the stand for exam - that's where we lost our first points because of Jacks shifting his feet. And then his stays were terrible and NQ'd us.
Over the 2 years from that point that it took me to retrain stays and polish those up to the point that I'm now going out of sight at class... his heeling has picked up minor issues so we predictably lose points on the figure 8's (2 points there). And maybe 1-2 points on the onleash/offleash heel because of wide abouts or lags coming out of the slow.
All of our scores were in the 190's to get our novice title, but of course it grated on me seeing us lose that many points on heeling - especially considering it was our strongest point and actually still is. o_O
How we are working on polishing?
Figure 8's - it's mainly my footwork and pace that is an issue. And our instructor (the monday one) really gets after me to SLOW DOWN on the figure 8 and not step out or into my dog on the halts. She also wants me to focus on walking square circles to train Jacks to stay in heel position and focus on heeling instead of driving around (and bumping) as he does. When I slow down it makes him pay more attention to me.
On leash and off leash - with these, I know that Jacks will drop his head and relax too much on the slow. Some of the better dogs I've watched at classes will stay alert and focused in the slow and not miss a beat transitioning back to the normal pace. Our about turns are usually tight if I'm giving him the right cues going in and moving out fast. If I'm lazy though, he will be.
My wednesday instructor (who is a judge too, so if you ever show under her keep this in mind) will watch footwork very closely. She will notice every time you step out away from your dog or step in and bump your dog.
I guess I'm unsure if Jacks is polishable at this stage or if I should just accept that when he's "on" our heeling is going to be great, and when he's not "on" we will lose a few points but still qualify. Providing he stays. And jumps. And drops. And doesn't pounce on the dumbbell... o_O
Bullet points though -
- Keep it short and to the point in training. The longer heeling sessions you do, the more chance your dog is going to tire out and develop lazy heeling habits.
- Try to do 1-2 formal heeling patterns a week at least. On your own or have family/friends call patterns for you. This is at home or on the road or at class. L or T patterns. If my one sister is calling patterns, she will wing it but make sure I do the appropriate amount of all the halts, pace changes, and turns. This works on everything.
- Try to do 3-4 straight line heeling sessions a week at least. This works on drive and focus.
- Try to do the stinking figure 8 and serpentines at least once a week. Talk to your instructor about footwork that will help if you don't have a plan for that already.
- Regular heel - I kinda embraced all of the footwork - like the about turn (make a T), left turn (left heel touch right big toe, feet together), right turn (make an L with your feet, right heel to left heel) footwork. As well as the halt footwork (1.5 steps, plant your left foot then feet together). These cues all make your movements consistent to your dog, so when you offer them in the ring he is going to be anticipating the pace changes, turns, halts, etc... and do them cleanly, even if he (gosh forbid) looks away or is distracted in the ring. Thinking about footwork in the ring is a calming influence for you as well.
- Do the fun matches. Even if it's driving a longer distance.
- Watch the people who get 0 points off in heeling. One of the ladies who took her golden down to the NOI this year and did well... she trains at the same club as me, and I've bumped into her at fun matches and trials. This year was a REALLY good year for her - she got a LOT of HIT's with that golden - practically every obedience trial I entered, she was entered as well and got HIT. And that was going up against a lot of other VERY GOOD trainers in fall. Literally you could get a 199 and not get first place in some shows. Or you could get a 198 and not even place. She doesn't do anything to fancy while heeling with her golden and her golden isn't even flashy really while out there. But both are consistent and she does everything in the ring that she does while training. <- Cherie Berger is the same way with her goldens. I've watched them work outside of shows and that consistancy is there.
Also, what type of distractions do you introduce to prepare for the ring? Right now, we are working on closeness of the "judge", movement of people and dogs all about, etc. This does not bother him, but some sounds still get him. Squeakers will make him lose attention for a split second, but I'm rewarding him with a better tug the moment he checks back in. What else can I do to proof the exercise without creating stress?
Train with dog hair/fluff on the floor. Put dots and chalk lines on the floor. Have somebody throw a dumbbell on the other side of a ring gate while you are heeling on the other side of the gate (maintain focus, etc). You don't really have to be used to actually working with a lot of people around - as you will be out in the ring alone. But get used to standing in a crowd of people and dogs or warming up in a close quarters prior to entering the ring.
One other polishing thing I forgot to mention - my Weds instructor really focuses on ring entries as well. She feels that people set up good heeling patterns themselves when they enter the ring with their dog's attention and they keep that attention straight on through to the sit. Just as she feels that people are setting themselves up for failure when they walk into the ring and have lost their dog's focus almost immediately. Same thing with going from the stand to the off leash heel point. So some classes she would set up multiple ring entries and have people practice going into the ring and setting up. Or she will give us rubber circles to slap down as our off leash heeling point, and she'll have us practice that strut across to that circle after we do stands.
**** This happened in the conformation ring in an indoor show, but I was trying to imagine what Jacks would have done if it happened in the obedience ring with him in stays or heeling with me... o_O .... but while the goldens were being shown there was a flock of birds that kept swooping over the ring. I don't know what it says about the birdiness of these goldens in that they didn't seem to notice the birds... but I think Jacks would have noticed?