Happy Heeling: Pocket Hand for the Pivot Bowl and Moving Forward

June 8, 2024

A couple of weeks ago, I did a blog post on an introduction to the pocket hand for heeling.  This week, we’re going to talk about how to use the pocket hand for pivot bowls and heeling forward.


When your dog is comfortable with pocket hand, it’s time to use your new skill on the pivot bowl!


Pocket Hand on the Pivot Bowl


This skill can help you as you transition your dog off the pivot bowl and start to do pivots on the flat.  Watch how I use it to help Excel in this video.



Do you see how he comes in nicely and lines up with my hand without any extra movement from me?  In the first part of our session, I used it for setups, but then I started using the hand to assist with pivots.  Look at how nice his movement is – even without the pivot bowl!


Getting Rear End Movement


Once your dog is comfortable with pocket hand, try some left turns on the pivot bowl.  Stiffen your outside fingers and put a little bit of pressure on the outside of your dog’s muzzle.  At the same time, rotate your wrist counterclockwise just a little bit, which will increase the pressure on your dog’s muzzle.  I recommend using a mirror so you can see the dog’s rear.  As soon as your dog moves his/her rear end even a fraction of a step, mark and reward!  As your dog starts to understand that pressure means rear-end movement, the amount of pressure you apply can be very little.


Here is baby Rise’s very first session with the pocket hand.  See how I’m using it to get his rear to pivot around into heel position?



Small Dogs


Here’s an example of how to use the pocket hand with the little dogs.



You can see how the handler has taught the dog to target her hand with the outside of his muzzle.  This encourages the rear-end movement that we are looking for.


Here is Brito working on his first bits of movements.  Look at how quickly Denise is fading the pocket hand.



Once your dog understands the concept of the pocket hand, it’s easy to use it both on and off the pivot bowl to teach your dog how to move their rear end.  Take your time teaching this useful tool!


Heeling Forward with Pocket Hand


Once your dog is really comfortable with the pocket hand, it’s time to practice some duration in movement!  At this stage of training, there are a few skills with which I want my dog to be comfortable.  First, I’d like my dog to maintain contact with my hand for several steps of slow, straight heeling.  Once the dog masters that skill, I want my dog to be able to maintain contact through right and left turns while giving me correct rear-end movement through both turns.  I want the dog to maintain contact with my hand as I speed up to a normal pace.  Finally, I want to be able to raise the pocket hand and lower it again without my dog dropping his/her head.


Taking Steps with Pocket Hand


Once your dog can stick his/her muzzle in your hand and hold it there, you can start moving forward.  At first, you can mark/reward if your dog takes even one step while keeping his/her muzzle in your hand.  If your dog doesn’t follow your hand, just encourage him or her and mark/reward when the muzzle goes back into your hand.  Eventually, work your way up to taking several steps with the dog staying in your pocket hand.



I want you to understand how to “steer” your dog using the pocket hand.  Experiment with how more or less pressure affects your dog’s rear end.  On a left turn, you’ll use a little pressure to start the turn, but as your dog gets more experienced, you shouldn’t need to apply pressure.  On the right turn, you will need to apply or lessen pressure depending on if your dog is going wide or the rear end is in.


Here’s a video of me and Excel putting it all together!



The pocket hand is a really useful tool to have in your heeling toolbox.  Feel free to bring it back anytime your dog is struggling.  If you want some more practice with the pocket hand, join me for my FDSA class From Pivots to Practical Heeling.  You will learn many useful tools for heeling, including the pocket hand.  I hope to see you in class!

Does the thought of teaching heeling seem overwhelming?

If teaching heeling is on your to-do list and you want a simple solid plan, this class is for you!  We’ll start on the bowl and cover everything from getting off the bowl to moving forward, executing turns, pace changes, and more!

We’ll also go over some fun games to keep heeling fresh and fun!

Join me to get off the bowl and moving forward!

Registration opens on May 22nd.  The 6-week class will start on June 1st!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *