Teaching the skills needed for a good left turn is just one small piece of your heeling, but they are important! If you take the time to teach the foundation needed for a great left turn, those skills will transfer over to many other heeling pieces, including lateral movement, straight halts, left finishes, and more.
Take a look at this video of a slow-motion left turn. Notice how the rear end of this dog moves laterally and she stays parallel to her handler at all times in the turn.
A well-done left turn is a lovely thing to see. Having good rear end awareness is a skill that will help the dog not only with left turns, but with many other heeling maneuvers as well. This skill will also transfer to other activities in obedience, rally, and agility.
The Secret: Pivot Bowls!
One of the first activities that I teach to young puppies is the pivot bowl or disc. This exercise teaches the dog how to move his/her rear end, and eventually the dog will learn how to pivot right into heel position. A dog that has solid pivots will have a much better understanding of how to maintain heel position then most dogs that don’t have pivoting skills. I start my puppies on the pivot bowl pretty young. Here’s a video of my friend Ann with her adorable puppy Dare. In this video, Dare is just learning how to get on the bowl.
Once the dog has a good understanding that staying on the bowl is reinforcing, then I start to add movement. I start in front of the dog. Although I prefer to teach my dog completely independent movement (meaning the dog doesn’t rely on my movement to prompt his/her movement), this step is not necessary for pivoting skills. When your dog is on the bowl, be sure to mark and reward any rear end movement. Here’s a video of one of puppy Excel’s first time on the bowl.
Excel was doing pretty well at moving independently, but when he got stuck I just helped him out. A couple sessions later, he was pivoting into heel position. Here Excel shows his understanding by doing a very nice 180 degree pivot.
Once the dog understands the pivot with the bowl, I start to get the same movement off the bowl. This is a little tricky because, when the dog was on the bowl, you were walking in a small circle around. When you pivot on the flat, you stay in the same place (like your feet are on a dinner plate) and the dog has to move backward and laterally to stay in heel position. Watch this advanced rally move. During this 90 degree pivot, my feet stay in place. See how Strive has to back up to stay in position?
Once you have a strong pivoting behavior, you can start working on lateral movement. Dogs with good lateral movement will have straighter sits and finishes. You can easily fix the dog who heels or sits wide by doing lateral movement.