Teaching dogs to find heel position is important for so many reasons. It will help your heeling, setups, and finishes. It’s important that your dog has a lot of value for being in heel position and that he or she can find heel position from many different angles.
Start with the Pivot Bowl
I start find heel/finish games on the pivot bowl. Most dogs have a good understanding of heel on the pivot bowl, and I like that most dogs default to a stand. I prefer to teach my dogs to line the body up straight before the dog learns to sit.
The very first step is to establish value for being on the pivot bowl in heel position. The dog should want to be there because it’s a place with a good reward history. Once your dog is magnetized to that spot, you can start luring the dog off the bowl with a treat. Start very simple, only moving the dog a small amount. Most dogs will want to get back on the bowl. When your dog gets back on the bowl in heel, mark and reward, then lure off again. As the dog gains confidence and understanding, you can start luring off in different directions and making it slightly more challenging.
The cone in this exercise is optional. It shows the dog that he or she should not go into front and also gives the dog something to wrap around when he or she starts finding heel from the front and off to the right.
Once your dog is able to quickly and smoothly find heel from various angles, you can start tossing the treat. Start easy at first by tossing behind you. As the dog gains understanding, you can try tossing the treat in different angles.
Add the Sit
When your dog has mastered the skill of finding heel from all different angles on the bowl, and is doing well with lining him or herself up in heel, you can introduce the sit platform. Make sure your dog is comfortable with the sit platform and understands how to sit straight on it. If your dog is able to sit crooked, it is too big.
I start the same way, by luring the dog off of the platform and letting them get back on.
Then I start tossing treats, starting with very easy angles. Here’s an example of a couple find heel tosses. Do you see how slow Excel is to get back on the platform? This was at the very beginning of our find heel training and he wasn’t super smooth or confident yet. As the training progressed, Excel got faster and more fluent at finding the sit platform.
Once your dog understands, you can toss treats in any direction. Teach your dog to enjoy finding heel from various positions, and you will have started the foundation for fabulous finishes!