What to Do When the Dog Drops His Head While Taking 1st Heeling Step or Making a Turn

What to Do When the Dog Drops His Head While Taking 1st Heeling Step or Making a Turn

Ideally, when we tell the dog to Heel, we want the dog to offer uninterrupted focus until the exercise is finished. Some dogs have trouble keeping their heads up when they take the first Heeling step or make a turn.

Even a brief disconnect can cause points. We can fix it in two ways. A “heeling stick” is something that is used frequently. When the dog drops his head, the Handler taps under the chin, and when the head is back up - marks and reinforces. Depending on the country of your residence, you might or might not get an evil eye for Heeling your dog with a stick.

As always, with any correction, if it is not strong enough, the behavior continues, and the result might be that the Handler nags the dog to keep the head up. Heel, tap, Heel, tap, etc. At the end of the day, using any tool requires being able to fade it away.

An alternative method is to create a version of FOMO in the dog. It is a term in human psychology that identifies people that have "Fear Of Missing Out." They always think that someone else is having fun while they are not. In our case, we will create a “fear” in the dog that he is also going to miss out… in our case - reinforcement .     

We will drop food every time we take the first step or make a turn. Because the dog’s head is down, he will miss the food. He will see it on the ground. Let him get to it a couple of times. You now created an expectation in the dog to find food on the ground. He waits for the food to drop. You might think that this is the opposite of what we wish for the dog to do.

After a few tries, when food drops and the dog sees it - pull him away from it, pick it up, and put it under your arm. If the dog misses it - he simply cannot get to it. You will repeat this process over and over until the dog literally is afraid to miss the food and keeps his head up in anticipation. Once the behavior is offered consistently, you can variably drop treats, eventually doing it only once in a while.

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