All of our puppy raisers teach their service dogs in training 26 behaviors. However, there are a few that we consider “gold star” behaviors. These are the behaviors that we would love for all of our dogs to know by the time they come to the kennel for advanced training. These gold star behaviors are “lap,” “visit,” “heel,” “back,” and loose leash walking.
Right now, all of our puppies in training are working on “heel” in puppy class. When the behavior is finished, the dog should swing his hind legs around until he’s standing parallel against his handler’s left side.
We have a very specific way of training “heel.” All of our dogs start learning the behavior on a heel box, which is a one foot square box about six inches high. The dogs put their front feet on the box, which then acts as an anchor for the dog’s front paws while they learn to move their back legs counter clockwise. Once the dog puts his front paws on the box, the handler starts stepping counter clockwise around the box, clicking and treating the dog for moving their hind legs. Gradually, we hold the click until the dog has taken several steps. Eventually, the dog will pivot the entire way around the box until they’re in the heel position at their handler’s left side.
Watch SSD Laura move her back legs all the way around the box. Note that at this point, we’re not using any cues.
The behavior isn’t finished yet. Now we take the box away and start the process all over again with a board or piece of paper on the floor instead of the box. SSD Laura’s puppy raisers used a square board. Watch how Laura continues to move her back legs around the board.
Finally, it’s time to remove the board or paper. At this point we can add the cue “heel,” if the dog is moving into the heel position consistently. Look at how Laura snaps into the heel position regardless of how her puppy raiser moves.
As you’ve probably guessed, it takes time for the dogs to learn “heel,” since there are so many steps. Dogs that come into advanced training already knowing “heel” will be able to start learning other behaviors sooner than dogs that still need to work on the behavior.
We’ve seen lots of dogs in puppy class who are on their way to finishing this gold star behavior!