Tuesday, 3 December 2013

New Heeling Exercise

I'm going to go ahead and say that "I came up with a new idea for an obedience heeling exercise". In saying that, I fully apologize to anyone else that actually came up with the idea first. I honestly did not look to see if this existed, it was an idea I had and I tried it. For the benefit of other trainers that want new games to play in their obedience or rally-o classes, here is how it all went down!

I am currently teaching a "Bridge Obedience" class, a class that is designed to "bridge the gap" between pet obedience and first level competition obedience/rally-o. Basically, taking a loose leash walk and turning it into a heel, taking sits and downs and stands and putting them in heel position, working on distractions, focus, attention, speed, precision, etc. I like to use games to keep my students interested and entertained, so here is something I threw together and tried for the first time at last night's class.

Using masking tape, I laid out 2 different patterns on the floor. One pattern is quite straight forward and simple, encompassing some straight heel stretches, left turns, right turns, about turns, and about U turns. I used a green pylon (out of frame on the far right) to mark the start of the pattern, and an orange pylon (pictured on the left) to mark the end of the pattern. The about turn and about U turn are both approximately 1.5 feet in diameter (less than the maximum handler path of 2", but more than the ideal of on the spot). Bennett is hanging out in a sit-stay to show rough scale.

The second pattern is quite a bit more complicated. I included both left and right circles of varying diameter, acute turn angles, and a stair-step pattern that proved to be quite challenging! Again, a green pylon and an orange pylon mark the start and finish, in this case, the start is at the bottom of the picture and the finish is above it, both on the left hand side. And again, with Bennett as scale reference.

The idea that I presented to the students is that these are the visual representations of what might very well be obedience or Rally-O heel patterns. We can "see" the pattern that we have to take in our head, but our dogs can't. And as such, we tend to deviate from the "ideal" course to adjust to our dogs by cutting corners, angling off, neglecting circle diameter, or correcting our path to match the heel position that our dogs dictate. The challenge that I placed to the students was to follow the tape lines as precisely as possible. Note, that the tape lines are the HANDLER lines. Since the handler is the one setting the path of movement, the handler is the one that should be walking on the tape. They are to try and turn precisely where the tape line turns. This forces them to get out of their preferred stride length and use more inventive (and less robotic!) means of signalling direction change to their dogs.

This seems like a relatively mundane exercise, but even when I tested it out myself before class, I was able to notice inconsistencies in my own handling! Things that I do unconsciously to adjust to the movement of my dog. As a somewhat more experienced handler, I got a lot of information from doing the exercise that I can use to really add some polish to my handling skills. A less experienced handler will take from this exercise the concept of appropriate cue timing to ensure that their dog performs the given task when required, ie. When do you need to cue your dog to start turning? 1 step before the corner? 2? Do you need to ensure eye contact first, and if so, when do you cue that?

The students were allowed to play on both patterns as-is for a couple of runs, and then I added a few stationary Rally-O signs on the long straight stretches. On the simplified pattern, I also included the directional change signs. For people new to Rally-O, this helped them determine sign placement relative to line of travel, and make the association of cue timing with distance from the sign. When do you have to cue the dog to sit or come-front so that they are stationary within the required 2" of the sign?

I feel that all of the students really enjoyed this exercise, and we played on the patterns for the entire duration of the class (1 hour) without me getting the sense that interest was waning. In the class, I have handlers of all skill levels, from first time obedience handlers to seasoned pros. All had positive things to say about the exercise! I will certainly be using this one again.


  1. this is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time for a class exercise. going to have to give it a try with my next rally class. thanks for sharing.