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Walking at Heel How we do it

When teaching a dog to walk to heel I often find the people have a very very long lead unfortunately you can't buy the leads I make or maybe it's fortunate for me, I've literally sold thousands of these short heel slip leads, the result are unbelievable.  Normally when you purchase a slip lead it's around 1.5 metres long some even longer, what you tend to do when you are walking your dog you will have the slip lead in one hand close to the dog and then the rest of the slip lead over your body in the other hand, using two hands which normally should only require one. The leads I make are around 70 centimetres long stretched out and are a perfect length to use as heel Leeds. If correctly used the heel lead will give results instantly. I demonstrate this with dogs at shows along with dogs at our training and people are astonished with the results.

Once you've established that you are comfortable with the new heel slip lead it is then time to do heal work correctly.  Changing directions, changing speeds, and stopping will assist you in achieving great heel work. I always ensure I set off with the leg that is at the side of the dog.  A dog whilst out on a walk with you will look forward to the furthest point and presume that is it’s the end goal, therefore giving it a target to pull to.  Once you notice the dog is pulling you must immediately change direction. The dog will then look forward to the furthest point once again and begin to pull again/ Once again, you must change directions and keep the dog nice and close to your heel position.

Soon the dog will realise that it is not going to the destination it believes and at that point it will look up at the handler.  When this is achieved the handler must reward the dog with the words heal or whatever command you wish to use for your dog. This is a key point in the heel training where you acknowledge the dog's behaviour by looking up at you with the reward of a nice voice and the heel command. This is not the heal work completed what it is, this is the beginning of great things to come.  Now if somebody was watching you training your dog and doing what I'm suggesting they will more than likely think that you've gone nuts.  Walking backwards and forwards changing directions and not getting very far. This exercise can be done in an enclosed area like your garden or small field. You don't need a vast area and I would suggest the bigger the area the harder it would be.

The Kirkbourne spaniels heel lead has been developed to not just keep your dog close but to ensure you as a handler get it right straight away.  Some people ask for even shorter leads because it fits their dog better and their requirements, for example for a long legged dog  a HPR or a golden retriever there could be a possibility that a shorter slip lead would be better.

You must know that if you continue to change directions and changing by walking in circles this is not the correct method. The method I'm suggesting is whilst walking and your dog pulls you must immediately turn 90° in one direction or totally in the opposite direction. Walking in circles will give you results but not as fast if you do it the Kirkbourne way.    We must then move on from just changing directions.    A change of speed is also required, walking slow then a medium speed followed by quite a brisk walk. You must change your speed as often as you can, this will get your dog to look up at you, again when this happens, we must use a soft voice and the command you have decided to use for heel.   

In the main, I like to turn into the dog as this is one sure way your dog is walking at heel. If you were to turn away from your dog the dog is not as responsive, you will have to pull the dog towards you. For the stat of heel work training.  There will be a time when you can and will need the dog to turn away with you. To do this I do it very slow, walking as slow as possible. When I want to turn, I step back half a step and apply a small amount of pressure on the lead and say the command heel. If at any point you must shout heel or pull the lead you are not following our Kirkbourne Method. This is a nonforceful way to train heal. I have never failed to walk a dog to heel and have never failed a customer’s dog to walk to heel. These methods work but you must follow it to the dot and be consistent.

How long does it take is a question I receive from customers; my simple answer is when its done. You can’t cut corners on any aspect of training so why cut corners on heel work. Be consistent and you will soon see the rewards. Yes, I know it’s boring, but you would rather have a dog at heel than constantly nagging. We now must consider how we move from on lead training to off the lead training. How I do it is gently lower the lead to ensure there is no tension between dog and handler. Whilst doing this I occasionally lay the slip lead down one side of the dog’s body.  We are wanting to lose the connection between the dog and you without the dog leaving your side. Because the slip lead is still around the dog's neck it enables you to pick up the slip lead if the dog does falter in any way and comes off heel.  We are now getting closer to working the dog at heel without a lead or a connection to the handler.  I know occasionally you will have to pick the lead up and correct the dog but this must be done instantly the dog comes off heel.  This may take days depending on how consistent you are with your training, that said it can also be done within an hour if you are very good and consistent in everything that we show you.  We are now at a stage where the dog is walking loosely on a lead and occasionally being able to let go off the slip lead, The next stage is not to remove the lead but to wrap the lead around the dog's neck and fold it underneath itself a little like a collar.

If consistently done these methods work very quickly and I would suggest that you pay attention to the dog walking at heel and at any point the dog does start wandering off and drifting away from heel you should go back a step and follow the previous points.  For the benefit of this document, we will presume that you have been successful in all aspects of this guidance.  We should now move on to working with your dog off lead.  Undo the slip lead so you have the loop handle one side of your hand and the steel ring hanging over one of your fingers. Basically the letter U will be made by the lead.  We then stand at the side of the dog and loop the lead underneath the dogs neck. As always, we will set off with the leg that's at the side of the dog and give the command for heal, this does not have to be the heel command it can be any you require or choose that fits your dog and handling.

We are now walking our dog with a very loose lead that's underneath his or her neck.  Whilst walking along at a very slow pace drop down one side of the slip lead, the side that you should drop down is the one closest to you. The slip lead will now be hanging down the side of the dog furthest away from you, you must do this very slowly to ensure your dog is right next to you without changing pace this time as we want to work with the dog , try and stay connected.

Now we must move on to not having a lead on at all. Use the above method whilst walking and occasionally remove the lead with a stretched-out arm take the lead off the dog. At any point if your dog starts coming off heel lay the lead back on the side of the dogs neck this will make the dog think you are still connected and will stay close.  At any point if the dog moves away and comes off heel go back a few steps with the lead back on.   Do not cut corners on any of these tasks.  If you do follow these instructions you will find that overtime your dog will get better and better at heel work. Do not presume your dog will be completed on heel work tasks for quite a while, only a fool would presume they have completed and they will never have to look back at heel work.  In our advanced classes I ensure that this is tested every opportunity with the handlers to ensure they are not cutting corners and missing out this vital part of gun dog training.  Regardless of what level of training you are at you must always do the basics. Once you are comfortable with your dog walking at heel off lead in a straight line at a slow pace you then must move it up one more level by changing speeds again and also direction..



 You are welcome, Darren


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