I love dog sport heeling.
I love watching it, and I love teaching it. However, it requires a lot of time since the dog needs to be comfortable, engaged, athletically coordinated, joyful, and more!
Many things are like that in dog training; success takes time.
I’ll give you another example: you will likely need to do several training sessions if your goal is for your dog to keep his cool when you pass another dog on the sidewalk, but his current ability only allows him to get within 30 meters of the other dog.
It is easy to feel like you aren’t making progress if your goals are distant.
To help you minimize frustration and maintain patience and motivation in these situations, I’ve put together 5 tips that I feel have really made a difference for me and the people I have worked with.
1. Set microgoals.
Identify the steps that you will need to take to achieve your goal. Divide these steps into smaller steps. And do it again and again.
You’ll end up with micro goals for each session, every couple of sessions, and so on.
This is your road map to success.
2. Review and edit your plan frequently.
If you are meeting most of your current micro goals, great!
If you aren’t meeting most of your microgoals, this can be because:
- They aren’t “micro” enough; divide them again.
- Your training methods/choices are ineffective. For example, it probably isn’t reasonable to expect your puppy to follow a cheerio into a sit position if he is distracted by the pot roast he can smell on the kitchen counter.
Also, don’t be afraid to edit your training plan in real time. It is okay to try a couple of things if you are having a training session that isn’t going as planned, but it is also okay to just stop and reevaluate.
3. Keep a video record.
Recording and reviewing previous video is easy with a smartphone.
I can recall several lessons with owners where we took the time to compare an old video of their dog to how their dog was doing on that day.
The contrast makes progress obvious resulting in feelings of frustration being replaced with feelings of gratitude.
This video makes me smile. It shows a transition from a mildly excited Tootsie who is dependent on a food lure to get into heel position to a really joyful dog who has beautiful heeling.
4. Don’t make comparisons.
It does no good to compare your progress with your current dog to a past dog or to compare your progress to that of another dog and owner.
It frustrated me when it took longer to get Tootsie’s heeling quality where I wanted it compared to dogs I had previously trained. I was finally able to enjoy the process when I stopped making comparisons and focused on her achievements.
She eventually had beautiful heeling, and she loved to do it.
5. Remember your dog’s ability will change with age.
It is really nice when your dog has made it from puppy to adolescent to mature adult dog. Your adult dog will be (hopefully!) well trained and physically capable of holding a sit stay, going on long walks, and so on. But it is important to remember (although difficult to accept) that the senior dog’s aging body and mind might reverse your progress.
Be kind to your dog when this starts to happen.
Tootsie still likes to heel, but her body just isn’t as capable and she does have some mild cognitive decline. We do little heeling exercises when she initiates them to enrich her life.
A bonus video:
Our initial goals with Lily were centered around her just wanting to be in the game. In the second clip, you see that not only is she in the game, but she is also has very precise positioning and turns.