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Displaying items by tag: heeling

Once your dog has been trained to do a specific behaviour, any training tool you use needs to be gradually removed from training (faded) or replaced with a different cue for the dog to know that she's working. Fading is the process of removing the training tool from use usually after a cue is added to the finished behaviour. 

Why Not Stop Using Training Tools Cold Turkey?

While some dogs who catch onto concepts quickly (those who are able to generalize well) will quickly adapt to removing a training tool, most dogs need transition time to learn a new cue for the behaviour, then learn that the tool is not actually needed as a cue to do the behaviour. They need structure to gradually remove their reliance on the tool to know what to do and when to do the behaviour.

Fading the tool rather than just removing it will reduce frustration for both the handler and the dog. Fading prevents the extinction phase that occurs when removing training tools cold turkey. 

What Training Tools for Service Dogs Need to be Faded? 

  • lures
  • platforms/pivot
  • barriers
  • channels
  • targets (nose, paw, stick)
  • mats
  • front clip harnesses
  • head halters
  • prong collars
  • any other tool you have introduced to help you teach your dog a new behaviour

What Process Would You Use for Each? 

First, make sure that your dog understands and can perform the behaviour fully, the behaviour is "on cue" and the dog can perform the behaviour a timely manner in each specific environment, and with some distractions. What that level of distraction is depends on the training tool and what behaviour it is used for. 

Next, break down the criteria to fade for each tool. Looking at single criterion and breaking each one down can help make the fading process fast and easy. Here are some criterion for the examples above.

  • lures- "fake" luring (presence/absence of food), lure changed to hand signal, food or toy delivered after mark from out of sight (treat pouch or table top).
  • targets (nose, paw, stick)-size, texture, distance
  • platforms/pivot-height, size, shape, texture, presence/absence
  • barriers-distance from them, solid or see through, presence/absence
  • mats-size, thickness (height), presence/absence
  • front clip harnesses-other cue
  • head halters-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, presence/absence
  • prong collar-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, inside out, presence/absence

3 Examples of Loose Leash Walking (Loose Heeling) Training Collars 
I want to be clear that these tools do not teach the dog to walk on a loose leash. It is what else the handler does that teaches the dog where and how to walk on a leash. We know this because if the tool is removed, the dog will move out of position, and even pull on the leash. Until the handler takes the time to teach their dog the position where they want her to be, that it is a rewarding place to be, to stay in that position as the handler moves around obstacles in life and to move with any slight pressure from the leash, the dog doesn't really understand the behaviour and is likely only responding to the presence of the tool. Tools that restrain a dog are actually more for the handler than the dog. It gives the handler confidence that they can control the dog until a strong enough relationship is built that the training tool is no longer necessary. 

Flat Walking Harness: Front Clip 
This is what SDTI recommends for all dogs to wear. A vest or bandana with a Service Dog patch is typically worn over top of the harness. The harness does not tighten or chaff and can be put on easily with a clip rather than a buckle. Some examples: Balance Harness or Perfect Fit or similar designs like the cheaper Hamilton Harness. The leash is attached to the front chest clip to redirect the dog back to you when she pulls.

Do training set ups at home. To start fading the front clip, attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes. One clips to the front chest ring and one to the back ring.

With the dog at your side, hold the leashes so that the back ring leash is a little shorter than the front ring leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip which becomes a new cue for the front clip tension.

Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the front chest ring. Now add some movement, keeping the back clip leash a little shorter than the front clip leash. That way if your dog pulls, tension is put on the back clip first and the front clip second. 

Once you can walk about 50 feet with your dog moving with you, gradually increase the distraction level. When she is successful, you can stop using the front clip by unclipping and removing the front clip leash and just holding the leash attached to the back or top of the vest or back clip. 

Head Halter 
Most dogs really dislike the head halter, some designs more than others. In addition, members of the public mistake this tool for a muzzle, which does not give them confidence in the handler's ability to control the dog. So the sooner you can wean your dog off this tool if you are suing it, the better.

Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the head collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the head halter ring and one to the back of the vest or flat walking harness. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the head halter leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip is a new cue for the front clip tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the head halter. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her.  Then the distraction level.

When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the head halter but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the head collar in more and more distracting environments. When she is successful with that, take the head collar off and go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the head halter. 

Prong Collar or Pinch Collar
You can follow the same approach as the two other tools above to teach your dog that tension on the back ring of a harness or vest is a new cue for the prong collar. (We do not advise the use of a prong collar but offer this information for those who are already using one and want to fade it.)


Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the prong collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the back of the vest or harness ring and one to the prong collar. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the prong. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the prong. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the vest/back clip is a new cue for the prong tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the prong. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her. Then gradually increase the distraction level.

When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the prong but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the prong in more and more distracting environments.

When she is successful with that, turn the prong inside out and repeat the process. This gives her the feel of wearing something on her neck. Go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the prong. Next, take the prong off and use only the leash attached to the back ring.

Having Trouble? 
If you find that you cannot easily fade the training tool, then the fading steps you are using may be too big for your dog. Try breaking the criterion down finer or giving your dog more time at each step, or training each step in different locations to help her generalize. Problem-solving is key! Contact us to book a web cam session if you need help fading tools!


Published in Equipment
Monday, 09 September 2019 08:25

Teaching Your Dog To Stay in Position While Moving

Ever wonder how good trainers can teach their dog to walk nicely on leash without any correction tools? No matter if you are teaching your dog to heel or loose leash walk beside you, your wheelchair, walkers or crutches, the basis of the behaviour is the same! 

In order to help your dog understand where you want her to be, the key is to heavily reinforce her in that position in many, many situations so she gets a picture in her head of where she is in relation to you. Try These Tips:

Start Off Leash 
Surprised? Yes, by training your dog when she is free, she solves the puzzle of finding the desired position herself, with no help from you. This uses her brain rather than teaching her to rely on the leash.The leash should only be used as an emergency connection. The bonus is that you avoid developing bad habits of using the leash to guide your dog. You want her to understand where she needs to be without your help. This avoids having to correct her for positions you don't want. 

Have a Clear Picture of Where You Want Your Dog To Be 
This is your criterion. You will be rewarding her whenever she stays within that target position. Where is her nose in relation to your leg or the wheelchair? Exactly how far away will she be from your legs or the chair? Or perhaps it's easier to see where her shoulders are in relation to your knee or chair. Whatever way you can make it easy to measure it, use it. 

Heavily Reinforce the Desired Position While Stationary 
Feed your dog 10 times in a row (one treat at a time) for staying there. Reward her 10 times in a row, being careful of treat placement. Present the treat directly in her mouth so she doesn't have to move to get it. 
Change your position by rotating one quarter of a turn (90 degrees) and repeat. 
If your dog can't find the position while you are staying still, she won't be able to find it when you are moving!

"Play" With The Position by Rewarding Your Dog for Finding the Position 

Take one step to the side and see if she can find the position again. Reward heavily.
Turn left. Reward heavily.
Turn right. Reward heavily.

Keep Sessions Short
Count out 10 treats and dismiss your dog for a one minute break. This gives her time to think about it and build new neutral pathways.  This is essential for new learning!
Do a few only a few sessions. Most dogs do well with 3 sessions (3 sets of 10 repetitions). Some can focus for 5 sets. The key is always end the sessions with your dog wanting to do more. If she walks away, you've done too much. 

Add The Leash As a Separate Training Criterion
Put on your dog's collar or flat non-restrictive walking harness and attach the leash. This adds difficulty for you, not the dog.
You must figure out how to hold the leash, or where and how to attach it. Perhaps a waist or shoulder attachment might be better for you.
You need to develop the ability to deliver the treat to the same place you did when the dog was not wearing the leash. 

Gradually Increase Distraction Levels 
This is the most common error people make and then they resort to training collars and harnesses since they don't know what else to do. The sad thing is many people never remove them once they start using them. Training collars and harnesses are supposed to be like training wheels on a bicycle, to help the dog learn the skill, then remove them as quickly as possible. 
In order to mimic off leash conditions in areas that are not safe to work your dog off leash, use the professional tip of standing on the end of the leash or attaching the leash to a waist band. This gives your dog freedom to choose to move and be able to find the position without being restricted or tempting you to control her with the leash. At the same time, it gives you the peace of mind knowing she will safe safe if an unexpected distraction comes along. 

Each Time You Add or Change Equipment, It Changes The Picture of You To Your Dog 
With each new piece of equipment, restart teaching your dog the position. 

If you want more details complete with step by step videos, join our foundation skills classes to learn several ways to teach your dog the desired position, and loose leash walking classes to learn how to apply them in motion in different situations like stairs and locations or take our loose leash walking class specifically for wheelchairs. We offer classes for other skills as well! 

Published in Dog Basic Skills
Friday, 13 May 2016 02:13

*Teaching Your Service Dog to Heel

Audio version of this blog post

Teaching Your Service Dog to Heel


There is much confusion in the service dog world about what is heeling is and isn't. Before we can start talking about teaching a dog to heel we need to know exactly what you are asking him to do.

Definitions:
Heel:
dog stays in a specific position next to your body, within a few inches, usually with eyes looking at you. The handler is usually upright and staring ahead holding their body in a somewhat rigid position. This skill takes much concentration and as is very hard for a dog to maintain for even short periods. Heeling is typically seen in competition, military or other hierarchical based situations. Even the high level dogs are only asked to do it for 5 minutes at a time. Service dogs only need heeling when negotiating tight spaces, high distractions or crossing streets. Teaching this takes incredible concentration on both ends of the leash. A typical cue for heeling is "heel". 

Here is a golden retriever showing how to do off leash competition heeling. You can see how much effort this would be for a dog to maintain for long periods. Thank you to Ada Simms and Lexi from Reward That Puppy Dog Training Inc. for the demo video.




Loose Leash Walking:
the dog walks with a 6 foot or shorter leash, keeps slack in the leash (hangs down in a U or the clip hangs down) but is allowed to sniff and change position. Dogs may look at the hander or use their peripheral vision and other senses to keep track of the handler's position. Most handlers are comfortable with their dogs 3-4 feet away in any direction. While in indoor retail in crowds or narrow busy sidewalk type locations, service dogs are required to stay within 2 feet of the handler but do not need to be that close in general. Loose leash walking should be a 'default' behavior. 'Default' means that the dog does it when he is not told to do any other behavior. He can rely on the equipment, the handler's body position and context to know what behavior to do. It takes much training to get to this stage.

Here is another golden learning to loose leash walk in public with her handler. She doesn't have to look at the handler, just stay in close distance and keep the leash loose.



A Challenging Behavior
The challenge for both heeling and loose leash walking is that it requires the dog to have a high level of impulse control (to resist distractions and stay in position) and that they must hold that position for a long time. And it requires the same of the human.

Being attached by a line is not natural for a dog or a human. We are free ranging individuals. Even formal dancing for short periods is difficult for many people. Both partners have to learn how to work together to keep it a comfortable experience for both. The teaching process requires short frequent training periods with high level of reinforcement in many different carefully chosen environments to help both partners succeed. If done well, can really build the bond between the two team members.

Do Corrections Work?
Corrections such as collar pops only work in the short term. If you have to keep using them, they aren't working. Head collars don't teach the dog anything except to give in to the head collar. Take it off and the dog moves away from the handler. Both of these approaches are aversive for a dog. To build and enhance a strong relationship with a service dog, we need to teach the dog the behavior we want, not punish him for what we don't. Time has to be spent specifically focussing on teaching your dog the desired position no matter what is going on around you, how good a scent or who may be approaching you. That needs to be taught specifically and incrementally, not just as a byproduct of doing other training.

How to Help Your Dog be Successful
The dogs that are successful loose leash walkers are the ones who understand the position you want them to be in first. Most dogs do best with learning to walk leash free first. Most importantly, the handler learns to let the dog learn to control herself, rather than direct the dog all the time. For some people this can be a hard habit to change.

Another aspect is if your dog is off leash, you are more likely to be aware of where your dog is in relation to you rather than rely on the leash pressure to tell you that. This awareness (including eye contact, physical proximity as well as changes in tension on the leash) is a big part of the connection between you and the dog when you are working. Many people are disconnected from their dog partner and oblivious to what is going on for him. He is half of the team and needs to be given full attention during training and then that will be faded to half your attention once he is fully trained. When you are dancing with your partner, you need to be aware of where your partner is no matter if he is dog or human. The leash is added after the dog knows the desired position and you have developed a feel for where he is. Dogs that can work off leash are much more reliable on leash.

Do a search on Youtube and Vimeo and most videos will start you off, and show great early success, but not show the steps later in the process. It can be a long one and different approaches are needed for different dogs and different situations they are in. Creativity is needed.

LLW is a Prerequisite as a Service Dog

Since loose leash walking is a necessary prerequisite for all service dogs.
and if he cannot walk on a loose leash walk with distractions, he is not ready to start public access.

If you want to follow a step by step procedure to teach your dog to loose leash walk successfully, check to see if my Loose Leash Walking classes are being offered online this month. Check the SDTI catalogue page to see when registration is open next. 

If your dog generally does well except with high level distractions or has fears etc, you will want to look at our Harnesses and Vests class. Or for large dogs that lunge or yoyo or if you have little arm strength or stability our Head Halters class that will teach you how to safely introduce your dog to a head halter and how train with it with the goal of your dog walking without it down the road.

Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed.
Founder/Head Instructor
Service Dog Training Institute

Published in Dog Basic Skills