Great Dog Training Tips for the Heel Position with an Australian Shepherd

By: Sam Kanouse

Published Date: July 24, 2017

Fergie is a three-year-old Australian Shepherd dog who lives in Omaha. Her guardians set up a dog behavior training session to go over leash training; pay attention and stop pulling on walks as well as address her anxiety around other dogs.

When I met Fergie, something was a little different compared to how her guardians expected her to greet me and how our typical dog behavior sessions begin. See if you can spot the difference in the video below.

When I sat down with the guardians their main behavioral concern was Fergie’s dog aggression or reactivity when going for walks and meeting new dogs. Fergie used to be a social butterfly with other dogs until she had patellar luxation surgery. After surgery her guardians noticed that she was hesitant around dogs she already knew and reactive to dogs she didn’t know; this was frustrating for her guardians because she used to be so good around other dogs.

Since Fergie typically meets new dogs when she is on the leash (going for walks), I wanted to teach her guardians how to take the leadership position through heel training. As anyone who reads these posts knows we are all about positive dog training. A dog training tip that you may not be aware of,  is if the dog is in front of you they are trying to take a leadership position.  For our heel training philosophy, the dog should be following the human’s lead and not in front which helps them adopt a follower’s mindset.

A great dog training tip is to teach your dog loose leash walking, a.k.a. training a dog to heel. As you noticed we do this without a leash, which is fine as long as you are in a controlled setting. By having the dog off leash and using positive reinforcement, the dog is choosing to be in the proper heel position.

We teach a dogs to heel using three distinct steps. You can see how I did the first step in the video below.

If it sounded like I was babbling during the video- there was a water fountain just out of sight of the camera! If you couldn’t hear what I was saying when I moved away from the camera I covered the following: in the beginning of this exercise we started with small circles and gradually made larger and larger circles, keeping Fergie on the inside. As Fergie masters this exercise introduce walking in a straight line and eventually move to keeping Fergie on the outside of the circle. Remember to keep giving her treat rewards for good behavior.

To stop dog reactivity, the guardians can use counterconditioning. If you want more information about how to use counterconditioning to stop your dog from reacting to other dogs, you can watch this video our founder David shot with a client in Venice Beach.

By the end of the session, Fergie was looking to her guardians for direction, walking in a heel position without the leash and increasing her proximity to other dogs without reacting to them. To continue with this good behavior, the guardians should be using the techniques we developed, Petting with a Purpose to reward her for desirable behavior and using the Escalating Consequences to disagree with her.

We ended the session with Fergie’s Roadmap to Success video, which you can watch below.

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This post was written by: Sam Kanouse

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