|Many novice trainers fail to understand the power of the “heel” and “sit” command and simply go through the physical motions of teaching their dogs this important drill. They miss the opportunity to make their students understand that they are not asking them to perform that command, but telling them they must.
Of course, setting a high standard for all learned commands is important, but more so with heel and sit because it’s the first of all the commands your pupil learns under training pressure; therefore, it establishes the foundation for the entire training course you have outlined. Still, good judgment must be exercised because it’s important to remember that your pupil is just learning that compliance is mandatory. Therefore, your demands and use of discipline should be gradual; stepping gently up the ladder of discipline is recommended.
My standard for a proper heel and sit has the dog’s shoulder parallel to my left knee, I have seen handlers who prefer their dogs a bit farther ahead and some like their dogs a little farther backs--- it’s simply a personal preference just choose a spot and stick to it, consistency is the key.
The dog must also sit straight with both rear legs forward, not slumping to one side. It takes time for a young pup to learn proper heel and sit placement, so don’t get in a hurry, and make sure he understands what is expected of him before adding any kind of force. As time and training moves on, you will eventually begin demanding that your trainee come to a proper heel and sit in the field. If your early yard work on heel and sit is not solid, you can rest assured that it will not be satisfactory in the field. Some folks get just as excited as their dogs during a training session or hunting in the field and unwisely turn their focus on getting the bird or bumper instead of making sure their trainee obeys proper retrieving protocol.
Locating and retrieving the bird will take care of itself, making sure your dog comes to a proper heel and sit when he returns with his prey is much more important for a young dog than finding one particular bird.
When you finally get your dog coming to a proper heel and sit in the field, it’s time to test your training by adding distractions, one at a time. Begin with the least attractive distraction to your dog such as, decoys on land, duck calls and finally shot birds. Those are the three main distractions I use but you can get creative and come up with your own. I can think of none that would be off limits as long as you use the step up the ladder method.
The results you get by maintaining a high standard of performance on the heel and sit commands can make the difference between a dog that is enjoyable to hunt over and a meathead that you have to chase all day.
Grady Istre can be reached at reibar.com. His column appears e very other week.