|It’s difficult for novice trainers to understand just how
important the heel and sit commands are in achieving proper obedience. Of
course, you get a much higher overall discipline level when heel and sit are
properly taught and reinforced, but just teaching is not enough.
Here’s what’s important: by getting creative you challenge
the animal so that he uses his brain to focus on you and your words as he is
properly performing the commands. You want to avoid using supermarket parking
lot techniques when teaching heel and sit to a hunting dog. Any dog can
mindlessly follow you around obstacles or make turns following your body
movements. You need to get creative to make him use his brain.
You want to employ sharp military style 90 degree turns to
the right at first (It’s the easiest side) to begin the process. I stay with
the right side until I have my dog doing sharp 90, 180 and 360 degree turns. I
then begin teaching the left turns using the same military type pivoting turns.
The use of a heeling stick is very useful in getting your point across as well
as reinforcing the turns; the stick also helps explain any confusion in
direction the dog may have.
I also like to give my trainees a physical cue with each
turn: I pat my leg to turn to the right and snap the fingers on my left hand to
signify a left turn. These cues help better explain to your dog exactly what
you want when attempting to line him up for a blind retrieve or just making him
heel parallel to your foot as you walk down the road.
This drill can be very useful in the field. I have used the
heel and sit commands to regain control of an inexperienced dog that got so
excited while retrieving multiple shot ducks that he would pick one up, spit it
out, and then pick up another. He was having way too much fun to think about
bringing a bird back.
It’s situations like these where a simple, well schooled
drill like heel and sit can make a big difference in reestablishing order in a
dog’s mind when he gets out of control on a hunt. In this case, I simply broke
off a switch from a nearby willow tree, removed my choke chain and leash from
my blind bag, placed it around the dog’s neck and began an aggressive heel and
sit drill down the bank next to the pond. Within minutes, I had the dog under
control again and resumed my hunt with my now very obedient animal. Although
this dog was well conditioned to the electric collar, I don’t like to use it on
a dog while he is in the water as it can create a worse problem than the one
you are attempting to cure. Still, had this dog been older and more
experienced, I wouldn’t have hesitated to use the collar to correct him for his
misbehavior in the water.
You might want
to put the heel and sit drill in your mental back pocket. It’s likely to be all
you’ll need when a bad situation arises afield.
Grady Istre can be reached at reiber.com. His column on
dog training appears in Western Outdoor News every other week.