Heeling Off Leash

Heeling Off Leash, although it's really only an extension of Heeling On Leash, isn't quite the same. Buddy knows when he's on leash and when he's off leash. When he's on leash, he may give you the impression that he's perfect. Then you take the leash off, and he acts as though he has no idea what the exercise is all about. The reason is simple — he knows he's off leash.

If this situation happens to you, review Heeling On Leash (refer to Chapter 13), and reinforce the "Heel" command with a treat or a check when he needs help. For normal pace, he usually doesn't need any reinforcement, but he probably does for changes of pace and turns.

You can remind your dog of his responsibility to remain in Heel position by taking him by the collar as you do when heeling with umbilical cord (see the preceding section).

Remember that Heeling Off Leash is the ultimate test of your training. With a little practice, Buddy will get the hang of it. To make sure he understands, 90 percent of your practicing should be done on leash so you can remind him what you expect from him.

You're now ready for Heeling Off Leash. If you have any doubt about what Buddy will do, practice in a safe area, such as your backyard.

1. Start with a two-minute warm-up in Control Position (see Chapter 13).

Walk in a large circle or a straight line. Forget about turns, and concentrate on keeping his attention on you.

Now is the time to remind him to pay attention to you. Check, if you have to, and then praise and release.

2. Set up for umbilical cord (see the preceding section), and heel for 10 to 15 steps and release.

Set up again and heel for about the same distance and halt.

3. Put your right hand against his chest, place him into a Sit, and stand up.

4. Unclip the leash from his collar, and put the snap into your left pocket so a loop dangles on your side.

5. Say "Buddy, heel," and start at a brisk pace.

If you need to reinforce, very slowly reach for his collar, bring him back, let go, and praise.

6. Halt after ten steps, and sit your dog.

7. Put the leash back on your dog and release.

8. Go on to another exercise or end your session.

Proficiency comes in small increments and not all at once. Add something new to your off-leash heeling each session, such as a turn (use his name) or a change of pace. Keep it short and snappy, and make it exciting and fun. Over the course of several sessions, both you and Buddy will become increasingly confident and begin to work as a team. Resist the temptation to go beyond his ability to be successful.

When you and your dog are comfortable doing this exercise in an area relatively free of distractions, you can go on to Heeling Off Leash with Distractions. Use the same order as you do when Heeling Off Leash — that is, making it incrementally more difficult as you progress. When you come to halt, put your right hand against Buddy's chest for the Sit.

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