In a recent column I raised the question of why is lagging such a commonplace problem when most dogs start out in their training by forging. Well, it seems that I opened the floodgates and I want to share with you some of the comments I received. I also want to take this opportunity to thank those who have written.
An obedience judge wrote that “I have finally decided that a lot of this problem is actually in the dog’s temperament and personality. He either wants to stick next to you like glue or he doesn’t, no matter how hard you train towards perfection in heeling.” This observation is based on 10 years of judging and working with four dogs of the same breed but with varying aptitudes for heeling. Another comment came from an instructor: “Every book on training advocates a particular approach to training which no doubt has been successful for that author and his dogs. This does not mean that it will be successful for you and your dog. Training is a highly individual endeavor and to be successful you must sift through many approaches until you find one that works best for you and your dog and often you have to invent your own. When an instructor describes a general approach it is fallacious to insist that only strict adherence to this approach will insure success. The very opposite may be the case. Heeling is generally taught by means of the correction and this may work for the experienced handler and instructor. As you so succinctly have pointed out, however, more often than not this is unsuccessful more often than we like to admit. The answer lies in emphasizing the team aspect of handler and dog and to settle on a training approach of maximum benefit for the team. Of equal importance is to be on the alert for an adverse reaction to a particular approach.” Another instructor commented that “there is a very simple and obvious explanation for poor heeling. Most handlers start out in a basic course. A basic course teaches control and not heeling. While the two are not necessarily incompatible, it is the exception rather than the rule which will produce a good heeler.”
One handler related her own experience with her dog:
“I was dissatisfied with the automatic sit and I was instructed to increase the severity of the collar correction. Having done this three or four times I noticed that the dog began to lag and stop about a foot behind me. So I discontinued the collar correction and instead used the tuck-under technique to show the dog that I wanted him to sit quickly and straight when I stopped. I have had no difficulties since then.”
What is most interesting about the comments I have received is that they generally blamed the collar correction in varying degrees as being the cause of lagging, especially when used together with the about-turn. More specifically, either the ineffective or the unnecessary correction. It seems that some handlers get into the habit of correcting almost subconsciously without any specific reason or objective. Coupled with ineffectiveness, such corrections will actually be counterproductive in many cases. Some dogs will shrug them off and learn to ignore them and others become resentful and stubborn.
One writer suggested that the lagging problem could be avoided by eliminating the correction altogether. While it is no doubt possible to train some dogs to heel without the use of the correction, it is questionable whether it would be practical as an overall approach. My personal observation is that handlers do not make enough of an effort to get the dog’s attention focused on them and more often than not this lack of attention is the cause of poor heeling. A good definition of heeling is position and attention. Without attention it is unlikely that the dog will maintain position.
©1974 J. J. Volhard