The about turn can be a difficult exercise to teach if the proper timing is not taught first. In out classes, we stress that the dog’s name be called first before giving any moving command. In this way the dog learns that when he hears his name, he should look at his owner and he will then be asked to do something. This is also true when in the early stages of learning there is a change in direction while heeling.
When executing an about turn, the dog’s name is called prior to actually turning. If the dog has been taught to pay attention to his handler when he hears his name, he should follow as the handler then turns. Teaching this timing can be difficult.
The first night of class owners are taught that when the dog hears his name he will be expected to do something if nothing more than look at his owner. Owners are encouraged to look closely at how often they use their dog’s name in every day life when nothing is expected of the dog. We ask that the “call name” be used only when the dog is expected to respond. In other situations when referring to the dog, a “pet” name should be used. In this way the dog becomes much more attentive to his name.
To help develop proper timing for the about turn, handlers are first taught an about turn in place. With the dog sitting in heel position, the handler calls his dog’s name followed by the command to heel. He then steps back on his right foot turning to his right as the left foot is brought around to complete the 180 degree turn. A couple of additional steps are taken to give the dog time to catch up and find heel position.
The leash is used as only an attention getter and not something to haul the dog around with. If the dog does not immediately look at his handler when his name is called, the dog is given a quick jerk and released. This jerk and release is always given in the direction you want the dog to move. In this case 180 degrees from the direction the dog was originally facing. This is done as one continuous movement with no waiting to see what the dog is going to do. This is to be practiced for one week as a separate exercise.
Hopefully by the next class, the dog turns as the owner turns. At this time we introduce the complete exercise. When given the command “about turn” owners are expected to call the do’s name before turning. By the time they get the command to heel out of their mouths, the dog should be looking at the owner as he turns. Again, if the dog should not turn his head as his name is called a jerk and release is given in the direction we want the dog to go.
Many of the exercises can be made much easier on owners if they are broken down into simple steps which can then be put together to give the finished product.
©1987 W. Herbert Morrison, III