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Poisoned cues and questions about putting a behavior on cue

944 Views 7 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  3GSD4IPO
Because my dog learned to heel with a choke chain, I'm pretty certain that the "heel" cue elicits a negative emotional response. After her horrible couple weeks of compulsion praise training, I started luring her into a heel off leash and used the same cue when she reached the desired position. It was my newb attempt at creating a cool and positive behavior and erasing the misery of the choke chain. Everything seemed ok in my house when I cued the behavior off leash and she really seemed to handle it well.

I walk her on a harness and still use the cue "heel" and it's a management tool to keep her next to me for her safety. I'm not asking for much in her position and just randomly reinforce when shes in the general position as we go. The behavior isn't proofed and she breaks from it when distracted. I'll try an attention noise or I'll put pressure on the harness if shes stuck sniffing. I'm sure the latter solution probably contributes to stress as well...:redface:

I'm not sure if it's the stress of being restricted from investigating the environment, and or in conjunction with a negative conditioned emotional response to the cue, but she really falls apart. It could also be trigger stacking or that my reinforcement schedule is too arousing. All of these things most likely! Anyway, you can see that I'm dealing with fun stuff here...:(

So I have never really put a behavior on cue the correct way and I'm curious about the timing in adding the cue to the behavior. She offers the heel position at times. I guess this means the behavior lacks stimulus control? So is it possible that I can just properly time a new cue to the behavior as she offers it? What does this timing look like? Does the behavior itself have a negative CER or is it just the cue?

Also, How does one go about putting stimulus control on a behavior. HAHA I know I have asked a lot already, so feel free to ingore this one!

I saw a Sue Sternberg lecture where she advocates a competition heel for reactive dogs in order to manage them out of problematic situations by limiting the dogs view and having them so excited to perform this behavior. I guess I'd like to have this in my arsenal and I'm not sure where to start.

I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually, but I'm hoping someone here can advise and possibly expedite my education.

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I do a lot of competition heeling for my sport. Eye contact is not what you want as the dog is to look up and you are to look ahead and to where you are going.

First of all, change the word from Heel to something else. I use Fuss (pronounced Foose). But don't even use a word. stand next to a barrier. A couch is good. Or a wall. Have the dog on leash with a collar. Lure the dog into a head up heel position sitting next to you. Show the dog the position. Heel position is sitting next to you and looking up. Reward with your LEFT hand always. ALWAYS. Keeps the dog straight and not sideways half in front of you. I want the dog to look up.. either at my arm pit or with head slightly cocked and looking at the front of my shoulder. NOT at my eyes. I reward with food at first. Eventually I put a ball on a rope under my left arm pit. You can also do this with food. When the dog sits and look up you mark it (click or yes) and lift your arm up and drop the toy or food. It may bounce off the dog's head at first but they get the idea pretty quickly. Work in 5 minute or less increments. Break out of position to reward some of the time (always with the left hand.. keeping all rewards in your left pocket or on your left side) and then bring the dog back into position.

Eventually, with dog in heel position you add the word. Just like R+ training for any other behavior. When your dog will come and sit in heel position when you say your heel word, you have a good start of understanding. Now, with the dog in heel position and the ball under your arm try to take a single small step with your left foot. Most dogs drop their heads. DO NOT REWARD if the dog drops it's head. You can start with one step and go back to luring at first too. The first three steps are the hardest with the dog keeping his head up. Once you get that you can add more steps INDOORS.

Next you take it away from the wall... still indoors. Eventually you will get what you want indoors including left turns where the go moves his back end over to stay straight.

Now take it outside. And you may have to start all over.
It takes about two years to to teach competition heeling. At some point you need to add consequences for inattentiveness. In my world with the dogs I have? I started with a properly adjusted prong collar and looking away was corrected and looking back was rewarded with 3 times more positivity than the strength with which the correction was delivered. A different dog might respond better to you breaking off and using a negative marker like "Nope, not it" and then re-engaging and rewarding attentiveness.

You have to be careful at this point to know when to make the dog responsible for the behavior and when to stop being a cheer leader. My current dog, at 2 and a half had beautiful heeling. It has been nearly all motivational but with small breaks of inattentiveness. We just added the e collar correction at the lowest level with the remote in the hands of my training observer. She hits him (momentary stim) when he drops his head and then clicks when he comes back up at which point I deliver the reward and REALLY play with him. The results have been really good (because the timing and level of correction as well as reward has been spot on). My dog is also much happier because we have made what we want far more CLEAR and we have made what we do NOT want far more clear. I was doubtful when I was told I would have "much more dog" at the end if I did this. My doubts were answered. I do have much more dog and he is much happier! I am sure some will find this counter-intuitive.

We also other command that is NOT competition heeling and does not require intense focus. That is "with me" and means you must stay near my left side. You can look around but you cannot pull on the leash and you cannot react to crap out in the environment unless I give you permission to "light up." We also can use the "Transport" command used in protection when you do either the back or side transport of the decoy/helper. In this case the dog is to keep his shoulder next to my left leg while focused on the decoy either walking next to me next to the dog on my left OR in front of me.

If during all your training your dog offers the correct behavior, mark it and reward it. Make heeling (which is sitting at your left side, head up and attentive) a default "safe place" and your dog will WANT to heel.
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If you read what I wrote and what Hanki's Mom wrote about focused heeling you will understand that competition heeling IS driven, focused, TIRING for the dog. It has it's place but to walk a dog for an hour in a competition heel is NOT a good thing to do. In training competition heeling we have frequent rewards and, in a trained dog, reward delivery after "trial markers" such as the second gun shot, coming out of the group and so forth where the dog expects a reward. Even then, due to a variable reward schedule, in a trial the dog just keeps thinking it is coming at the next trial marker. The trial heeling pattern and retrieves is no more than 15 minutes and there are breaks from the focused heeling in out of motion exercises, two recalls, retrieves and the send away.

ANTICIPATING a distraction or reactive situation is paramount to success walking a dog. YOU must see it before they see it. It is, BTW, the same riding a horse. You must have your mind on the dog and the environment at all times.

I sure hope some of this is of value and you have success.
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I probably should have used the term 'attention' rather than 'eye contact'.

Anyway, I don't think the OP was wanting to do an entire hour-long walk under stimulus control / comp heeling. As far as I understood it was more of a momentary or situational kind of tool, to be used for short periods whenever the dog came within proximity of triggers and was likely to react.
I certainly would hope so. An hour of focused heeling could easily drive both dog and owner crazy! Ha!

BUT the focused competitive heeling came up.. and it is an arduous undertaking (most don't understand this).
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