My dog Fleegle is learning to heel. I’m using the treat and clicker method off-leash in the backyard. With the treat as a lure held low, he has the stop and goes down, along with the 180 turns and the 360 spins. When he gets excited for a treat, he makes a quiet grunting sound, like he’s clearing his throat before speaking. This method involves a lot of treats, and a lot of grunting.
I’ve started carrying the treats a little higher next to my hip and he’s good with that. Next we’re going to try keeping the treats in the pocket of a t-shirt. From Fleegle’s perspective, it puts the treats up by my face, which is where I want him looking, and saves me from keeping them in my mouth to free up my hands to walk normally.
In the past I’ve used the hot dog method where I held slices of hot dog in my mouth and spat them out as rewards. My golden retriever, Sadie, learned this way, and to this day she loves, and I mean really loves, to heel. When she sees me practicing with Fleegle, it’s like a hot dog light bulb goes off in her head and she rushes over to get into heel position. Our hot dog practice sessions always left me with a strong desire to have hot dogs for dinner, which always left Sadie wondering why I was sitting down to eat her treats.
With Fleegle I’ll try the pocket-t method and see how that goes. We are working toward heeling in a distracting environment, like a downtown sidewalk. I’d consider practicing in Home Depot while shopping for roof patch, but he’s such a beggar for belly rubs from complete strangers that that would be setting him up to fail. Loose leash walking in Home Depot is good enough, just as long as he doesn’t pee on anything.
My old Lab, Wyatt, used to lift on everything. I had to watch him like a hawk in Home Depot to stop him from scent marking every other can of paint. So far, the only time Fleegle has peed in Home Depot was when a giant man with a beard was squatting next to him and giving him a belly rub, which is pretty much like saying, “Boy, you’re big and kind of scary with that beard, but that’s a good belly rub you’re giving, but just so you know, I’m a harmless puppy. See? Sniff my piddle.”
At the vet on Friday for his rabies shot at six months, Fleegle weighed 59 pounds, which is about what Wyatt weighed as a four year old before he passed away. When he died I wasn’t going to get another puppy. But time passed and while dozing one morning I dreamt of a chocolate lab puppy on my bed slobbering on my face. I took it as a sign and started thinking about getting another lab puppy.
The dog door in my house goes straight through the wall of my office out onto a small deck I built to make the height outside equal to height inside. The sun hits the little deck in the afternoons and Wyatt used to lay there all the time, on alert, watching the yard for squirrels. It has become a favorite spot of Fleegle’s too, and sometimes when he’s out there and I look out my office window I see Wyatt and my grief returns. Then Fleegle shifts his position and he’s himself again.
They are very different dogs. Wyatt was always on the job, ready to resolve things on his own. When I taught him to heel he had the hardest time keeping his front paws on the ground. I’d take the treat out of my pocket and his mouth would meet my hand halfway. And he was quiet. Quiet Wyatt.
Fleegle is a talker. When I add water to his kibble and leave it on the counter to soak, he sits near it and waits while I go into the next room where my desk is. If I forget, he’ll remind me when it’s ready with a mooing that sounds like a cross between a pig and a cow. Wyatt would wait for me to leave the room, then as quietly as he could, he’d try his damndest to get up on the counter and sort things out himself.
Fleegle is definitely not Wyatt. His methods are distinctly his own, soft and patient. He’s the sort of dog Wyatt would send to help heal my grief at his loss and begin again.