It’s like one of those bad breakup lines but, in this case, it’s true! 😉 While I do still believe Risa’s occasional lack of focus while heeling has its roots in her hypervigilance and fear, I recently realized that it’s also my fault. I reward her for losing focus all the time. It’s just that, until a week ago, I didn’t even notice that I was doing it. (THIS is a perfect example of why it’s vital to have a knowledgeable someone watching you train. They will catch these mistakes before you make bad habits out of them.) Once I stepped back and thought about it, however, I knew I’d been doing this all along. Even if Risa looks away while heeling, I still choose to reward her. Even if I have to keep moving and wait for her to look back or, even worse, call her back to attention.
At this point, I should know better! I mean, I just talked about how I utilize what Kathy Sdao taught me about stopping if your dog misses/misinterprets a cue. Yet I’ve never actually applied it when we’re working on heelwork. Even though my goal is to have eye contact part of the final heeling picture, I am doing a poor job attaining it. When I cue “fuß” (Risa’s heel cue), I my only criteria seems to be position. If she looks away, I don’t stop and ignore for several long seconds before re-cuing. No. I simply keep moving and wait for eye contact to return (or, worse, I cue her to look back at me) and then reward for position. It’s nice that Risa is still in position and moving with me while NOT looking at me. Even nicer that she is still paying attention. But she’s not doing what I want and I’m rewarding it!
After my epiphany, I started making sure that I’m rewarding what I want: position AND focus. After all, if Risa is unable to maintain eye contact while heeling in our relatively distraction-free yard, there’s no way I can ever expect it in freestyle and rally competitions. Risa’s a quick study and I’m sure I’ll be able to break her of this bad habit. Or, to be honest, I should be able to break ME of this bad habit. 😉 Once I do that, I bet her focus and attention on me will improve and so will our scores in rally and freestyle. 🙂