One of the things I like most about working with a Bloodhound is the fact that it is a TEAM effort. None of this I-give-an-order-and-you-obey-it nonsense. The dog either wants to work or it doesn't. And if a Bloodhound doesn't want to do something...it won't get done. One of the easiest ways around this is to convince the Bloodhound that THEY are going to be showing YOU in the ring. Most of them are very proud of their owners. They like to dress them up (in attractive drool patterns mostly) and take them places. By convincing the dog that "Forward" means the dog walks and the handler is trained to stay in perfect heel position, you have a happy and successful working dog.
The secret to successfully completing any of the AKC obedience titles is in the heeling. No matter what level you and your dog are at, you will be expected to perform a heeling pattern. More than any other exercise, heeling demonstrates your teamwork, the dog's trust in you and the level of attention (or non-attention!) you and your dog have in each other. On the practical side of things, teaching your bloodhound to heel will let you walk down the street normally...instead of imitating Ben Hur!!! No one really enjoys being dragged, now do they? The original point of the AKC exercises was to demonstrate that the dog was a good companion and a responsible citizen.
If you stop and think about heeling, you will realize that you are asking a lot out of your drooly friend. The basic commands of heeling are: Forward (start fast and stay with me!), Heel (walk right next to me, all the time, no detours to check out that fascinating piece of mat!); Halt (place your butt quickly on the mat, sitting straight and not on my foot!). Then you add in the extras.....Fast (we are running, but you can't jump and you can't play tag!); Slow (move at a snails pace past the child with the hotdog, no snatching, no sitting, no sniffing), Left turn (back up but stay in heel position); Right turn (speed up, but not too fast) and About Turn (Oh my God she's leaving!!!!!) "When would you do this in the 'real world?'" asks your dog.
None of it makes sense to a bloodhound.
Just watch them trying to understand why we want them to do something as silly as a figure 8 heel pattern....."We've been here already, Mom" you can hear them say, "Lets go over and play somewhere that has SMELLS! Heeling well is like dancing. If you know the steps, and practice a lot, it seems effortless! By practicing each part of the exercise, it flows together to make a smooth routine.
How do you break it down? Start at the beginning. Be sure your dog knows and responds to the cue words: "Ready" and "Watch Me" (later shortened to "watch"). Until those words are learned, the dog is not ready to learn how to heel. These two commands are very useful for young puppies. They may have the attention span of a gnat, but they are listening all the time! By using "Watch Me" as a lead-in to cookies or treats, you can be assured of instant attention when those words are even whispered. "Ready" is taught as the cue leading into any exercise. One of the best ways in the world to teach the "watch me" command is to use it while you are making their dinner. At least in MY house, dinner time is the one time I have my hounds UNDIVIDED attention!! I use the "watch me" command while they are looking at me...and then give them a nugget of food as a reward....followed by the "Ready" just before I put the bowls down.
Heeling can start with controlled straight line walking (no sits or turns) until your hound is with you for at least 40 feet, head up and attentive. If he decides to wander or looses attention, change directions abruptly and allow the leash to correct him. Do NOT use a voice correction at this time......let the leash do all the work!! When the dog comes back to you, praise him for being in heel position. Use the "Watch Me" when necessary, but you should not have to be saying it at every step. HINT: use it just BEFORE your hound gets distracted.
I see no point in using leash corrections on a lagging dog. Most bloodhounds slow down when their collars are snapped. If they are lagging to start with, th is is not an efficient correction, now is it? My usual correct for a lagging dog is to turn around and start walking backwards...encouraging him to catch up. When he gets to you, turn and go straight a couple of steps, releasing him ONLY from heel position. He will soon learn that, the longer he takes to get to heel position, the longer he has to do the work! Translating this into bloodhound behavior is not easy. Although our dogs enjoy pleasing us, it is only as long as it does not seriously inconvenience them. Many of them are smart enough to figure out how to do as little as possible, so it is very important to be consistent with whatever method you use.
Toby hasn't figured out the whole showing thing yet, but he's getting the gist of it. He has discovered that the judge is no good as a source of cookies and that the only way to get a treat is to stick to the source (me!). He has finally gotten his first two legs in obedience, and we are hoping to finish his titles at the ABC nationals or at the local fall show. In the next article, I'll discuss using obedience training techniques to help you out in the show ring!!!