When I run obedience workshops I ask the handlers what they want to work on and the answer comes back time and again; heelwork, heelwork and more heelwork. But, very often you can get to the end of the day when training working trials handlers, and no-one has even mentioned heelwork. Sometimes tired trials handlers will realise they have not done any heelwork, so they put the lead on tired dogs and drag them around a bit without much enthusiasm. Funnily enough, this process does not tend to teach dogs to want to do heelwork!
If you get to the end of your trials training session and you realise that you have not done heelwork, just leave it! Do not feel bad about this; it is better to do none, than to form a negative attitude with this exercise. Just make a mental note to self; ‘must train heelwork first, next time we go training.’
Rather than risking a poor response to your heelwork command (or any exercise for that matter), why not test your dog before asking him to heel? To do this I show my dog a piece of food and ask if he wants it. If he is not interested then I know he will not work for it, so I will not ask him to work. That might seem rather a strange concept to many of you, however I have two ways of training my dog; either I can reward him for getting it right or I can punish him for being wrong (I consider putting him on a lead and making him do it as a punishment). Punishing a dog for not doing heelwork will never make him want to do heelwork.
Many dogs will not stop to eat food when they go out for a run. They prefer to chase a ball, or play with other dogs, or engage in a variety of exciting activities that they can only do outside. Life outside for these dogs is far too exciting to stop and eat! If your dog fits this category, do not worry, most potentially good working trials dogs are like this before training. It is this drive, this enthusiasm for life that makes a good working trials dog. You will need to teach your dog to want to eat food whilst out walking and training in order to be able to use food for rewarding your dog.
You might think that it is easier to just use a ball to reward your ball crazy dog! But you will find that dogs can become over-stimulated by a toy and this can interfere with their ability to concentrate and to learn. (Some dogs will be over-stimulated by food in the same way, but with correct handling this is much easier to overcome.) When you use small pieces of food to reward your dog, as soon as the dog swallows he is ready to carry on with the work: but when using a toy reward, you then have to get the toy back, which with some dogs presents its own training issues, this takes time and distracts from the lesson in hand. It is well worth taking the time to teach your working dog to eat when out training and then to use food delivery in a variety of ways in order to maximise your reward potential and keep your dog’s interest focused on you.

Train your dog to Eat!
Of course you do not have to train your dog to eat; once he is weaned he just eats! But as we have noted many good working dogs do need to be trained to accept food when on the training field.
If you feed your dog from a bowl after he comes back from a walk, begin by taking him for his walk as usual and when you are at home instead of putting his bowl on the floor put it on the table, or work surface and take a piece out of the bowl and hand feed it. (If your dog is very possessive over food, or grabs food in an unruly way you will have to work on this first or you could get bitten; however this advice is for dogs that are reluctant to eat so this should not be a problem.)
Most dogs will swallow the piece that is offered and then look expectantly for the next piece. They were expecting the whole bowlful and wonder at your obvious error, they look at you probably wondering if you have lost your marbles. Feed another piece and wait for him to swallow and look up at you again. Repeat this once more and then give him his bowl with the rest of his food on the floor as usual. From now on make this the new routine; come back from a walk and hand feed three to six pieces of food before giving him the rest of the bowlful.
If you are now thinking you cannot do this because you feed wet food, or a raw diet, fear not there is always a way round any obstacle – unless you are a member of the, “I can’t because...” brigade! A little more preparation is needed but it is just as easy to do this with a wet or raw food diet. You will need a selection of small plastic pots; these are sold in multi packs intended for baby food and you often find them very cheap from Wilcos. Before you go out for your walk pop a teaspoonful of food into each of 3 – 6 pots. This is best done the night before so you have your next days’ training supplies all ready without the dog becoming aware of them. If you only feed raw you could use secateurs to chop chicken wing tips. Become inventive – where there is a will, there is a way. Be warned, it is necessary to use multiple small pots; I remember a client many years ago thinking they could just allow their puppy to have a mouthful from one larger pot to save all the washing up, but this dog did not appreciate the mouthful being given, but resented the rest of the pot being withdrawn. He started food guarding. Fortunately, we spotted this quite quickly and changed to multiple small pots and we sorted out the problem. Now with your small pots of ready prepared food you can progress in the same way as those using kibble.
So your new routine is; you come home from a walk, you feed several pieces of food and then you put the rest of the bowl on the kitchen floor. Progress this to moving around the kitchen, so the dog follows you for his food, rather than standing in ‘his place’ and waiting for the food to arrive there. Before long your dog will follow you all around the kitchen, keeping his eye on you, looking for his meal. Increase your wanderings to include another room, or hallway. When he is relaxed about this open the back door and feed him just indoors. Progress to feeding just outside the door: before long you will be able to wander around your garden with your dog looking expectantly at you for his food. Remember so far this is all done after a walk and when your dog is expecting a meal. So now you can come home from a walk and then do some hand feeding in the garden before breakfast or dinner. At this stage you could ask your dog for a simple exercise in your kitchen or garden, like ‘sit’ or ‘down’ and reward him with a piece of food. Do two or three of these and then give his bowl of food. It might be a very small start, but your working dog is now working for food! Over the coming weeks you can progress to taking a pocket or pot of food out on your walk and ask for a simple exercise on the way home. Building in this way you will soon be able to reward your dog with food whilst out walking.

Anne Bussey MSc

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