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How the Natural Heeler Works
We're going to use a dog's love for pulling, and the leash tension on his neck that makes him feel physically and therefore emotionally connected to his owner, as the primary reward for NOT PULLING.
The first step is to acclimate yourself to the device by attaching the scissors snap to the belt ring, and then practice pulling a length of cord out of the pulley by depressing the tab lever inside its wheelhouse.
The side of the ratchet device with the lever should be hanging on the belt side so you can work the release most easily.
Then reel it in and let out again just to become familiar with the action.
I also recommend that with your dog present, you pull the rope into the ratchet and upon your dog hearing its distinctive gear grinding sound, give him a treat.
In that way the sound won't startle him during the initial training sessions, and also becomes an added incentive to stay close by your side.
On the first session with your dog on the “Heeler,” work in a quiet place without distractions.
Attach the unit to your belt via the quick release scissors snap, and next attach the elastic cord to a flat collar on your dog's neck or harness (if that's his regular walking setup).
Then attach your training lead, which should be a light canvas lead of about 10 foot length to his training collar. (If you feel your dog is sensitive, let the training collar be another flat collar.
If he is less sensitive, it can be attached to a choke chain, or if he has been properly acclimated to a pinch collar, attach to this.
I prefer the pinch collar once a dog has been properly acclimated. Attaching the stretch cord to the pinch collar and letting your dog pull you around is an excellent acclimation exercise.)
Now with the Heeler attached to the flat collar, and the training lead secured to the pinch or choke collar but dangling loosely, release your dog to forge ahead and he will extend the stretch cord to its full tightness.
When it is totally tight, turn around and head in the opposite direction, and as your dog turns and hurries to go in this new direction, pull in a foot or so of stretch cord through the cog device so as to bring the dog in closer.
Let your dog go past if he likes and when the stretch cord loses its flexibility, again reverse course and shorten up the stretch cord as before.
Repeat this reversal a number of times (most especially with a young dog) so that the dog equates pulling with this new elastic sensation and then is able to perform an about turn in order to mirror your movements.
It's fun for a dog to pull, and as long as the dog is turning to follow the change of direction, the pulling is being associated with a general feeling of moving in concert with the owner.
This acclimation routine can be repeated a number of times over several days until you feel your dog is getting the general hang of things.
Many dogs learn to keep the lead more relaxed simply because it's less work, and if you find this is in fact occurring, try walking in a straight line for longer durations throwing in reversals of direction intermittently to sustain your dog's interest in which way you're going.
Remember, the number one motive in the mind of an animal is their need to move, and so even though the dog isn't hurtling himself toward the horizon as fast as he can go, he is nevertheless still moving and this beats the alternative of no movement at all.
As much as possible during these training sessions, when you find your dog at your side, take the time to pause and lavish his neck and jowls with a sumptuous, feel-good massage.
This pleasurable physical contact is more important than the cookie treats as the latter tend to overstimulate the dog and get him excited.
In fact, dogs can be made so excited about treats that it distracts them from noticing the finer points of what they're experiencing.
People today use food in a way that ends up rewarding a dog for being overstimulated.
A dog can get so excited that he's actually distracted from the emotional connection that we truly want to be reinforcing.
More than anything dogs crave physical contact, which far more than treats, affirms the emotional connection.
In general, the less food as reward the better.
If possible, with the “Heeler” I don't use any food whatsoever.
But if the dog is particularly sensitive, anxious or hyper-manic, more food rather than less may be necessary.
After this period of acclimation, it's now time to add a correction.
(I prefer using a pinch collar with an adult dog that has been properly acclimated.) Again let the dog pull ahead on the bungee until it loses all elasticity and then make a quick, light snap on the training lead and collar, and immediately reverse direction and tighten the bungee about a foot, treating the dog if he needs it or if he comes to your side lavish him with a cheek and neck massage.
The treat however is not the all important variable, the fact that he is still attached to his owner and is able to pull against the resistance of the bungee reminds him that he is still connected to his owner and still able to move.