Why a Strong Heeling Foundation MattersOct 27, 2023
The speed of learning is attached to age, but it is also attached to the energy levels and drive that the dog can produce. So, if a dog is 5-6 years old but is very motivated to do whatever, they are still going to learn very fast.
The question is, what have you done with this previously? Let's just say, let's assume hypothetically that you have done a lot of left-side heeling, because a lot of people do left-side heeling, and you have made a lot of errors or the dog is confused in this area, or whatever occurred here. It is very hard to override a dog's brain once he gets in that position. Once he gets in that position, it is no longer about what you say or what you are doing; he recognizes this and sees this: "This is an exercise I have done before. I kind of know the drill. I will start doing what I used to do." And it is hard for the dog to reset his brain and then start all over again with a clean, fresh start. This is probably the most difficult part. That is why switching sides if you are going to do a new style of heeling, even in the center or reverse, or whatever you want to do on another side, can definitely help.
So, age is not so relevant as assessing how much drive the dog has. So, it's not the age that is relevant; it's about the dog's drive that you have to assess, and about whether you have done things previously that looked like heeling and then there is a problem where the dog is recognizing those old patterns and he is going back into those old patterns. That is why switching sides is a great way to start fresh off.
And you should treat any dog, whatever age it has, 5 years old, 6, 7, 8, you should treat it as if it was a puppy if you have never done anything with it previously. So, the only thing that has changed is his age and his size. That's it. You know, all the rest can be redone. I will tell you right now that, even though when I do heeling styles with a certified police dog, which is on all that kind of stuff as well for his exams (you know, you need to focus to pass, to focus to pass the decoy without any struggle), even now that he is old, I could still train him as a puppy, and that is what you should do because creating that reference is something very powerful even for an older dog.
So, it doesn't mean that because he is all that he will always be right and he will always do exactly how you train him. Once in the beginning, you know, going back to that base where he was a young dog, a puppy who didn't understand anything, and you communicate with them in that same exact fashion, that's how you elevate the dog's levels as well. It's not about, "Oh, okay, he's gone to level 1. Now, he's going to level 2, 3. Now, he's only into fading mode. I should just snap my finger and he's going to heeling. So, everything has to be perfect." It's not like that. So, sometimes you have to go back to that core foundation. If it was a good one, it will help you. If your core foundation was flawed, well, then of course you have a problem. That's why you need to build a good foundation in that heeling process.