Teaching Attention Heeling with an Electronic Collar
In this article, I will go over some steps in teaching 'attention' heeling with an electronic collar. If you are not familiar with an electronic collar, or it's operation, I would suggest that you attend a Tritronics seminar, or one given by someone on their professional staff.
People are constantly wondering how you can teach stuff like this in its infancy stages without a negative association to the electric collar. I want to make it clear that most of the high-tech collars that Tritronics makes are adjustable to suit the dog's temperament. They can be adjusted lower than most dogs can even perceive. The easiest way to start this, is to knee down next to the dog with a food treat in your mouth. When the dog is looking away, lightly tap him with the collar until he looks at you, then give him the hotdog. If you have a problem with the dog taking food from your mouth, or he's a little rough, you can put your hand in front of your mouth with the hotdog or treat in it. The purpose of the kneeling, is that it simplifies the dog looking at you at this early stage — since you are down to its level. I would not give any command at this point. The reason for no command, is that the dog does not understand the collar yet, and has not had enough repetitions to link the "tapping" to the treat. We are trying to elicit from the dog, the motion of turning to look up at you when he feels the tap. In other words, 'tap' means 'look up at me cause there is food up here', and then you will verify it every time. If the dog is not looking at you, continue the tapping (low level 'nicks' of the collar are preferable).
Only the act of looking up at you, will make the 'nicks' cease, and the dog will be immediately rewarded with the treat. You can slowly raise yourself from the knee position, until the dog still associates the 'nick' with looking at you while you are standing, then you can stop the kneeling altogether. I would then start challenging the dog by 'nicking' at various times when he is not expecting it, and seeing that he knows to look up at you to shut off the 'nick', and get his treat.
Another good way to introduce this is to pack the dog's dry food kibbles that are going to be his allowance at that meal, and take him for a walk. You can periodically tap him along the way, and as he looks up at you, give him a portion until he has had all of his meals worth. He will soon be looking forward to the tapping. Because of the distraction outside, you may find yourself going up a few notches because of the added exclusion of the outside environment. The level that was working in the house may be completely ineffective outside, so you have to adjust accordingly.
When your dog starts showing that he understands the tapping, and is looking up when it occurs on a consistent basis, I would then overlay the "heel" or "foos", or whatever command at that time. You do not want the dog thinking that "heel" means, "look around and try to figure out with that strange tapping is".
The beauty of the collar is that you can completely disassociate yourself from the tapping, and when the dog is confused —– Rather than a leash tug, you can happily get his attention back to you with whatever body language is needed. Your dog will soon know that the tapping is not just a random act, and that he, and he alone is responsible for controlling it. The timing that you can achieve with the collar is automatically unmatched in other methods.
Your dog has now had nothing but a pleasant beginning associating with the electronic collar. You will soon see that dog's tail wagging like crazy when he feels that tap. We now want to establish habit with that behavior. The dog now has a choice, and will learn more responsibility with his behavior. Also, I would further add learning to this by establishing the dog maintain the 'heel' position while you are stationary. In other words, while standing completely still, you should be able to say "heel" and the dog's head come right up looking at you. You may not be moving, but it's still a 'heel' position. As the dog looks away, tap him with the collar until he's back into position, then shut the tapping off and immediately replace it with 'good heel'. If he turns away, discontinue the praise, apply the tapping and praise verbally with a 'good heel' as he comes back. This will continue while walking.
Remember that the collar is doing a lot of work for you, so it is totally inappropriate for you to ever have to raise your voice while using an electronic collar. Yelling should not have more meaning of a command, than it would in a regular tone. The electronic collar gives us the unique ability of raising the level of the collar to match the situation, while we remain the good guy at all times. This is a good initiative to the electric collar.