Stick to It: Heeling How-To: Speed up your dog's progress by making him stay in place.
(Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series using a heel stick.)
FOR THOSE WHO don't know, a heeling stick is similar to a riding crop but longer and normally has a leather popper attached to the end. It is not used to punish or harm the dog. Instead, it is used to speed up the dog's response to the sit command, to aid in training the dog to sit to flush, and to train the proper heeling position.
If you have carefully adhered to the guidelines for teaching your pup the sit command at feeding time, taught your dog to heel on lead, reinforced the sit command, and transitioned from a verbal sit command to the sit whistle, you are now ready to begin the process of speeding up the response to the sit command and to teach him to sit when you stop walking. Why would you do this? Because this early training will pay dividends as you progress to sitting on the flush in upland situations or encounter flushing or wounded waterfowl during the season.
Teaching your dog to sit when you stop walking is basically accomplished in the same manner as speeding up the response to the whistle command. The transition is relatively easy. You do not give your dog a visual clue, a verbal command or a whistle command; instead, you just stop walking and simultaneously allow the heeling stick to fall on your dog's flanks. At this point your dog should associate the slight tap of the stick with the previously learned response and transition from this to sit when you stop. After several days of practice the young lad should automatically sit in the heel position when you stop walking. The tap from the heeling stick can then be eliminated. I will elaborate more on this process in the next issue.