The topic today is creating heads-up attention. So I have to teach my dogs to have heads-up attention. This is because they’re competing in a sport that gives points when the dogs are attentive to their handler. Now, I don’t want to suggest that the other dog sports don’t require the same, especially if it’s competitive obedience.
But for sure, the sport of Schutzhund or IGP is one of those sports that demands that to happen. There are quite a few variations in how people get their dogs to do the heads-up attention in their heeling. But I’ve got my take on it. And hopefully, sometime in the next year or two, I’ll get to show off Jericho and Alpha, my two German Shepherds. Hopefully, the judges will agree that it’s exquisite heads-up attention.
So I’m in the process with these two puppies showing them how to have this particular attention. And I noticed some things. It’s been a little while since I’ve had to go through this process that I will share with you. What I’m doing at the moment, is using food or a ball to bait and lure the dogs into the position that I want.
Now, Alpha is a little further along, so here’s what’s going on with her. As I begin to approach the fence, she knows that we’re about to do this. She knows to walk along the wall, and that she needs to hold her head up. So as I go over there, she promptly flips herself into heel position and becomes very attentive. She’s very focused because there is a ball on the left-hand side of my body over the top of her head. As I begin to move, I’m trying to show her how to keep her feet on the ground but her head up. If she walks 5, 10, maybe even as many as 15 paces with me, then she gets a reward.
So here’s the first insight that I’ll give you. Earlier this week, I noticed that sometimes it was to my advantage to drop the ball when I was walking with her. Even if she weren’t looking up, I would drop the ball without saying anything to her.
What I quickly noticed is that she was beginning to pay attention to when the ball might drop. This was useful because I could see that she was keeping her head up the majority of the time. As we began to walk, she anticipated that I might drop the ball at any moment. Now, if I can go another week or two of solidifying this, where she’s not dropping her head at all for these 10,15 paces, then I’m going to be using a moment marker.
Now for Alpha, I am using the moment marker. I may switch that up, but for now, it’s just the word “okay,” and then I bring the ball down and let her have it. We begin to play a bit of a game of tug.
Okay, so that’s Alpha. So with Jericho, he is not as far along with how he does his heads-up attention for the ball. But he’s much further along with how he does it for food. And that’s so interesting to me that Alpha isn’t so good when I’m using the food.
But Jericho is. With Jericho, if I’m baiting and luring him in the heel position, and he does an excellent job of keeping his head up. However, whenever I bring the ball in, I’ve noticed that he immediately drops his head, looking down if I take that first step. And then, after about two steps, he has his head back up, and he’s tracking the ball.
So what I think I’m going to do is to start to drop the ball the moment his head goes down. Now some people might say that I’m going to be rewarding him for putting his head down for the ball. And I usually wouldn’t argue with you, but I think he wants to catch the ball in his mouth. And so if he drops his head and the ball then falls, and it lands on top of his head, he’s not going to want that.
He’s going to want to catch it with his mouth. So I think if I can get the timing exactly right, I step and drop it very quickly. He’s going to figure out that he should keep his head up on that first step. So I’m not so worried after that first step because then he begins to pay attention to see when the ball will drop. I think what happened was when he was on one of those elevated Cato boards, and stepped off, he was looking down to make sure that he didn’t trip.
I think that’s why he’s dropping his head when I use the food again. I’ll mention this when I use the food; he doesn’t drop his head at all because he has his mouth right up against a piece of food. He is doing an excellent job with that. I’m just trying to introduce him to how to do the heeling for the ball as well.
I’m glad I was able to share that with you guys about creating some heads-up potential. If you are working on creating heads-up attention for your dogs and you’d like to send me a message, you can text me at 832-734-5189. I would like to hear from you! You can also find me on Twitter, my handle is “Al the Dog Trainer.”