I Pet Him on My Left Side
Every time I look at this article header, I go back to my favorite movie from my childhood the cult classic “Ladyhawke” where the monk (who has booby trapped his property always says “Follow on the Left Side”
I have a young dog, that is pretty new to dog training (I really haven’t done much at all in the lines of real obedience training, mostly I have worked on exercise and manners) but I pet him mostly only on my left side.
That’s right let that soak in for a bit.
Now I say “mostly” because I don’t want people to get all concerned that I don’t pet my dog in all kinds of places all of the time. I do actually, but I am conditioning him to like my left side.
Why on earth do I only pet him on my left side?
I suppose you could now ask why do I care about heel position.
Well, the first thing is that I compete in dog obedience.
Now I am a convert to competition, as I have spent most of my lifetime hating getting up in front of people and especially being judged. I guess that is because as soon as I get up in front of everyone I already assume they are judging me!
But in order to be a better dog trainer and learn more of my craft and more precision I started competing. After a few wins, I decided I kind of liked it; it almost negated the sick feeling I got every time I got out on the field (although truth be told, I still get sick to my stomach).
I still have a love hate relationship with competition.
I have friends who go out there and aren’t bothered at all and they rock it! I still shake and quiver and look down and make mistakes but I am getting better all the time and it pushes me as a human to get over some of my fears.
So with this little guy I hope to rock the competition world… or at least force myself to put a few titles on him for my own well-being!
So, long boring story short, he needs to know and be happy in “heel” position because he will be spending a lot of time there.
The Other Reason
Because if he is in heel position he is not out front pulling on his leash!
Think about it in its simplest form if your dog is on your left side with his right shoulder blades parallel to your left leg (this is heel position) and he is prancing there in a 2 or 3 foot space and looking up at you gazing into your pupils; he can’t be pulling and straining and looking at the neighbor dog or the kids down the street.
So this is just another big, did I mention BIG, reason to condition him that heel position is “THE place to be!”
And, he LOVES it!!!
I let him out of his crate and he FLIES (sometimes I think he does have wings) into heel position, even when I don’t have treats in my hand.
When he is in heel (and especially if he is looking up at me)I pet, scratch, and praise him which is a strong motivator for him (it won’t be AS strong for all dogs) more on finding your dog’s motivator click here.
He likes to be petted and he likes attention, in some ways he thrives on it. I also run him (mildly) beside my bike to get him the exercise he needs; and when we stop for oncoming cars or a stop sign he dives his head into my lap for affection.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I use treats when we train, and I use toys to build his drive (for more on building your dog’s drive for better obedience click here) but affection and praise is also a great motivator.
So for him, I am conditioning him that affection comes when he is on my left side in heel position. For reasons of training I encourage him to find heel and I only reward him there.
Do I Want to Scratch Him on My Right Side?
Of course I want to scratch him no matter where he is; and in certain circumstances of course I do (not everything is regimented dog obedience) but I also like to be consistent.
So right now I have a dog that would totally prance off leash on my left side just to get a snuggle.
Now in his near future I am going to have to fade the scratching and snuggling as this is not smiled on when you compete, so he will learn to work for the BIG reward at the end… perhaps a jump into my arms or a tummy rub after; but we have plenty of time to work that out!
The important thing is to give him what he wants and what he needs and also to condition him and use it to my benefit! That is what great dog training is all about!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.