Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Luring, shaping, prompting, what??

OK, so I am freaky obsessed with Silvia Trkman's training style. I think she is the greatest trainer on earth. At least, the greatest doing any public training, so she's the one I know of. She is amazing. I bought her heeling DVD to tighten up my dog's heeling work. They heel really nicely. Especially the Pin Heads. They are beautiful, high stepping heelers. Spur, a little distracted, not so good off leash, not glued to my leg like Silvia's dogs.

I have watched the video maybe 20 times now. I see things she does I don't do. I see things she does that make sense. She has a process. 7 steps to perfect heeling. OK, I'm stuck on step one. In a sense, I mean, my dogs get it to a point. I have always taught hand focus. In formal obedience my hand is static while heeling. Glued to my side. It's their cue to heel. It moves only when I want an adjustment in position. OK, that's all well and good, but what Silvia has is EYE contact. They are totally focused on position and eye contact. I can see now where that REALLY helps.

How did I miss that. My heeling is really nice. My dogs don't get points off for heeling. They might get points off for not sitting or crooked fronts or slow down or something, but not heeling.

So, back to step one of Silvia's process. It's simple, get the dog to pivot around a platform. A full circle. Do it with shaping, don't lure the dog. dogs are SO hand cue focused they are really struggling to get that full circle. We will persist, but damn it is hard to undo years of work. I do want them thinking more on their own and less hand cue dependency and more eye contact. Will I get it? I don't know, the Pin Heads are nearly 12 years old and have been trained this way their whole lives. Although, I will say both have nice eye contact, too. Just not like Silvia's dogs.

We will persist. I am determined to get this.


  1. Silvia trkman is my hero :) I don't have her heeling dvd yet but it's on my wishlist!

    Can I ask why you want to switch your dog's focus point if they already are paying attention nicely, just not to your eyes? My dogs DO make eye contact while heeling but I hear a lot of trainers who absolutely do not want that as it encourages the dog to forge.

  2. Heehee, yeah Laura, I do wonder about that, BUT you need to get her video and see for yourself the difference. What I learned is - my dogs are not as willing to offer behaviors without being lured because they are so dependent on hand cues. I can see now that shaping brings out the best learning in them. I can lure all day, but then what do they learn? That they depend on my hands to offer up something or to help them think. I want them thinking on their own.
    Two - without the hand cue they don't fully understand heel position and they don't learn verbals. I may not be able to get it, because I am so hard wired to use hand cues and no verbals. But, I do want to try. I want to try to get my dogs thinking more and offering more without help from me. Does that make sense?
    Silvia does end up with focus on her hands, even though she says she never rewards for that. She does, you will see it on her video. But, her dogs learn to think more independently and it shows in their work. Their focus and attention is amazing. It's just another thing to work on. Less dependency on hand cues to "jump start" behaviors. I KNOW I can get it with hand cues. Can I get it with verbals and eye contact and wean them off my hands? I don't know, yet. :D

  3. You have small dogs so perhaps you can help. My dachshund is so short he literally has a hard time making eye contact with me in a close heel position. In fact when we halt he will lift the paw closest to me in order to lean out and see my eyes better.

    In all honesty when he's really tightly in (which I want to reward)it's hard for me to see his eyes without leaning over slightly. (Which is A a cue, and B makes him drop back slightly so it's no good).

    I've never seen Silvia Trkman's stuff. Does she cover things that will help a smaller (shorter) dog succeed? Since you have smaller dogs do you have any advice? Do you recommend changing his focus point to my hand instead? I'm not even sure how to go about doing that since I've worked so hard on eye contact.

  4. Thanks for the explanation Amy! I wasn't questioning the value of shaping heel position. I totally agree that shaping produces a thinking dog and I think a dog that ultimately understands their "job" better. I just love shaping!

    It makes more sense to me now though that you want to get rid of your current focal point since you feel your dogs don't really understand heel position without it.

  5. Elizabeth- I don't have the dvd so I don't know if Silvia covers it, but your post brought up my original question to Amy about why she wanted to change focal points.

    My dogs heel with eye contact but I have had to work hard on my corgi not forging. He will also sit straight with his feet but crank out so easier to make eye contact. I know a lot of trainers teach their dogs a different focal point by putting a binder on their pants legs to start out with, or using the arm band, or something else other than their eyes. I have not tried this, and don't think I will switch, but there are a ton of trainers who want attention without the eye contact.

  6. Yes, I do think it is harder to SEE the eyes on the little dogs. My Spur has SUCH dark eyes against black fur I have trouble knowing when he is making eye contact.

    You guys really should get Silvia's heeling video. It is FABULOUS! Her dogs learn to be "glued to the leg". Of course, she doesn't reward leaning, but she does reward the dog for touching her leg in the beginning stages. They all heel really nicely, total eye contact, her hands swing loosely. It's SO pretty.

    My dogs all heel quite well, I am only looking to improve on what we have. And Spur isn't solid, like the Pin Heads, so I would really like him to have a better understanding of heel position. Her work does that.

    Silvia's La is quite small. I met her once and I would guess she is about my Colby's size = 12lbs or less. Not dachshund small, but small. She gets tiny, baby puppies heeling beautifully with eye contact, so it can be done! I agree, it's not easy.

    Seriously, I can not tell you how much I enjoy her video. It is TREMENDOUS! Shows all kinds of good things, like how she clicks/treats, how specific and picky and slow she teaches things. She starts with shaping and works from there, slowly increasing difficulty. Really awesome to watch. I have had to watch it over and over, there is so much there!

    Elizabeth - she does talk about working on eye contact away from heel position, too. She will have all of her dogs in front of her and she rewards for eye contact while swinging her arms around with treats in them. Just another "trick" to practice! :D It's all just a trick to Silvia and her dogs!