At the obedience seminar last weekend we had a whole afternoon on heeling. The really interesting part, is that while I can also talk about heeling for hours, I would have set up completely different activities!
Some of the activities in that part of the workshop were teaching the dog to circle to the left, the dog to do leg weaves, the handler reinforcing the dog as he moves into position, pivot box, and exaggerating shoulder cues when weaving.
The only one of those that I frequently use (and use a TON) is the pivot box exercise. I absolutely love this and see it as the key for solving almost all heeling problems, as well as left finishes.
My second mainstay for heeling is pace changes. Obviously in competition obedience and in rally that corresponds to pace change exercises, but it's also relevant on all turns, serpentines, figure 8, etc. My understanding is that a dog who is lagging or forging on turns (1) Doesn't understand heel position well enough, and the pivot box can improve that and-or (2) the dog doesn't understand about matching the handler's pace.*
We always pick one pace change to do multiple times (normal TO fast or slow TO normal or Normal to Slow or fast to normal) and click as soon as the dog indicates he is matching the handler's pace. Everyone wants to look for duration, but we really want to reinforce the dog for 'matching' at this early stage.
We only work on that one pace change at a time, but after a short break, we can work on a different one. When the dogs have had sufficient practice, we go to working on serpentines and every time the handler crosses the serpentine and the dog moves to match, we click and feed.
The third exercise we do is for the handlers. Typically we run this without dogs and then put the dogs back in. We use various tag points to get a good 'picture' with the handler. We look at where the person is looking (straight, ahead, a number of feet in front), for specific leash holds, shoulders over hips, steady pace, small steps before halts... And there are sets of tag points used for each of these as needed.
It was great to see how others saw the "smallest pieces" of behaviors and to re-look at how I teach competitions behaviors. It's always a challenge to look at the best, fastest, most clear, and most efficient pieces and note any changes based on different dogs and owners and their learning styles.
*And of course that's all in theory...dogs like to give us challenges and there are exceptions to the rule and other pieces we add or work on
Heeling is great!