Recently I saw questions regarding the value of using a metronome for heeling on a FB Obedience Group. Many asked what a metronome was. Others were curious as to its merits. Let's address each of these questions:
A metronome is a device that marks time either audibly or with light ( usually flashes). Musicians use such an apparatus to great effect, especially during their puppy learning stages when they are developing their ability to understand cadence and rhythm. Using a metronome keeps them constant and in beat. Through this procedure an understanding and appreciation of tempo and smoothness is acquired.
One of the more antiquated--though nonetheless functional and effective--metronomes is a standup type with an arm that moves back and forth in beat to the rhythm it is set for. This metronome can be placed on the piano or near any music stand and the student can listen to the cadence and play in sync to that rhythm. This greatly enhances the promising musician's ability learn about timing, control, and smoothness.
So, too, is this applicable to competitive obedience heeling.
(note: all my assessments/comments are based on the assumption that the dog knows how to heel. Heeling and footwork are taught first! )
Learning to move in sync with a metronome is like learning to dance to music. Keeping a constant, rhythmic pace while heeling gives the whole team picture grace and elegance. It also enhances the partnership of the handler and dog, much as dancing in time to music unifies a dance team: the dog and handler, the two dance partners, flow as one.
Too, learning to heel with a metronome helps you become skilled at consistency in movement. You will learn to maintain a particular rhythm and stride length that best suits your teamwork. This offsets the unconscious slowing down or erratic, jagged pace sometimes seen in teams during heeling. Learning to heel with a metronome helps keep your heeling smooth and even.
Despite fears, anxieties, and other stress-related pressures that a handler might feel in the ring, the muscle memory learned during practice with a metronome will kick in and greatly aide the overall performance.
There are many styles of metronomes to choose from. Years ago I purchased a clip-on Seiko® brand metronome from a music store. I especially like this one because it is light and I can clip it onto my breast pocket or collar. It's also extremely simple to operate in these days of high tech (a world I am often baffled by!) I'm delighted to tell you that this un-high tech device is still available on line.
Naturally there are many free metronome apps available for your android phone as well. I, myself, am using "Metronome Beat". Please understand that I am not advocating this app over others; it's merely the one I happened to download first and found it quite satisfactory.
Now comes the more difficult part: setting the metronome to a beat that is most suitable and comfortable (!) for you and your dog.
There's no 'fixed' metronome beat that is the best for heeling in obedience. What you ultimately choose is going to be the beat that pushes you a bit (meaning keeps you at a somewhat brisk pace) without making you feel rushed or winded.
When introducing my students to the metronome, we play with it. I generally start the team at a higher beat, see if it's appropriate--meaning do they look good at that pace--then ask the handler if it is comfortable. If not, we move down a notch or two until we find one that not only keeps the team moving nicely, but is a pleasing pace for the handler to maintain.
Generally--and again, this is not 'fixed'--a good beat to set the metronome at is between 128 to 135. I, myself, use a 133 beat. And I've used this beat with my Dobermans, Cattle Dogs, and now my Border Collies. It's the pace that "I" can comfortably maintain and still have the heeling with my respective canine partner look smooth.
Naturally this beat does not apply to the 'slow' or 'fast' pace in heeling. This beat is only used for the 'normal' pace in heeling, but should be resumed upon coming out of either the 'slow' or 'fast'.
When first practicing and learning with a metronome, I recommend that you only heel at a normal pace until that rhythm becomes natural to you. And you needn't initially even heel with your dog! Heel alone to the metronome beat. Once you're comfortable with 'hearing' and 'keeping in sync' with the metronome, then invite your dog to join you.
Wishing you all smooth heeling!!
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