Proper heeling footwork and consistent heeling footwork are indispensable not only for smoothness, but to help optimize your heeling teamwork: if you are inconsistent or flub up with your footwork, your dog will never have a clue as to what is expected or how to proceed. Teamwork will dissolve.
The right about-turn in heeling is one turn that is often found wanting in many teams, and this frequently is due to improper or inconsistent footwork. I am going to describe two ways of how NOT to execute this turn, then explain the footwork that I personally use and also teach my students.
It's important to know that when executing any heeling turn, you really should keep your weight under your hips. By this I mean that you are not single-striding nor is your stride length large or way off to the right or left. The weight of your torso goes straight down and is felt solidly on the bottoms of your feet. This keeps your turn tight and in place and absolutely helps your dog succeed as well.
To single-stride is to put one foot precisely in front of the other such that the heel of the front foot is directly in front of the toes of the back foot. Your feet are a single line. This can cause you to be wobbly and/or lose your balance.
Using a large stride length while executing a turn can impede your dog's ability to succeed. Seriously. Consider: if you throw your left foot wide (not under hips) during an about-turn, you are forcing your dog to go wide. He has to go wide in order to get out of the way! You are actually pushing your dog away with a too large of a step that is not under your hips.
Likewise, should you take a large first step out of the about turn you could be leaving your dog in a lagged position. Think about it: the dog is on the outside lap of the about-turn. His distance is greater. Should you take a large step after coming about, you are probably going to leave your dog somewhat behind. In order to make your teamwork work, you need to do your part: you need to make that a half step so that the two of you are in sync the entire way!
How NOT(!) to Perform an About-Turn
The Groucho Marx Turn
This is a turn I've seen handlers perform and it so reminded me of Groucho, I dubbed it 'The Groucho Marx Turn.' All that is missing is the cigar and bushy eyebrows. It is the worst of the worst! DO NOT DO THIS KIND OF TURN.
Okay...it goes like this:
When performing the about-turn, handler plants right foot, extends left foot 2-3 feet in front, PIVOTS right on the toes of both feet while right foot is still back where it was first planted, then lifts the left foot and extends it 2-3 feet beyond the planted right foot. Oye. There is no way a dog can possibly remain in heel position if this footwork is used. No way.
Please...right now stand up and do the about-turn as described above.
Notice that when you step out of the pivot you are basically leaving your dog coming around that left foot--which you immediately step out of while using the right foot as a springboard to leap ahead forward, leaving a 4-6 foot gap that the dog is supposed to keep up with. NOT. No way.
It greatly saddens me when I see someone performing the Groucho Marx Turn, especially as it is so easy to rectify.
An about-turn is a 180 degree turn in place. This means that if you are walking on a line, once you make the about-turn you will still be walking on that same line, merely going in the opposite direction.
A 'U' turn is not in place. Think about it: if you're driving your car and need to make a 'U' turn, you need a lot of space. While executing the 'U' turn, you're going to end up in the neighboring lane.
So, too, is this true in obedience: if you perform a 'U' turn, you're going to end up making a large, wide arc and end up on a different path (lane). This is not an about-turn and can be scored.
How to perform a True About-Turn
The footwork for executing an about-turn is fairly simple, though it will require practice in order to make it look and feel natural.
1. Begin by first planting the left foot. (I refer to this as my 'break' foot , as I am quite literally momentarily stopping on it in order to make the turn.)
2. Next bring the left foot around in front of the planted right foot into a 'T' shape, making sure that you do NOT swing that left foot wide nor place it too far away from that right foot. The left foot should only be an inch or two away from the right when making this 'T'. (Keep your weight under you hips!)
3. Lightly LIFT the right foot and turn it to face the opposite direction (toes facing the reverse direction, 180°) and put it down in a loose 'T'. So now your right foot is facing the direction you want to go.
4. Bring the left foot around and take a half-step out with this left foot, completing the about-turn. Be sure not to swing the left foot wide so as not to push your dog away. Keep your weight under your hips!
Once you've mastered the footwork, add rhythm: each step is a count, so you can go into the about-turn and count 'One, two, three, four.' It works!
Clarity and consistency: two vital components to all teamwork.
To view more articles please visit our Members Page!