Supermarkets might have been designed to help us practice consistent foot work.
Those beautiful straight aisles cry out for you to practice walking a straight line. Head up, shoulders back, tummy tight, and eyes focused on the ground about 4-5 feet in front of you. Practice until walking a straight line without drifting left or right becomes natural. Your dog can stick closer to you when he/she isn’t worrying about whether you’re going to swerve into him/her.
I’m not inviting you to bring your dog to the grocery store. But I am suggesting you teach yourself to walk a straight line. If bringing your imaginary dog helps, then make it so. I want you to practice walking straight with great posture. Practice without your dog. Practice in every aisle. Practice until straight and tall is an ingrained habit.
Stops as Smooth as Buttah…
Once you’re walking straight and smooth, bring your attention to how you stop. Your footwork should cue your dog that you’re stopping. Make your stops as smooth as butter (or as we say in New England, “buttah.”)
In WCRL Rally (and many of the other venues I compete in), I don’t always want a sit—but I always want the dog to read my footwork to stop forward movement. I use a verbal cue for position (sit, stand, down) and footwork to say we’re stopping.
There are lots of “recipes” for stop-footwork patterns. I like to use a short step with my right foot, then left foot up to meet right and a third step to put weight on to the right for a three-beat halt. But the dogs tell me consistency in how I stop is much more important than any particular pattern. Dogs are masters of reading body language and they appreciate any time we use it.
The market is a super place to practice. Use your fellow shoppers as challenges to your stop-footwork. As they make their selections, you can be getting the rhythm of cue and stop. Paying attention to stop and go may be hard work at first. Don’t get frustrated; keep practicing. It gets easier as you practice. Soon, consistent stop footwork will feel natural. Think how happy your dog will be!
Now that you’ve come this far, start thinking about how you use your body around turns. 90-degree corners abound at the market. What are your feet doing? How about your eyes, head, and shoulders? Supermarket heeling is a great place to develop consistency and good habits.
The WCRL Rally rulebook explains the performance concept of In Unison as: Handler and dog moving together demonstrating immediate response to handler cue. The dog remains in the relative position to the handler (e.g., heel position or front) at all times during an exercise where movement “in unison” is specified. A lack of movement “in unison” may be signified by not initiating a movement with the handler or not halting with handler.
So, for many basic exercises, ensuring that you and your dog stop together is a very specific requirement. Examples include all of the Halt-Sit exercises (100-114) in Level 1 to bring just a few to your attention. “Not moving in Unison with Handler” is a -1 point error.
Another great thing about supermarket heeling practice is that you don’t bore your dog while your work on your skills. Establishing consistent posture, body language and footwork delivers. So, next time you’re at the market, add some dog training to your grocery list.