Heelwork – Howard Kirby

How to Train Your Bracco: Heel Work

Over the last few Sundays I’ve made it my business to take a note pad and pencil and quietly make my way around our Mullenscote Gundog classes. We have been running and teaching this particular type of six week Gundog course for a little over twenty years now. Fundamentally we’re running the same courses as the ones we started in the late nineties. Puppy, Foundation, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Plantinum means there are six levels each with their own progressive aims and objectives, which, much like the course names haven’t changed.

The fully trained dog that we produced in the nineties offered pretty much the same behaviours as it’s current descendants and is therefore pretty much the same dog??? I’ve deliberately made that last sentence into a question. What are your thoughts??? Most of you are probably not old enough to have been training dogs that long ago, but even if you weren’t, you might like to think about the ideals, methods and techniques that were used to produce Gundogs. Take my word for it, things have changed, significantly.

Although I’ve digressed a bit I’m hoping that as I get back to my opening paragraph that all will make sense….Armed with notepad and pencil I was observing and doing what we call ‘off-steading!’ By taking the time to watch the classes, my aim is to run a non biased eye over the way that we deliver our courses. Classroom choice, teaching styles, techniques, quality of the teaching and a general overview of how we are doing. Almost always, I enjoy this exercise, it’s a great opportunity for me to observe the fantastic team of teachers that make up the team here at Mullenscote. Teaching, really is an art, watching other teachers can be so informative.


To cut a long story short I came away thinking, …..’ we need to review the way we teach Heelwork.’ Heelwork has of course been successfully taught to dogs and handler’s for generations. As behaviours go, teaching a dog to consistently walk to heel and not pull on a lead is something that owners really struggle with and would be listed as a significant behaviour problem on many dog owners lists.

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