Been a while for an All-Positive Monday entry, but today I decided to try to build heel position with this approach.
What I did was click and treat (mark and reward) whenever Wally was in heel position. I gave no cues or anything of that nature. When he reached heel, he got the reward, even if he seemed as though he was going to go too far.
Being the food-monger that he is and of course the "click" is burned into his head, he immediately looked up for the treat. After that, he stayed in the position, aligning himself closer and closer each time, and looking up at me in the process.
The key on my end, other than the timing - which is a constant thing to look out for - is delivering the treat in a good spot. I don't want him to hop up, but I also want to make sure he's eating in heel position. In other words, I want him to be where the treat is delivered and that also to be heel position.
This paints the picture fully for him. I believe if I keep this up, he'll get the position down and he will be better able to maintain it on his own. With it being no cues from me and almost a "shaping on the move" exercise, I'm hoping those same shaping-esque principles 'click' (no pun intended) as well.
The eye contact might be a nice little side effect. The concept behind the phrase "feed the position" is that how and where the reward is actually taken and consumed by the dog also imparts information to the dog. The click explains the behavior, the delivery and consumption of the reward explains the location. Judging by past attempts to adhere to this makes it ring true for Wally it seems. Refining front happened with the help of "feed the position". The treat always came directly down and center from me. If he was off to the side or otherwise not aligned, I would not let go of the reward. In fact, it was out of his reach (and he already learned that raising up to get it made it go away completely so he keeps down on the ground).
The first run through shows promise and even after I stopped the training session and released him for some sniff/fun time, he continued walking in heel position. Very promising indeed.
Granted, in the interest of disclosure, Wally is not "completely green" in heeling. We have worked on this in various forms ("keep up"/"slow down" was the first way with heel being the correct spot - we just never "formally" named it "heel" or worked it until later). Still, we are far from masters at it, so this hopefully will continue to help us build the skill.