Playing By The Rules

By Catherine Zinsky

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  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 7:10 PM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Catherine Zinsky

    So far in this series you have taught your dog to 'look', to 'catch', to side-step left and right using his back end, and to tuck into a sit when coming into that front.  You are no longer using your hands or a clear stick to guide or adjust him.  You can finally say with confidence that your dog understands the concept of what a front is!  Now you need to incorporate maintaining that knowledge and precision into your regular training!

    Working fronts can become tedious--for both trainer and dog alike.  But they needn't be.  There are approaches to keeping fronts fine tuned that are not only effective, but enjoyable.  Here are two:

    1.  PASSES

    Have the dog 'pass' through your legs, and once he is through, step back and ask him to 'Front'.  It really doesn't matter whether your dog goes through your legs from the front or comes in from behind: if he passes through your legs from in front of you, after he has gone between your legs quickly turn around, stand still and say 'front'.  If he passes between your legs from behind, take a small step backwards after he is all the way through and say 'front'. 


    With your dog in a sit, tell him to 'stay' and step back 2-4 strides (depending upon the size of your dog--shorter distance for small dog, larger for large breed), then take a large step parallel to either the right or left.  (You're going to work both sides, so which direction you do first is your choice.)  I like to rev my dog up a bit, so at this point I will incorporate my 1,2,3 game ("Play" Chapter in my book: see ad) or do a 'Ready, steady' taunt to get him a tad amped.  I will then say 'front'--and expect one!

    Work one side 2-3 times, then play a bit.  Repeat the entire process going to the other side.  I find the repetition on one side before switching and working the other ultimately has better results than continually alternating left and right directions.

    Hint:  Your eyes are extremely powerful.  Do NOT turn your head and guide him with your eyes as he will no doubt sit 'wherever' the moment he reaches you.  Rather, look at the spot where you want his rump to land.


    It's important that my dog not learn to slow down as he is coming in for that front, so there are two games I like to randomly slip into my training regimen to offset a potential slowdown:

    a.  On occasion I will whip out an hidden toy at the last moment and toss it between my legs, allowing my dog to run through my legs rather than have to sit.  It's important that the dog never know if he's going to pass through or have to front until that last moment.  Timing is everything!

    b.  As my dog is approaching me on any type of recall and gets to about 5 feet away, I will start backing up while reminding him to look.  Once he reaches me (and he is going faster than I am, so it's going to happen!), I will take one short step toward him and remind him to front.  This forward step results in a quick,   sharp sit---which is precisely what I want!

    Naturally I won't treat every front, but I certainly will praise.  Praise is my dog's PRIMARY REWARD!  After doing a few 'fronts', I will absolutely bring out a toy and interact. 

    Fronts can be made enjoyable!  It's all in the approach...


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  • Monday, January 15, 2018 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Catherine Zinsky

    Now it's time to remove the treat from the dog's muzzle and have the dog start looking up at your face as he is coming into that front. (refer to: Teaching the Front, Part 1: What is a 'Front'?) This can be a tad tricky.  Be patient during this process and remember to always be there to help your dog succeed.

    1.  You will now move the hand with the treat upwards, holding it close to your body and in a line between your eyes and your dog's eyes.  Praise the 'look'! 

    2.  Your dog is still in a stand before you.

    3. The clear stick will be held in your free hand, hanging naturally at your side. 

    4.  Again, you will take a large parallel step toward the same side that is holding the treat.  (Treat in left hand, step left: treat in right hand, step right.)

    5.  Say 'front' as you move.  Hopefully your dog will move with you.  If he does not,  you can move the hand with the treat closer to him (but NOT to the muzzle) and lure him to the front, bringing out the clear stick and tapping his back end as you do this. 

    6.  If your dog does move with you, but his back end is slightly off center, bring out the clear stick and tap his back end as you  remind him to 'front'.

    7.  Once in front, draw the cookie upwards towards your chin as you say "Sit".  Make sure your dog does a tuck sit and not a rock back!!  The tuck sit will keep the spine straight, assuring a straight sit.

    8.  After he is sitting perfectly in front, pop the treat into your mouth, drop your hands to your sides, praise your dog, and spit him the treat. 

    9.  Repeat this process in both directions for 100,000 times in the ensuing months.  More if necessary! LOL.  But seriously---repetition is essential.  And a solid foundation is indispensable.  Repeat as often as you can:-)

    10. Once your dog understands coming to front while looking up at you (eye contact required!),  you will permanently remove the lure from your hand and keep the treat in your mouth to reward randomly. Your hands will now always be at your sides and a clear stick will be at the ready should you need to fine tune.  Your dog will not be rewarded if fine tuning is required!  You will only reward that front that is bang on the first time:-)

    Next time we'll look at some of the games I use to keep these fronts fine tuned.

    Got treats?

  • Monday, January 01, 2018 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Catherine Zinsky

    Once my dog understands how to maneuver his back end and has heard me say 'front' in conjunction with this movement a kajillion times, then I begin the process of removing my hands from in front and dropping them to my sides---the ultimate picture my dog will have  whenever he comes to front in the ring. (The Obed. Regs are quite clear on this: hands must be hanging naturally at sides when a dog comes to front.) I do this initially by using an arm extender: a clear stick.

    The clear stick is simply that: a thin clear length of plastic (a wand, if you will)  that I will use as an extension of my arm to tap and so indicate to my dog what he has to move.  Remember: the clear stick is used to INDICATE to the dog what to move.  We tap (touch) the area that needs to move to help our dog learn and understand how to succeed!  These sticks can be purchased at any store that has venetion blinds. ( It's the plastic wand that opens and closes these blinds. ) Too, for those who have small dogs, most drapery and blind stores can have these wands custom made to suit any length you may need.

    The first thing I recommend doing is introducing your dog to the clear stick.  Let him sniff it, pet him with it, even let him carry it around if he wants.  We don't want him to worry over it. 

    Once the dog is familiar with the clear stick, the transition is relatively easy:

    1. Have the treat still centered in front of you, but only in one hand.  Hold the clear stick in the other.  The dog is still in a stand perpendicular to you.

    2.  Take one large parallel step in the direction of the hand that holds the treat.  (If treat is in left hand, take a large step to the left; if treat is in right hand, take a large step to the right.)

    3.  The dog's head will undoubtedly follow the cookie. (If you lose your dog's attention, abort and start over.  DO NOT TRY TO TEACH A FRONT IF YOUR DOG IS NOT PAYING ATTENTION!)  As you say 'front', TAP your dog's rear foot with the clear stick.  TAP ONLY.  Do not push.  Your goal is to indicate to your dog what needs to move, not force the issue.  Let your dog do the work!

    4.  Once the dog is standing in 'front', praise him!  You can repeat this process 3-5 times, then praise again, reward, and play with your dog.

    5.  Reverse direction and repeat the above process.


    Got treats?

  • Saturday, April 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    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. 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. 


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  • Wednesday, February 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)
    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! )

    Metronome Merits
    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.

    Portable Metronomes
    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!!

    got treats?

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  • Sunday, January 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    It is my contention that true teamwork between a dog and  handler requires a solid understanding of eye contact--and that goes for both parties!  It is not just important, it is indispensable.

    With some dogs eye contact comes easily, with others not so easily.  My Border Collies depend upon it, but I remember my Cattle Dog, Derby, had a difficult time accepting eye contact as a puppy.  She would avert her head and turn away.  Eventually she grew to understand that eye contact was not a threat, but a communication.  

    If you want a true team partner, it's imperative you communicate: and the eyes have it!

    I once saw a cat show at the Wild Animal Park in Escondido, Ca., (now called Safari Park) where the trainer used only his eyes to instruct the cats.  It was amazing.  This trainer spoke to the audience via his mike, but used his eyes to direct the cat's behavior .  Naturally all of the behaviors were inherent, nothing untoward, but nevertheless the strength of eye contact was powerfully apparent.

    Teaching eye contact is actually rather easy, but like much in training, it takes patience, practice and consistency.  

    Begin close.  Begin by sitting in a chair and having the dog sit between your legs. (With a small dog, you can sit on the floor or put the dog on a raised object, such as a grooming table.) With a treat held by both hands in front, take it to the dog's nose and draw his eyes up to yours by bringing the treat up to your face while giving a cue word, such as 'Look'.   When he looks, praise and give him the treat.  

    As the dog's understanding develops, you can put the treat in your mouth (I use string cheese) and simply tap your temples as you say 'Look'.  ALWAYS PRAISE!  You want your dog to work for you, not the treat.  Praise should be your primary reward.

    Lengthen the amount of time you can sustain eye contact.  I find that talking to my dog while holding eye contact very much helps my dog succeed.  Furthermore, looking at me becomes desirable.  This is a good thing:-)

    Now stand up.    This greater distance between your eyes will initially make success more difficult, but not insurmountable.  Once again shorten the time you ask for eye contact so that your dog can make the transition more easily.  Once established, again begin lengthening the amount of time you hold each other's gaze.  Praise, talk, praise!  You want your dog to WANT to look, not just have to.

    Teaching Eye Contact

    Now that your dog understands 'Look', add movement.  What I like to do is make a chute with my Broad Jump boards, only wide enough for my dog to walk through.  I put my dog in a 'wait/stay' at one end and situate myself about half way within the chute .  Touching my temples and making eye contact, I say 'Look', then say 'Come' as I slowly back up.  

    Note:  I will have either a treat in my mouth or a toy under my chin.  In these beginning stages I will absolutely help my dog succeed!

    When my dog reaches me I praise copiously and reward with a treat or toy and a great deal of hands-on petting.  The chute, by the way, keeps my dog coming in straight, and later when I ask for a front/sit, the chute will help it be correct.  Again, I try to do as much as I can for attaining the picture I ultimately want.  

    Making A Chute

    Once my dog understands this game, I extend the distance between us.  That my dog be looking at me as he comes in for any obedience recall puts the odds greatly in my favor that he nail his front.  It also indicates that he is not being distracted and that he trusts in me.  Both are essential for our performing as a team.  

    Teamwork requires that the members work in unison.  In Obedience verbal communication is limited, as is unwarranted body language.  But we still can make visual contact!  We can smile with our eyes, reassure, build strength and confidence, let our canine companion know he is not alone, guide.  We're a team.



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  • Thursday, December 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    The next step after teaching your dog how to perform a kickback stand (see November, 2016 F&F issue, Part One:) is to teach your dog to stand and stay in place until released.  No doubt about it: this is the more difficult feature of the Stationary Stand Exercises.  

    Some trainers only teach the stand/stay AFTER the dog understands a sit/stay.  I do not.  I distinguish between the two and separate them in my training, but I will teach a stand/stay often before even beginning a sit/stay.  

    (Author's note: I DO teach a sit/'wait' first, long before a 'stay',  so that I can begin leaving my pup in order to do recalls and the like.  'Wait' means don't move but be ready, as something is going to happen; 'stay' means don't move until I return to release you.  I train alone.  By 3.5 to 4 months of age my puppy will be learning to 'wait' so that our progress is not hindered due to the lack of any secondary help to 'hold' my pup as I leave.  Needs must:-)

    I always begin by teaching my dog to stand and stay while I am still very, very close--close enough that should my dog decide to move any one of his four feet, I am on it immediately!  Being close and being on top of any movement is critical.  It is in these beginning stages that the idea of moving even one paw is discouraged and ultimately understood.  Believe me, it's far too late to teach a dog to not move a foot when you're already 20 feet away.   Stay close initially.  Build your dog's understanding and his confidence!

    Teaching a stand/stay, step by step:

    1.  With the dog in a stand position and myself in heel position, I will turn towards the right side of my dog and manually position each foot, saying the word 'stay' as I place each foot on the ground.  I do this in order to clarify that I want each foot to remain in place.  Picking up and then placing each foot while saying 'stay' ultimately makes it more clear for the dog. I am showing my dog exactly what I am referring to.  I am being precise and definite. I will also be repeating the 'stay' command four times.  (Note: it's not necessary to stack the dog, per se. Simply place the foot back in a comfortable position.)

    2.  Once I've placed each foot, I then stand up and return to heel position.  

    3.  Next I put some pressure on the withers, lightly pressing downward as I again remind my pup to 'stay'.  

    4.  I then stand back up.

    5.  After a short count of 3-5, I release my pup with praise and reward.

    Once my dog is comfortable with this, I go to the next stage: 

    1.  I repeat steps 1 thru 4 above, then give my dog a signal and verbal 'stay' command (as I would in a formal exercise).  

    2.  I would then place my left hand on my dog's brisket (the front of his chest) as I step forward out of heel position--one stride only!--and turn to face my dog.  Hand is still on his chest!!  My job is to teach my dog while showing him how to succeed.  Initially I will try my darnedest to not allow him to make any mistakes.

    3. With my hand still on my dog's brisket, I will take the leash and gently pull forward until there is light tension on the leash.  Be  mindful that the leash is pulling straight forward under the dog's chin.  Do NOT pull upwards, as the dog will want to sit.  Nor should you pull to one side or the other, as this will throw the dog off balance.  

    4.  Once I 'feel' through the leash that my dog is bracing (and this may take a few training sessions), I will lift my left hand back and away slightly from the chest while still keep the tension on the leash!  This will give my dog the opportunity to move a foot...or not.  

    5.  Should my dog move a foot the response is straightforward: I simply lightly tap the offending appendage with one finger to indicate to my dog that this is what I am referring to as I say 'uh-oh' and place the foot back where it was.  I then remind him to 'stay' and resume the tension on the leash.

    I believe it's important that I let my dog know WHY I am saying 'uh-oh' by tapping the foot that moved and replacing it.  I am being clear and definite.  There is no gray area.  I am letting my dog know precisely what he has done that is not desirable.  And because my dog desperately wants to please me (just as yours does you!), he will learn quickly and easily without being traumatized! 

    6.  Once my dog is standing and staying in place without any signs of wanting to move any of his feet, I then take my left hand entirely away from his chest. I am still close and the tension on the leash is still maintained, however.  But now I am standing upright.

    7.  While still close (I need to stay on top of any potential movement, so I must continue to be near enough to right any movement my dog might make.  Again, timing and proximity are important),  I can now begin stepping to the left, then to the right, making the arc larger as my dog continues to progress with his understanding that he must not move even though I do. This step is also a precursor to my being able to walk around and behind him and so return to heel position--an action that is required in the Novice Stand for Exam.  

    8.  Once I am able to walk all the way around my dog in both directions (!), I will  drop the leash and go out the requisite distance for the particular exercise I am working on. 

    Once my dog understands how to succeed on a short leash, I can then go to a 6 foot leash and ultimately to a 23 foot retractable lead, especially when teaching the stand/stay for the Utility Signal Exercise where the handler will be 40 to 50 feet away.   Often parting any distance 'makes the heart grow fonder,' and a dog will move toward his handler for security purposes.  Using a retractable lead in conjunction with the tension--which the dog fully understands by now!--is a marvelous approach to offsetting any future movement. 



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  • Tuesday, November 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    In Novice and in the Utility obedience classes, the dog is required to stand in place until released by the handler.  In Novice there is the 'Stand for Exam' exercise, wherein the dog must stand in place and be superficially touched by a judge.   In Utility there are two exercises where the dog must stand in place and not move: the Moving Stand for Exam and the Signal Stand Exercise.   A stationary stand/stay is also required in the Preferred Novice and Preferred Utility, so having a dog that understands the precepts of a stand/stay is essential. 

    Here is how I teach my dogs to stand and stay and not move even so much as a toenail:

    Firstly, I teach my dog the concept of a kickback 'stand'.  A kickback stand requires that the dog's front legs remain in place as the dog uses his rear legs only to move into a stand position.  If my dog moves forward with his front legs when standing, I know he is not performing a 'kickback stand', but rather is stepping forward into the stand.

    Why, you ask, is a kickback more desirable?  Mainly because it's more clear-cut.  It is not vague nor formless nor an accident, but very definite.  My dog is making a explicit effort to stand.  He is not simply blundering into it.  This results in greater clarity for the dog.  My dog will have a much stronger understanding of what 'stand' means. 

    Too, when I tell my dog to 'Stand', I do not want him to step out of heel position. By executing a kickback stand I'm more assured my dog will remain in place.

    Here's how it's done:

    I begin with my dog sitting in heel position.  Initially I will have a soft treat under my thumb on the palm of my signal hand.  For me, this is my right hand.

    With thumb tucked and  palm open, I bring my hand across my body and direct it to the muzzle of my dog as I say 'Stand'.  At the same time and while the dog is engrossed with the treat,  my left hand reaches over to the outside of the dog and lightly under his belly and assists (lifts) the dog into a stand position.  Treat and praise!


    With thumb tucked and palm open, I bring my hand across my body and direct it to the muzzle of my dog as I say 'Stand'.  At the same time I SLIDE (!) my left foot between my dog's front feet and back feet and beneath his underbelly.  This generally results in the dog kicking his rear legs backwards and out of the way and hence into a stand.  I immediately release the treat and praise copiously!

    (When using this method, I like to have some sort of barrier on my dog's left side so that he remains parallel and in heel position and doesn't learn to throw his butt out and away from my sliding foot. I want him to kick straight back.)

    It's very important that your signal hand freezes in position while giving the stand command so that you are not accidentally moving it and subsequently pulling your dog forward and into a stand rather than having him 'kickback'.     Many handlers want to move the hand forward in front of the dog and/or permit the dog to push it forward so as to get the treat.  As I like to tell my students, "It's all in the wrist." 

    A telltale sign that your dog is not doing a kickback stand is if your dog's front legs move out of place.  If so, then he is not executing a kickback stand.  If you are unsure or simply want to prevent that possibility, then put something in front of the dog's front feet while your dog is still in a sit.  You can use something as small as a chalk line or leash for a demarcation, or as big as a Broad Jump hurdle. Give the stand signal and command, then check the front feet.  Are they still in place?  Wonderful!  If not, then the dog has not performed a kickback stand.

    For small dogs, I recommend using a raised platform to preserve your own back.  A grooming table is excellent.

    As soon as I notice that my dog is responding (as in 'is getting the idea'!) to the hand signal and/or verbal, I remove the treat from my hand.  Instead of 'luring' my dog into a stand, I will now only reward him once he performs the skill.  For a more detailed explanation of the difference between a 'lure', a 'bribe', and a 'reward', refer to Chapter 4 "Praise" in my book, Attitude + Attention=Teamwork!.

    Next issue we will look at a step by step approach to teaching  the 'stay' for the stand exercise.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    Got Treats?

  • Saturday, October 01, 2016 12:00 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    The Figure 8 is unquestionably the most compact portion of the heeling exercise.  It incorporates turns, three different paces (fast, slow, and normal), and two halts.  All of this is accomplished in a condensed area around two human strangers.  The Figure 8 can be a daunting exercise, and in the opinion of many trainers and exhibitors is very difficult to perfect.  Certainly it’s an exercise that is all too often underestimated. 

    Both the Novice and Open Classes and many of the optional titling classes require that a Figure 8 be preformed as part of the heeling exercise.  In Novice the Figure 8 is done on leash, while in Open the Figure 8 is performed off leash. Personally I think the Fig. 8 should be a separately scored exercise in and by itself, but to be honest, AKC has never asked me what I think:-)

    This is how it works:

    Generally the Figure 8 comes at the end of a heeling pattern, though in Open B and Preferred Open the Figure 8 can on occasion precede the heeling pattern, depending upon the order chosen by the judge.  When it is time for a team to perform the Figure 8, two strangers will enter the ring and go to a prescribed area and situate themselves 8 feet apart.   

    These two strangers are two ring stewards---who are volunteers, by the way, so be especially nice to them.   They will stand facing one another, and in this capacity are generally referred to as ‘posts.’  They are human posts who will stand still and silent while you and your canine partner perform the Figure 8 upon the judge’s orders.

    You will set up midway between the stewards on the opposite side of the judge.  In other words, you’ll be facing the judge on the opposite side of the 'posts' .  

    Btw, "midway between" the stewards does not mean that you set up directly in the middle of the two stewards, such that if you raised your arms on either side you’d be waving at their noses.   This position would put you at a distinct disadvantage, as you would have to heel directly into a left or right turn on your very first step.  ‘Midway between’ simply indicates that there should be an equal distance between each post and you.  You’re centered, but  at some distance back from the posts. 

    Optimally it’s best to stand approximately two strides back from that center point between the two stewards.  This allows you to take two straight strides before having to begin the turn around one of the posts.  These two straight strides assist your dog into getting into the swing of things and often prevent potential bumping or lagging.

    When beginning the Fig.8 you may choose to go in either direction.  The judge is no longer required to remind you of this.  You are supposed to know.    But it’s important that you be aware that the decision as to whether you begin the Fig 8 by going around the right post or left post first is entirely your choice.  

    Once you are set up, the judge is  going to ask you “Are you ready?”  I know I’ve said this before, but let me repeat it anyway:  if you are not ready, say so!  Don’t jeopardize your performance  and flush months and months of training down the drain just because you feel rushed or pressured.  Politely tell the judge that you are not ready, fix what needs fixing, then smile and say “Ready.”  

    It's important to recognize that the three paces—the fast, the slow, and the normal—are executed by the dog, not the handler!  These three paces are a natural consequence to heeling in an '8' configuration.  

    Let’s look at how this works:

    Should you elect to go around the post to your left first, the dog will obviously be between you and the post as you go around the steward.  Because of this ‘inside’ position, your dog will necessarily need to slow down in order to maintain heel position.  If he doesn't slow down, he will be in a forged position.  This is then the ‘slow’ pace I’ve been discussing.  

    Conversely, when going around the post to the right, the dog will be on the ‘outside’ and will need to shift into a faster pace in order to keep up with you in heel position.  This is the ‘fast’ the judge is looking for.

    It is important that you, the handler, sustain an even, rhythmic pace to best assist your dog in these changes of pace.  Just consider: if you slow down around the left (inside) post to better support your dog, you’re actually making it more difficult for him: he now has to go even more slowly than ever!  

    Likewise, should you speed up around the right (outside) post, your poor canine buddy will have to go even faster to keep up!  Your good intentions actually hinder rather than assist.Furthermore,  you’re not fooling the judge.  By changing pace yourself,  whether it be the slow or the fast, you are actually bodily cuing your dog.  It’s practically a double command, as in “Slow down here, Prince.  Now go fast!  With me, with me.”  


    Nobody’s fooled, believe me.  Not even your dog.

    Keep your pace even.  It must be brisk, but does not have to be as brisk as you would walk for a regular heeling pattern.   The Figure 8 would be very difficult to execute at a standard brisk pace and would probably end up looking choppy instead of smooth. 

    Think of driving a car.  On a straight stretch you can go 80 MPH, but out of necessity you have to slow down a bit to take that cloverleaf off ramp.  It’s just natural. So, too, is this true with the Figure 8.  You need to shift gears a bit in order not to burn rubber or have a fender bender with your dog!

     I work very hard with my students teaching them to silently count as they’re practicing the Figure 8.  Counting forces the handler to walk at an even pace around each post.  The beat depends on the team, of course, but the act of counting makes it smooth.  You might want to try this.

    Now let’s talk shoulders.  Boy…I can’t tell you how often I see that left shoulder thrown back on the inside (left) turn, then yanked way forward for the outside (right) post.  A discerning judge is going to nab you for handler error.  You can bet your blue ribbon on that!

    Natural, folks, natural. Making a left turn with the top half of your torso pointing backwards is not natural.  Sure, you’re going to do some minor shifting, but never so much that the judge does a double-take and says “Oh, my!”   Teach yourself and your dog to rely on subtle shifts.  Nothing glaring!

    As concerns the turns themselves and the distance you can allow yourself from the posts, a good rule of thumb is about an arm’s length away from the posts as you go around.  There is no mention of any rule regarding distance from the posts that I can find.  So that word ‘reasonable,’ a word highly esteemed by AKC, comes to mind.  Make the distance reasonable, neither so wide that you lose sight of the posts nor so close that you risk intimacy with the ring steward.   What you want is a comfortable distance for you and your particular size of canine pal.  Be conservative but not stingy.

    The judge will have you go around and between the stewards two complete times.  This means that there will be two halts.  Where the first halt will be, either after going around one post, two posts, or three posts first, will be dependent upon the preference of your judge.  The final halt will be after having negotiated the two posts two times in total prior to the judge’s saying “Exercise finished.”

    In AKC halts during the Figure 8 are rarely given anywhere save between the two posts.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a competitor complain that the judge stopped them during a turn, only to learn upon observation that the ‘halt’ itself was issued between the stewards, but the competitor continued to take 4-6 steps before finally stopping, thereby putting herself into the turn—and into a less than optimal situation. In all my years of competing in AKC I have never been given a halt while circling a post.  Overall the judges are professionals and are very alert and attuned to the needs of the team.  They are not there to trick you or set you up for failure.  It’s just not on.

    (That’s not to say accidents don’t happen, or that you get a judge with a grudge.  But both are rare and far from the norm.)

     The heeling pattern and “the Figure 8” are, as I mentioned earlier, scored as one exercise.  An occasional lag or forge, a bump or unevenness in heeling will be scored, naturally, but not excessively; however, should  your teammate decide not to budge from his comfortable set up, resulting in your dragging him around the ring while he burns his break pads, well then a Qualifying score just isn't going to happen that day.

    Always remember: overall what ultimately matters is teamwork!

    Got Treats?

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

  • Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Nebulous “gray” areas in the daily life of any human are normal.  It’s just the way life is.   Life is complex. Life is full of undefined circumstances and variables that daily enter our lives and must be taken into consideration in our decision making process.  And the more involved one becomes in the course of human affairs, the more complicated it becomes.  

    This is not the case for our dogs.  On the contrary, life is very basic for them.  For a dog he is either the leader of the pack or a member of the pack; there is either nourishment or there is not;  there is either sex or there is not.  Things are very definite, very clear. 

    Enter the human…

    We like to believe that our dogs think and feel as we do.  They don’t.  Dogs don’t have grudges,  they have no political aspirations, nor do they value jewelry, cars, money, or fame.  What they do hold dear is being in a society--your society.  Your company.  They are pack animals with a pack mentality.  Life has few adornments.

    In their uncomplicated world actions are either acceptable or not acceptable, rewarded (in a wolf pack it might be the better portion of a ‘kill,’ for example) or not rewarded.   

    Gray areas—those vague, hazy  ‘what if’ and multi-response decision making zones—are foreign to dogs.  Their primal drive is to survive and perpetuate their social pack.  To this end they have become masters at evaluating us humans and reading us, recognizing nuances that we are utterly unaware of. 

    In my opinion introducing and cultivating gray areas in a dog’s world is unfair—and it’s especially unfair if after doing so, you expect a precise response.  It can’t happen and it won’t happen.  On occasion the dog may accidentally get it right, and then the handler jumps to the conclusion that , “See.  He knows.  He’s just pulling my chains.”

    This can become a very frustrating, nonproductive circle.

    Commands need to be black or white.  Commands need to have clarity. When I tell any one of my dogs to “Sit,” I don’t mean “Please.”  Neither do I mean, “When it’s convenient for you and you’re comfortable with the idea.”  I mean sit, and sit now.  Naturally I would only give this command to a dog who understands how to execute a sit.  He has to know what the command means and how to succeed.  I would never insist that an untrained dog or puppy instinctively comprehend what I’m talking about.  That would be utterly unfair!

    Gray areas result in  misunderstandings, sloppiness, enormous confusion, and subsequently a dog that is not a happy worker—and one who is also  having to cope with a very frustrated trainer as well!

    Take the following example:  Prince and I are practicing retrieves and I decide I need a retractable lead, so I tell Prince to ‘Stay’ while I go to the training bag for my Flexi.  Low and behold Prince follows and sticks his nose deep into the bag, helping me find his favorite toy.  I tell him that I can do it myself, thank you very much, grab the Flexi, and we both return to the lawn area to practice retrieves.  Prince does great.  Retrieves every one.  But the next day at an Obedience Trial Prince breaks his Group Long Sit Exercise.

    I’m livid.  How could he!?  How dare he think he can get away with that!

    But consider: why shouldn’t he think breaking his sit/stay is okay?  Didn’t he break a sit/stay only the day before and not experience any consequences?  On the contrary, I actually played retrieves with him afterwards!  Was this fair training?   Absolutely not!  How on earth can Prince understand when it’s okay to break a stay and when it is not? Can he read my mind?  Interpret the AKC Regulations? 

    In the example above I had given a stay command, but when Prince followed me to the training bag, I did not return him to the place where I had left him and let him know in no uncertain terms that he must stay because I said so.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  My failure to do so left Prince in a huge gray zone.  I was unclear, and subsequently left poor old Prince wondering, confused, and having to second guess my wishes: “Does she mean it this time or not?”

    In order to be fair, I MUST ALWAYS MEAN IT.  One of my maxims is :


    And I must also always be explicit and exact in my training.  Take this scenario as another example:

    I throw the dumbbell and tell Prince to “Take it.”  Prince starts to go for it, but is distracted by a wonderful smell six feet to the left of the dumbbell.  I sigh, cluck my tongue, go out and pick up the dumbbell, then guide Prince back into heel position by his collar. 

    I toss out the dumbbell a second time and send Prince to retrieve it.  Prince kind of lifts his bottom, but is a little unsure and plops it back down.  I see that he’s a bit hesitant, so I point at the dumbbell and verbally encourage him:  “Go get it. Hurry!  That’s it.  Pick it up.  Good boy!” I add jubilantly  as Prince eagerly flies out and picks it up.  Before he can even sit in front I take the dumbbell out of his mouth and pop a cookie into his wide open jaws.

    The next day at an obedience trial Prince fails the Retrieve on Flat exercise.  At least on the first command.  When I give him a second command, he zooms out and nabs that baby joyfully.  

    I am not happy.  In fact I’m downright ticked off.  I leave the ring practically towing him behind me. “He knows how to retrieve,” I fume at a friend.

    But does he really?  Well…certainly on second commands.  But I have not been fair to Prince in his training.  When Prince took a detour in training the previous day to sniff something off to the side, I failed to let him know that that behavior was not acceptable. I simply guided him back and tried again.  It left Prince wallowing in an enormous gray fog: he had no idea that what he had done was not acceptable.  I had failed to make that understood.

    Worse yet, the exercise once repeated was still stuck in a quagmire of gray ooze: I gave him a command to “Take it,”  and then failed to show Prince that one command was all that I was going to give.  Instead, I not only gave a second command to retrieve the dumbbell, I compounded the problem by giving a hand signal with it—the hand that pointed at the dumbbell was a signal! 

    Poor old Prince has no idea what is required of him--and it's my doing as his trainer.  I have failed to clarify. Prince has no idea as to what is going to make me happy—and making me happy, pleasing me, is of utmost importance to him.  If I’m happy, he gets more pets, more treats, more smiles.  All is right with the world, especially his.  Yet I have never clarified and shown him how I want him to execute this maneuver.  I have been utterly unfair.

    In practice I praise and reward him for sloppy work and then expect him to get it right in the ring. Boy, am I unfair.  I have failed to present a black and white picture of the retrieve to Prince, and subsequently Prince has no idea what is acceptable and what is not.

    All dogs can and do make honest mistakes.  But if your dog makes the same mistake twice in a row, I would recommend that you draw back and look at your training. Your dog obviously does not know how to be successful.  It is your job to show him how to succeed!  

    So next time you train, honestly ask yourself  if what you are doing is clear, concise, and devoid of gray areas.  In other words, are you really being fair?

    Got Treats?

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