This is the second post in a series of basics for showing your own dog. Last time we I talked about FOCUS and how to get your dog to focus on you on command. The next step is getting your dog to stand still.
I use a two word command for this: STAND STAY, and then I add to it the command STEP UP, which is cue for my dogs to step forward and re-place their feet, more often than not, in the correct position. The show ring isn't for you? Teaching your dog how to move from a SIT to a STAND is important for canine conditioning. This simple exercise can help strengthen your dog's core and rear legs. Our friends over at SlimDoggy have a great article about the benefits of core strength for your dog. This is important for all dogs, young and old alike, whether they compete in sports or just play with you and doggie friends. Sometimes in an effort to "get there" as soon as possible, I think we rush our dogs forward and try to put the entire sequence of showing together without spending enough time on the building blocks and the basics.
There are a lot of different schools of thought on how to train and present your dog. One of Biddy's early teachers, Carolyn, was a big believer in teaching your dog to free stack and stepping away from your dog. What we mean by "Free stack" is your dog's ability to walk into and stand in position on their own with out you manipulating them. In order to do this, your dog needs to be able to stand still (or STAND STAY!) when you step away. I really have to agree with her on this. After 12 weeks of classes with Carolyn she told us if we could remember to do one thing and one thing only from her class it would be "step away from your dog".
In my opinion, as the judge walks down the line or takes a look over at my dog, I want them to see my dog, not me, hanging all over my dog. From the free stack position, especially in the line-up, you can then also shorten up your grasp on the collar and manipulate your dog's foot position if you need to. The key to getting the free stack is to get the STAND STAY. Once your dog has mastered, STAND and STAY you can then focus on the foot placement, head and overall presentation and showmanship.
Biddy in a free stack...she hasn't been touched or manipulated.
I will preface this by saying, especially with a young dog...learning the STAND STAY takes time and a lot, a lot, a lot of practice. What typically happens to you and your dog in the early stages goes something like this: You walk into the ring, get in the line up and immediately begin hard stacking your dog (meaning standing over your dog, then placing one foot at a time where you want them, coaxing the tail up, etc). As soon as you get the first foot into position and move to the next one, he moves one of his other feet. As the judge approaches, you and your dog are all out of whack and you are beginning to feel really frazzled. Your dog then makes it up for the judge's exam, and again during that short amount of time when the dog ahead of you is going down and back, you are trying to get your dog set up. He looks okay, and then as soon as the judge turns around to look, he moves.
Once he is back under control and the judge begins to put his hands on him, he is moving again...now you are really frazzled, sweaty and nervous and sending this all straight to your dog, down the lead. And off you go on the down and back every which way! Now back in front of the judge when you want to really nail the free stack and your dog is just standing there looking at you like "what?" or leaping around from the excitement of the down and back. Big exhale...been there...done that... .
I could be further away from her...but you can see what it looks like...I've decided not to wear this dress again for show after seeing this picture! Teaching your dog to STAND STAY (which is my command for stand and do not move) improves a lot of this in a big hurry. What it requires, however, is taking a step back from trying to put the whole thing together, to focusing on just one thing...STAND, STAY and proofing it against distractions. Ultimately, you will add a STEP command to the end of this chain of behaviors. More often than not, getting your dog to STEP UP after the STAND STAY results in them automatically re-positioning their feet - correctly and balanced. Which looks really nice! Teaching STAND STAY When teaching FOCUS, I use a clicker to mark the eye contact and correct behavior. For STAND STAY I recommend that you move away from the clicker and use your voice only. Be consistent with your vocal marker so that your dog knows they are doing what you want them to do. I don't recommend using the clicker for this for these reasons:
- You can't use a clicker in the ring
- the clicker, the treat and the show lead can be hard to manage
- Put your dog in a SIT
- Stand in front of him with a lot of small, soft treats at the ready, take a small step back,
- Give the command STAND, luring your dog forward with the treat.
- Give the verbal praise "Good Stand" and then the reward as soon as he stands up.
- Put your dog back in a SIT by saying the command and using the hand signal (an upward scoop with the palm of your hand). DON'T REWARD YOUR DOG FOR THE SIT, other than with a "Good Sit".
- Repeat the steps above, only giving the treat when your dog STANDS.
At this point you want to stop right here until your dog has completely mastered moving from SIT to STAND on command. This all depends on your dog, how quickly they learn and how much you practice. Remember - at this point you are not worrying about your dog standing still, foot placement or anything else. You are just focused on making sure your dog is crystal clear on what STAND means and how to do it. Practice, practice, practice. It should always be fun and a game for your dog. Always only reward the STAND. Teaching the STAY part really ties into the FOCUS and WATCH ME command. By now, when you say WATCH ME you dog's eyes should be locked in to you. For the most part, when your dog is focused on you and you are standing still, your dog will stand still. So now, put these two together. Give the STAND STAY command, add WATCH ME to get solid eye contact and reward your dog with a verbal "Good Stand STAY". Your dog should be standing in front of you, eyes locked into yours. Increase the length of time your dog holds the STAND STAY command by re-inforcing it with the verbal "Good Stand STAY" and a treat. In the beginning stages I suggest pointing to your eyes to get sustained eye contact and focus. Over time, you will not need to say "Watch Me", your dog will do it automatically. So now, if you are practicing...your dog has quickly figured out...I get the treat when I am standing up in front of her and looking her in the eye...hmmm a method to the madness.
She isn't perfect here, but I also haven't touched her. The Judge is looking at her now and getting ready to approach for the exam. This is what I want the Judge to see when she turns around to look at my dog. If you can get your dog to walk into it, you can spend a few seconds to touch up position rather than wrangling your dog into position.[/caption] Proofing It Here is where you want to keep practicing and extending the time that your dog can STAND STAY. If you feel your dog is going to break, you can refocus him with the WATCH ME command and reward or re-inforce with a verbal "Good Stand Stay" and the reward. Try to anticipate how long your dog can hold the command and reinforce BEFORE they get there. Then release your dog with an OK and take a break and start again. Advanced Proofing Walk around your dog while holding the command. If he starts to turn when you go...just step back in front and start again. If every time your move around your dog he starts to follow you, just go back to the previous steps...your dog isn't ready yet. Eventually your dog will be so solid on this that you will be able to move in front of and behind your dog and they will hold their position.
Have someone else go over your dog and put their hands on him while they are in the STAND STAY. In order to get there...you just have to be patient and practice the beginning steps over and over. Here comes the Judge. Focused and getting ready for the judges exam.[/caption] So if you noticed, I haven't talked about foot placement at all. It is just STAND STAY. I think it took Biddy at least 8 weeks to fully master this skill. Could she do it right away? Yes, she could, but it wasn't solid, there wasn't a level of intensity to it and she was easily distracted. With a lot of practice of just this basic skill she has progressed to what is a really beautiful free stack. I incorporate the practice of STAND STAY and STEP UP into almost all of the rewards that I give my dogs. Before I put their food bowl down, I ask them to STEP UP and into position.
So really, I'm double dipping my dogs. When it is time for the reward for what ever it is they have done, not licking the dish washer, not barking at me at mealtimes, what ever it is, before I actually give them the treat I ask them to do one more thing...STEP UP. I then have two dogs that have stepped into position, are standing still and looking at me. Just like with humans, you are trying to create an habit with your dog. It takes repetition and time. Some where a few weeks into it, if you are consistent with your practice, you will see it click with your dog.
If you want your dog to perform at a high level, whether it is in the ring, a canine sport or just good behavior around the house, you need to consistently reinforce the good habits or behaviors that you want. I think it takes a lot longer than a 6 week class...it takes regular consistent practice. Every day. If you aren't getting the result you are looking for, back up a step and start over. Your dog isn't ready to move forward yet...be patient and make it fun for your dog! Do you have any training tips you would like to share? Next time...practice drills and training routines