Competition Dog Sport Trial Prep: Does Generalization Really Matter?

I have been spending the last two years playing with and training my young Labrador Retriever, Dare. He just turned 2 in July and he is a lot of fun!

We are just getting started dipping our toes into the competition world and trial prep is at the front of my mind. The inability to get the same performance in the trial ring that we have in class or at home is a source of frustration for many a handler. That feeling of complete helplessness in a trial ring when you and your dog are disconnected, your dog is struggling, you feel eyes (real or imaginary) burning holes of judgement in your back, and you can't understand why your dog is behaving the way he is, is not a fun place to be. I have been there. If you don't believe me, here is proof. Me with my Novice A dog in the obedience ring.

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Position Changes Out in Front: Exploring the Sit

Teaching your dog to sit seems so simple until you start thinking about the different ways a dog can sit. There is a stand to sit and a down to sit. In either of those position changes, the dog can either plant his front end or his rear end.

When I'm thinking about teaching my dog position changes, I try to think about the final behavior. If you do obedience or rally, you will need to teach your dog sit in front and in heel. Exercises that include a sit in front of you are the signal exercise, command discrimination, and several higher-level rally exercises. You'll see a sit in heel much more often, such as during heeling patterns and command discrimination.

Let's talk about how to teach the sit position!

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1011 Hits

Master the Moving Stand in Obedience and Rally!

There are several ways you can teach your dog a moving stand. One way that tends to work well is using a front foot target.

I start by warming up the dog on the front foot target. In order to use this training method, your dog will need to have value for going to and staying on the target.

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1061 Hits

Know the Signs for Higher Rally Scores!

If I could give you one piece of advice that could earn you a higher rally score, it would be "know the signs!" By far, the biggest reason that points are lost is due to not knowing how to properly do the signs. It seems like such a simple task, but in reality many rally signs are very similar to others, especially as you move up through the levels. It's very easy to get them confused. If you perform a sign incorrectly, you will lose 10 points. Being distracted for a moment trying to figure out what you should do can also cause lost points.

You want to know the signs so well that you can recognize them quickly upon first glance. If you need to read the sign and study where the stop signs are or think about it much, your dog will feel that attention shift and may disconnect or falter.

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E212: Laura Waudby - "Debuting in Obedience"

Starting to think about obedience competition? Laura and I talk about the aspects of competing folks tend to overlook in training, and how to truly prep for heading into the ring!

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737 Hits

From TEAM to … Rally!! How Both Sports Complement Each Other

The TEAM titling program through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is a way to encourage good detail-oriented training to prepare you and your dog for obedience exercises. What I love about TEAM is that it breaks down every behavior, and because there are different levels that you have to progress through, you have to go through all the steps.

The problem I see most often with my students is a lack of foundation. I get students in my rally courses class who are heeling and doing all the signs, but never really broke down the skills. When those students run into problems, I can't help them without going back to some foundation behaviors. Few people who have earned advanced rally titles want to go back and teach the dog the pivot bowl, for examples, but that is often the answer if they would like to truly improve the dog's skills.

Foundations are important, and TEAM encourages foundations! And you even get rewarded at each step through the different level titles!

I get lots of people in my Rally Foundation class that have started TEAM, and even those that have just passed the first level are really successful in rally. There are a couple reasons for this. First, dogs that go through TEAM are familiar with props, which can be very helpful in teaching certain behaviors. Second, these dogs understand the pivot bowl and rear end movement, fronts, stays, and many more skills that are helpful for rally.

Let's look a bit more closely at the TEAM skills from Level One that set your dog up for a very successful rally career.

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838 Hits

What’s the Secret to Getting a Close Front?

My answer — chin rests! Incorporating chin rests into your fronts causes the dog to shift his weight to his front end and encourages a very tight tuck sit. This process can take a little work at the beginning, but will pay off in the long run!

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2492 Hits

How to Get Perfect Position Changes

Position changes are super important in both obedience and rally! Your dog needs to do position changes both in heel position (without going wide) and in front of you (without creeping in). Platforms can help teach your dog both of those concepts!

The position changes are sit, down, and stand. Your dog should be able to do these in any order — in other words a sit to down, down to sit, stand to down, stand to sit, sit to stand, and down to stand.

You'll need a platform large enough for your dog to stand and lay down on. It doesn't need to be as narrow as a sit platform, since some dogs like to stand with their rear legs a bit wider than the front legs. It can even be something like an agility table, as long as your dog can lay down on it.

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Improving Your Heeling the Easy Way!!

Does your dog heel wide? Does he forge or sit crooked? Is she wrapping around your body? It's likely that your reward placement has contributed to these problems!

Heeling is such a complicated behavior. Pair that with the fact that dogs want to go where the rewards come from, and you can have a mess on your hands pretty quickly!

When I help my students with heeling troubleshooting, so often the fix, or at least part of it, is changing the reward placement. It's pretty incredible what a change this can make!

Many people hold treats in their right hands, and they reward by reaching across the front of their bodies and treating the dog, either from the right hand or by passing it to the left. Generally when I see people give the dog the treat, it's being delivered with the dog's head wrapped in front of the handler's left leg. Reward this way a few dozen times, and you'll see your dog wrapping and forging in order to get closer to where those treats are coming from!

Another common way to reward the dog for heeling is by spitting food. Sounds like a great way to teach the dog attention, right? Here's the problem - in order for the dog to see your face, he has to forge and wrap.

You can see how rewarding this way can set up the dog for some issues, yet most people aren't even aware that they are doing it! Thankfully, it's a simple fix that can make a big difference!

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2706 Hits

Building a Breathtaking Back Up!

Whenever the Back Up 3 Steps appears on the course map at rally trials, collective groans echo through the Excellent crowd. Against a wall, the back up is great, but take away that wall or gate and everything goes south.

The good news is, you can have a beautiful back up! This process is how I teach the back. If you break this skill down, you will build a breathtaking back up in just a short amount of time!

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3535 Hits

What to expect at an Obedience Trial

Starting a new sport is exciting. Entering your first trial can be a little frightening. Everything is new and you don't know what to expect. The more information you have ahead of time the better you will feel. Here is a little guide on how to prepare for your first obedience trial and how things run once you get there.

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2299 Hits

Get in the Rally Ring - How to Enter a Rally Trial and What to Expect When You Get There

If you've never entered a rally trial before, it can be a bit overwhelming! In this blog I'll lay out the steps for entering a trial and knowing what to expect when you walk in the door.

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Delightful Downs for Rally and Obedience

The down seems like such a simple behavior, but your dog's ability to be able to swiftly and smoothly down will save you points in the rally or obedience ring. You'll want to make sure your dog knows how to down from a sit and from a stand on a verbal cue only.

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1502 Hits

Discover the Fun of the Master Rally Class!

Are you a little intimidated by the master signs, with all those spins and sends?

There's no reason to be! Although some of the signs seem intimidating, most of the master signs are just building off skills that you already know from advanced and excellent. Many signs are simply chaining multiple advanced or excellent signs together, or adding some distance or speed. 

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Want To Do Better in Rally? 5 Tips to Improve Your Score!

Everyone would like to get better scores in the ring! It might be surprising to learn that many points are lost to preventable things, like completing the sign incorrectly. Handler errors are by far the most common reason for deductions in rally. Read on to learn five of the most common handler errors that I see in AKC Rally.

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4827 Hits

Are You Really Ready? Three Boxes to Check Before You Step in the Ring!

Thinking about stepping into the ring can be overwhelming and scary, but knowing that you and your dog are prepared will ease your nerves. Read on to find out if you are really ready to get in the ring!

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1749 Hits

Want Straighter Fronts? Here’s How!

If you compete in obedience or rally (or both), you've probably spent a fair amount of time training fronts. As you progress through the levels, the number of fronts increases, and with it the potential for lost points. If your fronts could use some straightening, or if you're training a young dog, keep reading to get some tips for perfecting those...
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5264 Hits

Want a Relaxed Down Stay? Stop Rewarding It!

My young golden Excel was super quick to learn stay. He'd lay down on his station or on the ground at my feet and stay there – all while staring at me intensely. 

If I ignored him, he'd sigh loudly or flip onto his hip or put his chin on the ground. I remember how he would purposely look away from me, with his eyes rolled toward me to see if I was going to give him a treat. Or he'd look away and snap his head back toward me in anticipation of the reward. He was offering all the relaxation behaviors I spent months rewarding him for in an attempt to train a relaxed down stay. 

Instead of a calm dog I had a dog that was constantly working, offering behaviors, and seeking reinforcement. Not the picture I wanted.

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The tiny change that can make all the difference: Strategic reward placement

Picture a training session. Your dog does the correct behavior, and you reward them. You did your job, right?

If your dog listened to your cue, and you gave the dog a treat, then all the important parts were taken care of... because marking and rewarding the behavior is the important part, right? Or is it? 

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3669 Hits

Planning Ahead: Getting Reinforcers Off Your Body

The process of getting reinforcers (treats or toys) off your body in preparation for entering an obedience or rally ring is something it's easy to overlook and rush. Most dogs act very differently when their handler has treats versus when the handler does not have treats, yet many people go straight from training with treats in their pockets to leaving treats on their crate and going into the ring.

When the dog starts off doing well in the ring, but then his or her performance degrades as the dog realizes that s/he is not going to get a reward, it can be very frustrating.

As the dog's performance gets worse, the handler tends to get confused and upset, emotions the dog can feel, leading to a further decline in behavior. As you can imagine, this can become a vicious cycle, and leaves the handler wondering why his/her dog shuts down in the ring.

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4599 Hits