Into obedience? This episode is for you! We talk about everything from pivots as a foundation for heeling, to what it really means to get ready for the novice ring!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Laura Waudby.
Laura works part-time as a service dog trainer who prepares dogs for different types of service dog work and teaching puppy raiser classes. You can find her online at TandemDogSports.com.
In her "free time," Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi Lance before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Master's level in agility.
Hi Laura, welcome back to the podcast!
Laura Waudby: Hey! Happy to be here.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you remind listeners who your dogs are and what you're working on with them?
Laura Waudby: I have three dogs of my own. I have Lance, the Corgi, the retired and sassy Corgi, who pretty much just eats cookies and barks right now. Then I have Vito, the Toller, who finally has reached double digits. He's been working on that for a very long time, and he's finally 10. He actually just retired from the obedience world, but he's still doing a little bit of agility trialing on just a few runs a day. Mainly he's pretty happy to report that he's a stay-at-home dog now, and he has a toddler to take care of, and he's off all of his anxiety drugs. So he has a really good life right now.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome.
Laura Waudby: Yeah. And then Zumi, or I call her Ducky or The Duck a lot, she's 4 years old and she's my only dog that I'm actively trialing right now in agility and obedience. Mainly we're working on teamwork and things are starting to come together for us, so I'm really excited for our upcoming agility season. In obedience we're just starting to work towards Open, and we're struggling a little bit in trials right now with some arousal issues and some judge pressure, so we're using a lot of experimentation to tackle those issues with her right now.
I typically have a foster in my house. Currently I'm excited because I have another little Toller puppy that I'm growing out for her breeder. So I have Grace. She's a 4-month-old Toller puppy that I'm playing around with all the things.
Melissa Breau: Baby Toller videos are definitely super-cute, so …
Laura Waudby: She's very fuzzy still, but getting to that awkward stage.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to start out by talking a bit about your upcoming workshop on pivots, which, for anybody listening, is currently open for registration; it starts on March 11th. For those not familiar with the concept, can you describe what a pivot is and what it looks like when it's done right?
Laura Waudby: Pivoting is the term we use in obedience to describe a hind-end awareness exercise. We start out by putting the dog's front feet up on a bowl or another foot target that we usually call a perch or a disc, and the dog rotates around like a circus trick.
In obedience we use that skill for our heelwork. The dog is rotating in that same rotation towards us, next to our left side. They're staying parallel in heel position the entire time, both with the perch and eventually without it, so the dog learns how to keep heel position, to keep their head up high, and just exactly where position is.
Melissa Breau: I think that mostly answers my next one, which was going to be, why teach a dog to pivot. So it's really about heelwork?
Laura Waudby: Yeah, so we definitely use pivoting for heelwork. It is a good hind-end exercise in general, but for heelwork I find that it does two really big things to help with heeling.
The first is teaching them where heel position is. The handler can stand next to the perch in a way that it's impossible for the dog to be forged, but they're lined up nice and straight, and encourage the dog to be super-close to us in heeling, because I know some dogs, especially little dogs, have a really big space bubble.
I know when I first taught my dog to heel, the Corgi, I thought I knew where heel position was, but I actually had no idea at all, and I apparently taught him to heel almost a body length ahead of me in our heeling. He would look back over his shoulder and prance, because he was quite the ham, but I really had no idea where heel position was, and the perch forces the handler to know exactly where it is.
The second benefit of teaching the pivoting is that it really isolates most dogs' rear legs. It emphasizes that rotation towards us. Really, the most common error in heeling is a dog who tends to heel with their butt out or maybe flings their body around. We tend to call that "crabbing" in the obedience world. Pivoting really works on that butt coming in towards our leg all the time.
So if you want pretty heeling, the dog should have a lot of rear-end awareness, and pivoting is a great way to teach that.
Melissa Breau: I think there are probably two common questions I see about pivots from people that are teaching them for that first time. The first one is, how do I choose a pivot disc? What options are out there? And then, how should the size of the disc relate to the dog or the phase of training?
Laura Waudby: When the dog is first starting out and they're hesitant about putting their paws up on something, I might use a flat surface, such as yoga mat or even a flattened cardboard box. But when I'm actually doing the pivot work, taller is much better. Minimally, we're talking a few inches, but oftentimes I'll use a stool that gets the dog's feet raised maybe a good eight, ten, even twelve inches, and something wide enough that they're not worried about falling off when they start to move. A lot of dogs tend to look down when they're first starting to pivot, and that can be because your perch is too small for them to really feel confident with.
When I first started pivoting a long time ago, I tended to use old phone books that were duct-taped together. I don't think many people have that nowadays, so now I tend to use more round objects. I use a lot of dog food bowls as the dog starts to progress. If you go to a feed store or even a package supply company you can find those black rubber feed bowls. They're nice and grippy for the dogs and they're a nice size. Some of them tend to sink in, so I might stack two together so the dog is nice and sturdy on there. But really you can use pretty much anything at home that has height. You can use a stool, if you want to use a stool, you can use a flowerpot, pretty much anything.
As the dog is starting to get the idea of pivoting next to you, that's when you're looking at shrinking the perch down. At that point I might use a towel, I might use a folder, something flat but still nice and big enough for the dog to get their two feet on there pretty easily.
Melissa Breau: The other question that I feel like I see a lot is about the middle step. They've got the dog confidently putting their paws on the disc, but they just aren't getting any of that backend movement yet … and maybe they're even starting to get a bit of frustration because the dog is doing what they think is right — they're putting their paws on the disc — but it's not what the trainer is looking for anymore. Can you maybe share some advice about how to get past that hurdle?
Laura Waudby: There are a lot of different ways to start that movement. What I typically do is I start with a dog learning the action of pivoting while they're still facing me. A lot of dogs will naturally want to face us, especially if you haven't done a lot of heel training where we get the dog on our side, and we can use that to our benefit. Some dogs will get a little bit stuck, even if you're trying to face them and move. The movement doesn't seem to occur to them.
So the first thing I look at is standing a little further away. Instead of standing right in front of the perch where I actually want it, I might go back even several feet away and work on the dog just moving that tiny rotation to face me. Usually at this stage I also introduce the dog to finding a cookie that's held between my thumb and the palm of my hand in this upright vertical position.
At first, when you do that, the dog will look confused in how to find that cookie, let alone how to eat it. But eventually I want to use that cookie placement and sometimes it's called literally your pocket hand, if you've heard that term before, but I'll use that cookie position to turn the dog's head. Generally the key to pivoting in the early stages is when the dog looks over their shoulder, their butt will move away from that. So a lot of your pivoting stuff is turning the dog's head and getting their butt to move toward you.
A normal step for a dog a little bit later on to get stuck at is when you progress from pivoting while facing the dog to now trying to get the dog to pivot towards heel position when you're standing still. That's a pretty big jump for the dog, because when you're facing the dog, you're using your own motion to get the dog to move. Basically you move, the dog moves, you move, the dog moves, and now, when you're in heel position and you're trying to get the dog there, you are standing completely still and that's a pretty big jump for the dog.
So again, there's a lot of different ways you can encourage the dog to move towards you. I tend to use that luring-based approach with the cookie held in my vertical hand, like they learned earlier, to help turn the dog's head out, their head moves, their butt follows.
There's a lot of mistakes I see at that stage. Generally, people try to use their whole arm instead of that small wrist-flick motion, so I recommend keeping your hand really close to your body, turning your wrist almost like you're opening a door. I have a lot of success having my fingers either at the side of their muzzle, just gently pushing in, or my fingers underneath the dog's chin. That's again why I teach that cookie presentation really early on, so I can get the dog comfortable with knowing that there's a cookie there and that they can move their head towards it.
In the beginning stages it's OK if you reward that head turn, even if the dog isn't actually moving their legs. In general, they can't hold their head in that position forever, so if their head is turned, their butt will eventually follow, as long as they aren't giving up and you're giving them lots of rewards for just that head turn. So lots of baby steps is what I tend to do for those dogs.
Melissa Breau: How long do you usually keep the disc in the picture, and at what point do you usually start to transition away from it?
Laura Waudby: I don't have a problem with continuing to use a perch or a disc throughout the dog's entire career. Most dogs learn to really love pivoting, and the prop is a nice way to build their confidence, especially when I start going out to different places. So I will tend to use it whenever I take a new dog to a parking lot to train. I've even brought it into places like Home Depot, and I just do some easy perch work there. The other place I tend to use a perch with an advanced dog is anytime I want to focus on a different part of the exercise and not actually worry about how they're setting up or how they're doing a finish at the end.
Generally, in my training, there are lots of ways you can have flow and skip both those pieces, but there are also times when you want to focus on that formal structure, putting in those nice, calm pauses, and so I tend to bring out a perch a lot for those pieces to really structure the dog.
But with a dog new to pivoting I tend to use a perch, and I have two solid goals in mind. The first goal I want is maintaining heel position. Typically the dog is already at my left-hand side, or my right-hand side if we're pivoting at the right, and then I want that dog to pivot with me as I move probably at least 180 degrees. What I want to see while they're doing that motion that they're parallel with me the entire time, so they're not more than 30 degrees from me as I'm moving. I'm looking at more than just how the dog looks when I stop, but how they're looking while I'm moving, and along with that I want to see that the dog's head is up. A lot of dogs will look down when they're pivoting, and this might be because they're worried about falling off the perch or just not confident with that foot motion.
In my heel work I find that it's a lot easier for the dog to read my body language and guess how far I'm going to move, just read my body rather than just flinging and thinking I'm going to go 180 degrees, if they're looking up versus looking down. I try and fix that one still having a perch. For dogs who really struggle, I might go to a lower perch in fixing that, like a flat folder, but in general that heads-up criteria is something that I want before I get rid of the perch.
The third part I'm looking for for the maintained heel is the dog's position in relationship to me. It's mostly are they forged or are they lagged; and generally that's my goal versus how the dog understands it, because basically how you stand forges the dog's position, so if your toes are really far back, chances are you're teaching the dog to forge. I see that a lot with teams new to obedience, as again you don't really know where heel position is when you first start — at least I certainly didn't. So that's the first main goal is they're parallel with me, the head's up, and their forge-versus-lag-ness.
The second goal that I want before getting rid of the perch is can they find heel without me moving. If I'm standing still next to the perch and I throw a cookie behind me, can they come up and be parallel next to me, if I throw it to the left, throw it to the right, throw it in front, can the dog find heel without any help from me when I'm just standing still. For most dogs that's a harder step because they like to rely on our motion in order to move with us, and if I'm standing still, they have to know exactly how far to rotate to line up straight. So those are the things I'm looking at before I start to get to a flat target.
Melissa Breau: To talk a little more about the workshop specifically, do you mind just talking us through what it covers in terms of the range of stuff that we're talking about with pivots and maybe just a little bit about who it's for?
Laura Waudby: The workshop is looking at that step one, just getting the dog to step on the perch and having value for keeping their feet on it, no matter what you're doing. They have to have a lot of value in order to progress to pivoting, but then it's also progressing to how to take away that prop and teach the dog to do that pretty left pivot, even when you're just standing still and you're on a flat ground.
For a lot of teams, taking away that perch can be a real sticking point, as even if the dog knows that criteria that I talked about earlier with pivoting on a perch, when you take it away, they now have to pivot in place plus actually back up as they move with you. That's a new skill for them to be able to do, because if you're standing next to a perch, you take a little, small shuffle forward and the dog's feet are staying in one spot. When there isn't a perch, we essentially put the handler on an imaginary perch, so they are pivoting in spot, and now the dog is the one who has to move backwards to keep their butt in.
So the workshop will talk about getting that left pivot on the perch and then getting rid of it, and some of the problem-solving routines. For those of you who are familiar with the TEAM obedience program, we're looking at the Level 1 criteria for pivoting and then looking at the left pivot portion of the Level 2. We're not going to quite go into the right pivot portion of pivoting because that got way too long.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. To shift gears a little bit, you've also got a new class, Novice Smart: Preparing for the Dog's First Trial, that's on the schedule for the first time in April. Novice obedience can be super-exciting, but it's also a little bit scary, whether it's the first time for that dog or the first time for both the dog and handler. What things are there that handlers often overlook that can be worked on outside of a trial environment that will improve their performance at that first trial?
Laura Waudby: Most novice handlers tend to put a lot of emphasis on the exercises themselves. They focus a lot on a lot of heeling, probably a lot of boring heeling patterns — your typical L pattern, your T pattern — and then they focus on does the dog know how to stay, does the dog know how to come.
But, for most teams, that's not really what's going to decide if your run is qualifying or not. Generally, as long as your dog is with you, understands basic parts of the exercise, then that's not typically what's going to NQ you in a trial. Usually what causes most runs to move from that qualifying round to the non-qualifying round are pretty much all the parts in between, like distractions. Distractions are a really big one for a lot of dogs, so can the dog still heel if the open ring right next door the dog is doing a dumbbell retrieve. Or what if someone is opening their bag of food outside the ring, can the dog still keep focus. People pressure, so can the dog heel with a judge following them, can they do a setup next to that judge, can they stay with the stewards walking close by. There's just a lot of little things that don't really have to do with the dog understanding of how to heel or how to stay per se. It's just all the little pieces that come together in a trial.
Other things are how are you going to move from one exercise to another when you don't have any food on you, and have you ever even practiced having your dog watch you put cookies down and enter a ring. I know when I did my first novice obedience trial, I had never practiced that at all. I was lucky that my dog kind of thought I did, so we faked our way through, but every trial after that got worse and worse and worse, as he was like, "Hey, where are my cookies?" So I definitely had to go back and teach him that I didn't have cookies in the ring, but he would still earn them.
I had to teach him that silence is a good thing, because I think in practice I talked to him a lot. I did a lot of praise, and I still do a lot of praise with my dogs, but I also want them to know that when I'm silent, it means they're on the right track. It doesn't mean they have to worry just because I'm formally heeling right now.
Those are a few of the little things to work on when you get ready for trialing that doesn't have a lot to do with the actual exercises themselves. Some of the things are hard to practice without another helper, so ideally you have access to that, but even if you don't, we can still break things down and we can look at adding a little tiny bit of pressure in a happy way to your dog without needing an actual helper. Maybe instead of working on a judge standing behind your dog when you're setting up, can the dog do a setup if there's a toy on the ground behind him or a food bowl behind him. We're starting to add a little bit of that pressure to their different skills.
Melissa Breau: Are there important differences handlers should be aware of when it comes to some of the different obedience organizations here in the States?
Laura Waudby: Most organizations have very similar rules for the exercises themselves. Generally, if you're training for one, then your dog should be perfectly fine to go into another organization. You might have to read the rules, but your dog is probably fine!
Some of the bigger changes are with the stays, especially now that AKC has shorter stays in the middle of the ring, the dogs are on leash for novice. You will find a bigger difference now between AKC group stays and ASCA or UKC, although that's mainly in how long are the stays and how far away from your dog.
Some organizations might have what we call a recall over a jump, so that's a little extra to train for, with that added speed of jumping and coming to front with you, plus the basic skill of being left in a stay and being called to come. The biggest difference in philosophy that I really like is going to be CDSP, which is Companion Dog Sport Program, and that's typically the organization I recommend teams start out, and whether it's a brand new team to obedience or just a new dog, because you can praise the dog at any time in the ring and you can even get a cookie between exercises before you go to the next setup. So I love CDSP as a way to support a new dog and to support the handler, as well, as they get their toes dipped into a formal obedience setting. But for the most part, the exercises themselves in each organization are very, very similar to each other.
Melissa Breau: Personally, I find taking training on the road the hardest part. Can you talk a little bit about why it's such an important piece of the puzzle, and then do you have any tips for handlers like me, who struggle with that piece of it?
Laura Waudby: I get stuck at that piece, too — a lot, actually. I tend to blame that I live in a state where I can't be outside for a good portion of the year here because it's way too cold. In some places it may be way too hot. And that really limits my flow. I get really good in the summer and then it tapers off, and then I have to re-talk myself into going places again when it starts to get warm, because in winter I pretty much don't leave the house. Ideally, if you were a better person than me, you would get yourself on a set schedule so you don't have an excuse. Maybe, say, every Monday, or if you can't do weekly, maybe the first Friday of the month you will go out to this place. But put it on your actual calendar, because that tends to force me a little bit.
It doesn't have to be a training school. It can be a hardware store that allows dogs, parking lots, a park, just pretty much anywhere. And probably the biggest piece and the most helpful that's been helpful to me is recruiting a friend, ideally someone you meet up with in your life, but even if it's over the Internet, somebody who will hold you accountable.
When I was training a behavior with my dog that was really hard for me to do, I set up ... I called it a shaming group, on Facebook, where we reported in to each other on our progress for the week, and it was someone to hold you accountable. It could be shaming, but it can also be a lot of praise, that reinforcement, seeing someone's progress and motivating you to actually go and do it yourself. Because for most dogs it is really important to get out, not just because of the different distractions they're going to see, but that practice of getting to a new place, acclimating, and actually choosing to work.
Especially if you're looking at competing in obedience, you really want to know how long does it take your dog to be comfortable in a new place, how long does it take them to warm up before starting work. If you don't know that before you go to a trial, it's going to be a lot harder, so the more places you go, the more you're going to learn to read your dog and find out those little pieces, even if you don't do hardly any work at all.
Melissa Breau: At what point in training a behavior do you usually start that and begin working on it away from home or in those new locations?
Laura Waudby: Ideally, I would start that pretty early on, but generally, my first goal in going somewhere is that acclimation piece, getting your dog comfortable in different environments, looking around, seeing all the things, and then choosing to turn back to me to eat cookies. Or eventually, as they get a little more experienced, choosing to work even before they see those cookies, but practicing that piece over and over and over again. I think all of us trainers have different terms for that piece, whether it's called engagement or start buttons, ready buttons, ready to work protocols, but kind of all the same thing — that dog getting comfortable pushing us to work.
It doesn't really matter what I'm actually training. I do try to pay attention that I'm not training a new behavior out in in public with the dog, or if it is new, I try to be several steps below where that dog is at. Like with the pivoting, even if my dog knows heeling pretty well, the first time I'm out in a new place, I might bring my perch and do pivoting on a perch just to work on that confidence, because in general I try to focus not on the exercises themselves, but the dog's attitude, their confidence, their enthusiasm for work.
As they get more advanced, I tend to focus more on can I leave the cookies over here and can we go over here and set up, Just the little pieces, and not so much doing those long heeling patterns or the formal recalls, because, again, the exercises themselves typically aren't the stuck points when you go to an actual trial.
Melissa Breau: I know we've hopped around a bit, but do you mind taking us through what else the class will cover?
Laura Waudby: I think we did hit on a lot of the key pieces. We're going to talk about training exercises, what to expect at a trial from the different organizations, to how to check in at your first trial, how to warm up your dog, how much time they need, what you should do during their warm-up versus acclimation time versus the time right before you go in the ring, how to take it on the road, and what you should do when you're out in public, getting cookies off your body, all those little things in there.
Melissa Breau: Looking over the syllabus, it seems like some of the class is about the concepts it takes to go from training at home to trialing in the ring and some of it is about the exercises themselves. What do you cover in each category?
Laura Waudby: For this stage of the class I want each team to have a start to all the exercises, or at least the ones they want to work on, so if they don't want to work the stand for exam, they don't actually have a stand.
In general, the exercises don't have to be perfect, but we're not going to go over the beginning how-to steps. For example, with their heelwork, we're not going to cover how to teach pivoting in heel, even though we will talk about heeling and more so how to problem-solve things like lagging or forging, or maybe your dog gets over-excited with stewards. So we'll talk more about the polishing-up part of it and the problem-solving pieces.
For the exam, we're not going to talk about how to teach a stand, but we will talk about how to handle your dog who wants to jump on a steward, maybe, or gets a little bit nervous about it. Each week we'll talk about one exercise and then about two other pieces of the puzzle that we maybe forget need to be trained too.
The prerequisites I put up for the class is that your dog can do a novice run-through and qualify with just a 170 with food in your pockets and in your back yard. Having those beginning pieces, but not have brought it yet to the next step.
Melissa Breau: Looking it over, it seems like there are a lot of different things in it. I was curious how it's different than some of the other classes, including the Ring Confidence class you teach, for example.
Laura Waudby: My goal in making this class was to tie all the pieces together. If you have my Ring Confidence class, if you have my Bye-Bye Cookie class, or if you have Hannah's heeling class and all the other things, there will be a lot of overlap in topics. This class is mainly bringing it all in once place and starting to work the multiple pieces at one time. It's not as hyper-focused on just getting rid of the cookies, but tying that more into the ring entrances and putting everything together.
If you feel you have a really solid grasp on how to fade the rewards, you're really familiar with the ring prep stuff, then you probably don't need this class. But I do know a lot of people who do have those classes in their library, and they maybe looked at it and worked on it, but they haven't done it in a while and it's hard to tie things together.
So that was my goal for this class is to tie things together for the people who are struggling to make that big leap into a trial. Even if they already have some of the knowledge of how to do it, they're just not combining all those things yet.
Melissa Breau: Can it also be for somebody coming at it from the opposite approach? Somebody who isn't sure where maybe they need a deeper dive and they just want an overview?
Laura Waudby: Yeah. I tend to see… I was kind of thinking of two people when I made this class. The first that we talked about is people who have been doing the Fenzi classes for a long time. They already have the pieces and are just a little bit hesitant.
The other people I'm thinking of are the people who are blissfully unaware of everything. They're excited, they think they have the exercises, but they don't really know the other pieces that they need to have, so this would be that intro to it. Ideally, those people would still probably take other classes on these topics to dive more in-depth, but it's kind of your general overview of things so they can get started thinking about such as those transitions and getting cookies off your body.
So, ideally, both groups of people would still have a good time in class.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is there anything else you want to say about who the class is for, or a little more on what they should know going in?
Laura Waudby: Again, if your dog knows the basics of the exercises and you're thinking about trialing — you don't have to have an entry that you're waiting to put in the mail right now — ideally you're looking at a couple of months out, even a year out, but you want to work towards that goal, and hopefully this will be that shove to get in the ring, or at least that shove to start working on the pieces that you've neglected a little bit.
Melissa Breau: One last question for you, and I've been asking everyone who comes on this one lately. What's something you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Laura Waudby: Mainly that training is … so often it's two steps forward and then you take one step back. A lot of times when you're training things, you run into unexpected mistakes where the dog didn't read your training plan like you hoped that they would, and maybe you've been working really hard and you thought you'd fixed an issue, but then it comes back. It's so frustrating when it comes back and back again.
I saw this a lot recently because sometimes I know exactly why it happens. With Zumi, in agility, we've struggled off and on with her staying at the start line. It's worse in some locations than others and I know exactly why it comes back. It's a mixture of her arousal, human pressure issue, but then also the fact that I'm over-excited and I'm rushing too. So I fix it. I go back and I work on making my handling better, keeping connection, pausing, all those things I know I should do, and I fix it. Then my old habits start to creep back and it comes back and basically repeat the cycle. I find it really hard to train myself sometimes when training my dog. Hopefully this time I will be better.
And then sometimes in training it's the opposite. You don't know why an error happens, and that can be more frustrating. I've had some of these, too, with her recently, with her retrieve issues that we keep working on pressure, and mainly I try to look at it as a training puzzle, how i can i break it down more, what can i experiment with to improve understanding, lower arousal, reduce pressure. I try really hard to look at it as a puzzle, reducing that frustration, make it more fun for me. I think we all have those behaviors that we just can't figure out, or they seem to break, and sometimes it's that consolation that we are not alone, that everybody has this, and that it's a normal part of training that you take two steps forward and then you take a step back. And so I've been thinking about that a lot recently.
Melissa Breau: I love that you mentioned that training ourselves is sometimes the harder part.
Laura Waudby: Very hard for me.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Laura. This has been great.
Laura Waudby: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in!
We'll be back next week with Sue Yanoff to talk about what's actually RIGHT with your dog.
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