Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

A former student dropped in to class this week. When showing over the weekend, the dog refused a jump so that’s what they wanted to work on. Simple course, only 12 signs with a few from each level plus a jump.

This is an RAE3 team so dog and handler definitely know their way around a course. I stood outside the ring watching. Approaching station 7, handler cues the dog to Stay then begins walking around. Dog sits. Handler goes back, approaches the sign again, same result. “Stop” I called. “If he’s not getting it, then come outside the ring and work that move separately.”

Which they did.

“He’s got it” handler assured me. They start off on the course, little dog chugging alongside. But at station 7 it’s the same thing. Handler cues Stay, dog Sits.

I march out on the course to look at things from the dog’s perspective. “There must be something confusing him. Are you doing anything different with your hand signal?”

The team heads toward the station. I peer over at the sign.

“How many Rally trials have you shown in?” I ask the handler. “Read that sign.”

Halt – Stand – Walk Around

The dog had it right the whole time.




The Answer Lady

Posted: March 19, 2010 in Rally Quiz, Training

Rally Quiz 1 Karen was correct in that Novice courses, both A and B, must have a minimum of three stationary exercises. A stationary exercise is one in which the dog sits. Any of the Call Front exercises are also stationary since the Sit is implicit in a Call Front. Although there is no sit in a Stop & Down, it is stationary since the dog’s movement stops.

Rally Quiz 2 while the actual scoring would probably depend on how it looks to the judge – does Cluny appear out of control or just happy – a key word is that the team jogged past the Finish. Courses may not end with a Fast pace or a Jump. Teams must maintain a brisk but even pace. I’ve heard judges specifically warn against running on the course. Check the post on pace if you missed it.

Someone commented in class about asking your dog to Sit after the Finish. This is a good strategy in Advanced and Excellent since you need to attach your leash before exiting the ring.

There was also discussion in class about differences in Excellent performance versus Advanced and Novice. Each exercise is performed according to the sign description in the rule book. That means if a Call Front (signs 13, 14, 15, 16) appear on an Excellent course, the handler may take several steps backward just as in Novice. However, Excellent has two additional Call Front signs, 41 and 42, that require a Halt before calling the dog front. For those two signs, steps backward are not permitted.  

There is only one sign that specifies different performances for Advanced and Excellent. Sign 36, Halt Stand Walk Around, allows the handler to touch the dog to stand him on an Advanced Course but not on an Excellent course.

This is why your Rally coaches are always pushing you to perform at the highest level, so your hard work isn’t sabotaged by a careless mistake.

Feel the Rhythm

Posted: March 11, 2010 in Training


The three components of good heeling are: 

1. Attention

2. Position

3. Pace

We work on attention with the automatic check in and watch me exercises. We work on position through shaping and reinforcement. But what about pace?

Pace should be a speed that you can maintain consistently through every exercise, except for a specified change of pace. It shouldn’t be so slow that your dog anticipates a Halt, or so fast that you can’t Halt smoothly. I’ve heard judges specifically warn against running.

One way to find your right pace is to practice heeling with no dog. Find a straight-away like your driveway or an empty parking lot. Assume your trial posture, head up, shoulders back, left arm across your middle. Then walk. Briskly. Feel the beat. 

What song has that same tempo? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be trendy since no one else will ever hear it. It can be Row, Row, Row Your Boat if that is a comfortable cadence for you. Once you’ve settled on your song, practice with your dog. As you get into the rhythm I think you’ll find, like Webster, that rhythm comprises “all the elements that relate to forward movement”.

Postscript: I understand Seventy-Six Trombones or Sousa marches are favorites.

Collars Don’t Train A Dog

Posted: March 8, 2010 in Training

In spite of our discussion about collar styles, in fact your dog’s collar is only a safety device.

People use euphemisms like “training collar” but no collar really trains a dog. A behavior is trained through consistent criteria, correctly timed reinforcement and successful repetition. 

Suzanne Clothier talks about naked dog training. By that she means no food pouches or treat bags, no collars or leashes, no stuffed pockets, no props or accessories. Just you and your dog.

Go Wild and Freeze is a terrific example of a training game with no props. The reinforcement comes from restarting the game. A few rounds will earn your dog’s attention, practice position changes, and learn self-control.

And no collar required.

Collar Comments

Posted: March 1, 2010 in Training

We have been talking about collars in class the last two weeks. While each Rally organization specifies some differences regarding collars allowed in  trials, two things are definite. Neither prong collars nor electronic collars are ever permitted in any trials.

Beyond that, however, preferences are as diverse as the varieties of dogs entered.

While I like a plain belt buckle style collar, as opposed to the quick release, this style doesn’t suit all canine body types. My dogs, with their thick coats and narrow skulls, can slip out of any collar if I’m not paying attention.

Some people use a different collar style for every activity: slip leads for conformation, quick release for agility, a head halter for neighborhood walks and a martingale for therapy visits. I recently counted 15 different collars in my gear closet (yeah, we have an entire closet dedicated to dog gear.) That does not include my collection of head halters and body harnesses. But not everyone is an accessory junky like me.


Click on the picture to go to the Earthdog website

The martingale style is usually my go-to collar. Yes my dogs can still get out of it. But if pressure is applied it occurs evenly, and you have the ability to limit the tightening aspect. The customary nylon webbing you find at pet stores snags my dogs’ coats but I have found martingales made of softer, smoother fabric. Here is a hemp martingale from Earthdog….good for your dog and good for the environment.

If you don’t mind being politically incorrect, you can also find leather martingales. These are usually in the land of the greyhounds and can be quite elaborate with tooling and inset gemstones.

 The martingale style can be annoying or even impossible to slide on and off blocky headed dogs so some companies have started making a combo collar. Here is the basic model from Wiggles Wags Whiskers. You can also get these with decorative patterns and velvet lining.
The addition of the buckle does add bulk to the collar.
When training and trialing, I don’t think the collar should get in the way of what you’re doing.  Aside from the popularity of the term “training collar” the collar is just a safety device. It should not be so big, bulky or painful that it distracts you or your dog from what you’re learning.
I have more to say on this subject in a later post.

Turn up the Volume

Posted: February 26, 2010 in Training

Some time ago I saw a video of a team working in Rally Advanced. I commented that I thought the handler used some really exaggerated hand movements with his  sighthound. Then at a run through I watched another handler also using expansive hand signals with a terrier. The movement seemed to keep the terrier engaged. When I watch a team in the ring, whether at class or in a trial, the teams having fun are the most fun to watch. This sense of fun comes through when the team shows energy: brisk movement and happy talk. (Sorry, Onchu. Only the handler gets to speak in the ring.)

The great thing about Rally is that we can use our voice, hand and body motions to keep our dog’s attention. Every now and then I come across a training article that insists our dogs should be giving us all their attention all the time. But it is just as important that we return their attention. Rally is a team sport. There are two of you in that ring, equally capable of losing points for the team.

Cutting Loose

Posted: July 24, 2007 in Training

Training obedience is important, but you and your dog also need to do things together that serve no purpose other than FUN. It is well worth your time to teach your dog some tricks.

Teaching tricks gives us good practice in thinking how to break an action down into separate steps. For example, the teens at one of our therapy programs decided to teach my dog Onchu to roll over. Since he already knows down, that step was solid. But then, how do they get him to flip over? They could wait until he did it spontaneously (capturing the behavior) then reward him like crazy. One boy got on the floor and rolled around hoping Onchu would be inspired to join the fun.

Eventually they discovered how to move the treat so that while tracking it Onchu would flip over. Once they accomplished that, the boys were ready to apply the same principle in teaching Onchu to offer his paw.

Sometimes, a trick can save the day. I taught my dog Tag to crawl on his elbows. Years later, Tag got himself wedged into a tight spot. I couldn’t budge him and he was between immovable objects. In deperation, I said “Crawl, Tag”. He remembered, and he did it.

These little tricks can also be useful stress relievers. When we’re relaxed, our dogs relax. Ever notice how happy your dog gets when you laugh?* So in between your CFFRF** and your HDWA***, teach a Shake and a Shimmy.

* Guru dog trainer William Campbell actually uses a protocol he calls The Jolly Technique to divert a reactive dog.

** Call Front Finish Right Forward

*** Halt Down Walk Around

Moving Up

Posted: May 24, 2007 in Performance & Judging, Training

Several people have noted that the difference between Rally Novice and Rally Advanced is HUGE. Even if you are fortunate enough to earn your RN in your first three trials, you may not be ready to move up. In addition to more complex exercises, RA is also performed off leash.

We are doing many things in class to make that transition more seamless. In the first place, we have started introducing all 50 exercises right from the beginning. Even though 8 weeks is barely enough time to learn the exercises, much less perfect them, it helps us see how each new skill builds on the previous one.

In addition, if we work toward the highest level of performance from the start, perhaps we can avoid some of the bad handling habits that are so easy to develop. A good example is the Call Front.

At the Novice level, this exercise allows the handler to take a few steps back. However, at the Advanced level, steps backward are not allowed. Why not train yourself and your dog to do this without steps back right from the beginning?

A second thing we do in class is add distractions. Of course, with the agility ring right next to us, that might seem like distraction enough. After just a few weeks the dogs hardly notice the toys that litter our ring. Well, except for the shaking, singing, furry thing! By the time we get to the Offset Figure 8 it will be eeee zzzzz.

The third thing we do is encourage everyone to spend a few minutes whenever possible working off lead. Without that lead to “steer” your dog around, you must hold your dog’s attention through your movement and your words. As you become more confident at that, those tight leads will loosen up.

Once you have earned your RN, you can continue to enter the Rally Novice class. If this is the first show experience for you or your dog, continuing to compete in Novice can help you build confidence under trial conditions.

Many Rally Advanced people regret moving on too quickly and find that the increased stress of RA hurts their ring performance. Some people end up taking months off from showing in order to rebuild their dog’s confidence. 

We are lucky to have many run-through opportunities in this area, but that is still no comparison to an actual trial. Just to refresh, if you earn your Rally Novice title from the “A” class, you can continue to enter the “A” class for 60 days. After that, if you want to continue showing in Rally Novice you must enter the “B” class.

Someone, not in our class, complained recently that the Rally Novice exercises were boring. Here is the response from a rally judge. I thought it was well said and a good reminder.

“DO NOT ever take the RN (Rally Novice) exercises for granted. They are the basics, like novice obedience. Everything else in RA (Rally Advanced) and RE (Rally Excellent) is built on that. I’ve seen so many mistakes in RE and RA on the RN things, even enough to IP (Incomplete Performance) or enough IPs to NQ (Not Qualify) someone. Simple Right and Left turns can be so sloppy that the judge isn’t sure you did them, turns can be so big there is a Handler Error or even IP, and those 1-2-3 step exercises never fail to IP someone, they are NOT a gimmie.

I had more people IP on the call front exercises at the last trial than any other thing in general. Went the wrong way, halted when they should not, didn’t halt when they should, or both of these.”

Ruthann McCaulley, AKC Rally Judge and author, Doodle by Design, The Comprehensive Guide to Rally Obedience

Setting It Up

Posted: May 14, 2007 in Training

Despite all the books and articles on dog training, it really boils down to two ways to train your dog.

  1. You can yell “No” every time they do something wrong.
  2. You can say “Yes” every time they do something right.

I know many people still use the first method. It works as long as you and the dog are thinking about the same thing. But personally, I know my dog and I are usually not thinking about the same thing. Here is a typical example of how this can go wrong. You’ve set your dog, Mr. Scruffy,  for the Long Sit. You walk all the way across the ring and stand at attention. Mr. Scruffy starts to move and you, with perfect timing, shout “No!” Surprised, Mr. Scruffy stops moving. Good, you congratulate yourself, he’s trained.

In the meantime, Mr. Scruffy, who is looking in the opposite direction, thinks, Aha! She doesn’t want bassett hounds retrieving dumbbells behind her back. The next time any bassett hound in the next ring is rude enough to retrieve a dumbbell, Mr. Scruffy knows just what to do and gallops off to put a stop to it.

Or maybe Mr. Scruffy understands the No to mean he shouldn’t move when you’re standing across the ring. Well, okay. So on the next Recall, when you call Come, quick learner that he is, Mr. Scruffy remembers Oh yeah. I’m not supposed to move when she’s all the way over there.

It seems to me that the No method just compounds the opportunities for mistakes. Dog training becomes a series of No, No, No while your dog has to figure everything out through a process of elimination.  In the meantime you get discouraged because all you’re ever seeing is mistakes.

In the second method, the Yes method, you can let the right behavior happen spontaneously, then mark it with a clicker or a verbal. Alternatively you can also set up the situation so the dog performs the right behavior.  We do this in class by luring the dog into the position we want and then rewarding.

This is very effective.

In fact, it is so effective that sometimes we get excited and move to the next step. Too fast. Someone who knows a lot more about dog training than me, once said that a dog needs to do something 1,000 times before they really know it. I don’t know if anyone has ever actually counted 1,000 repetitions, but I think that’s a good number to keep in mind.

Help your dog do it the right way so many times, that Mr. Scruffy forgets how to do it wrong.