Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Open Training Concepts

I’d like to explore some of the concepts I typically include when working on maintaining and polishing the Open exercises. They are training ideas that I frequently include when working on a given exercise with one of my dogs.

One overall concept in all of my training is that of varying the time I wait before giving a command. Dogs have such natural internal clocks and are such creatures of habit that if you are too consistent with the timing of your commands, your dog will anticipate the next part of an exercise, not waiting for your command. While most judges use a pretty consistent rhythm, there is variation, with some hesitating longer than others.

This is particularly important on finishes. Most dogs will anticipate their finish at some point. When I was preparing my first two dogs for Open, they both did a lot of finish anticipation, mostly during training, thankfully. Going from one finish in Novice to four in Open makes this a very common problem for the new Open dog. Sometimes I finish my dog after only a brief sit in front. Usually, on the next front, I remain silent, testing whether my dog understands he should wait. After a successful silent interval (my dog waits correctly in his front sit), I might give him a treat or simply release out of the front sit, or I might finish him after this longer-than-usual pause. I always want to be ready to catch him if he starts to finish on his own.

Applying this concept to any of the retrieve exercises, sometimes I release my dog quickly to retrieve. Other times, I pause longer than usual. I might then send my dog; I might release him; or I might give him a treat. I might use some other command than my retrieve command, such as SIT or WAIT to make sure my dog is listening and waiting properly.

On the Drop on Recall, I mix some straight recalls (i.e., no drop) in with ones on which I have my dog drop. I might drop him in the first third of the recall, at the halfway point, or in the last third. I might motivate (i.e., do something fun like a cookie-toss recall or a chase recall) the recall off the sit or off the down. I vary how long I make him wait in the down, which is especially important if you do UKC Open in which a steward walks past your dog while he’s in a down. Sometimes I go give my dog a cookie for a particularly good drop.

On the Retrieve on Flat (ROF), I practice alongside a High Jump regularly, since all of my recent dogs have tried out jumping the jump when they shouldn’t. I’ll practice minimum distance throws (20 feet) and full-ring-length throws. Sometimes I purposely throw off center to make my dog work on finding fronts from different angles.

On the Retrieve over the High Jump (ROHJ), I purposely throw off to the side to proof for dumbbells that take a bad bounce. Given my training building’s rubber flooring, these bad bounces are all too common. I want my dog to understand that when I say JUMP on this exercise, he is to jump both going out and coming back, even if it isn’t the most obvious and straight path. In my opinion, this is the most important proof to work on with this exercise. I will also alternate between a ROF and a ROHJ. I use a different command on each of these two exercises to help clarify my dog’s job (FETCH on the ROF, JUMP on the ROHJ, in case you really want to know :-)). I watch where my dog focuses after picking up his dumbbell: if it’s on me, he’s most likely going to come straight to me; if it’s on the jump, he’s probably going to take the jump.

As I write this, I realize I don’t have a concrete list of concepts for the Broad Jump. I do want to see my dog driving hard enough to the jump that he is clearing it comfortably. I’ll motivate the jump itself or the return.

Since having some stay issues during trials last fall (mostly lying down during the sit stay), my dogs have been doing mostly back-to-back sit stays. They usually get through the first 3 minute sit, and sometimes the 2nd 5 minute sit, but Gryffin has gone down during the 2nd one a few times. If you have a dog who lies down on a sit stay a lot, make sure you are training sit stays frequently, daily if possible. This will help build up his core strength that he needs to have in order to keep himself up in the sit. If you correct your dog for mistakes almost every time he does a sit stay, you build up a lot of stress (been there, done that). If this is happening with your dog, go back to kindergarten: stay close, stay in sight, keep the time short. I build up duration first, then where I am in relation to my dog (not directly across from him), then being out of sight.

When my dog has a good understanding of the exercises, I also add other types of proofing to challenge my dog’s understanding. Simply training around other people working their dogs is a great step. If you increase difficulty gradually, and are fair about your proofing, your dog will be ready for the Open ring in no time.

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