Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Free Stacking Tips

Sometimes when I do a private consult, I realize that I do a lot of different things when training show dogs or showing show dogs. Today, during a private, I realized something that I do, without thinking about it, that might help people for free stacking. The client wanted help on how to keep her dog from moving around when free stacked in front of her. She showed me first and he was following food, moving around, etc. Then, I took her dog for her to watch so I could work him and we could talk about what I do. When I took him, he stacked in front of me and held it staying in position. We were able to determine what we were doing differently and how we could improve it for her.

Here are the changes that I made for her. When she moves him around and then gets into the lineup, she is
to stand in front of him (which is where she wants to be for his free stacking). She will also change the way she is holding the lead. When she moves him the lead is gathered up to pick up slack, as it should be. But, when she is free stacking him and standing in front of she is now holding the end of the leash at the handle with the slack loose. This will cue her dog about what they are doing and what he should do. When she changes the way she is holding the lead, it means that they aren't moving and he will be free stacking in front of her. More information and clear communication for him will help him succeed.

Next, she will hold the bait in two hands with her arms bent up so her hands are at her waist or so. Prior to this, she was, without realizing it, keeping the bait low so that he was just following her hand with the bait in it. This would be fine if her goal was to lure him into a position, but at this point, that isn't what we wanted to do. Bending both arms told him it wasn't a sit cue and it kept him looking up and interested in the bait.

She may ask him to step forward or back up if necessary, but once he is where she wants him, her feet will be together and remain that way.

Finally, he needs to have a lot of feedback that he is doing it right. He has a default sit and if he doesn't know what he should do, he will throw his head back playfully and sit, however, if he is given feedback and information, he knows what to do and is happy to do it.

Wither her permission, I am sharing a picture from today. We weren't actually being too picky about his stack as much as we were that he remain standing and hold still.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Continued Education

I have been working with dogs professionally for over 28 years and involved in dog training for almost 25 years.  It is frightening to me to think where I would be if I was still doing now what I did all those years ago.  I suppose I could have chalked up all these years of doing things inappropriately and from the dark ages as "experience", but how valuable is experience when you aren't doing the best best for the animals and moving forward in terms of knowledge and skill?    

To me, it is critical that anyone who calls him or herself an "expert" be committed to continued education.  Continued education should include being aware of the most current information available to us, continuing to build and improve our mechanical skills and actual training "chops" and trying to grow and improve in general.  If I, or someone else, is taking someone's hard earned money and presenting myself as an "expert", I darn well better know what I am talking about.  I have a responsibility as a professional to be committed to learning everything I can and most importantly, staying in the loop about new information in regard to how animals learn, training and behavior and new information about dogs in general as it becomes available.

If you want to know if a trainer, behavior consultant, handler, breeder or anyone who presents him or herself as an expert is committed to continued education, ask them the following questions:

What seminars on animal behavior or training have you attended in the last 2 years?

What books have you read in the past 2 years?

What certifications or credentials do you have?  Do those certifications require Continued Education Units?

How do you stay current on the latest in dog training/behavior?

To be involved in dog training and behavior and not be interested in the most current information available to us is irresponsible.  To be presenting oneself as an expert in dog training and behavior and not interested in the most current research and information available is just plain unethical.  Our field has changed and evolved so much over the past 15-20 years.  Just doing it for a long time is not good enough, we must want to learn more and not be willing to settle for less.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You can do it!

As a professional dog trainer that specializes in positive training for show dogs, some of my happiest moments are when I convince owners to show their own dogs.  I understand the purpose of dog shows and I understand that people want to win, but it is possible to have success in the show ring showing your own dog.

To be clear, I am not against people using professional handlers and I am certainly not against good professional handlers.  The criteria with which I determine whether or not a professional handler is "good" is a subject for another blog, but I do think that there are plenty of good handlers out there who treat the dogs and their clients with kindness and respect.  This isn't about whether or not to use a professional handler.  This is about people who enjoy training and competing with their dogs and want to handle their own dogs.

I work with a lot of clients who have show dogs that they would like to show themselves.  Many of them really enjoy training their own show dogs and feel like they would like to try actually doing the showing as well.  What makes me sad is that many of these people have their confidence crushed by other people who believe that the dog has a better chance of winning if someone else handles him.  This may be the case, but for some people, they are okay with that and would prefer to take their time doing the training, showing the dog, learning the ropes and finishing their own dog.  For some people, it isn't about finishing the dog quickly and just getting it over with.  Some people actually want to learn to show a dog, specifically their own dog and the only way that they are going to get more confidence and skill is by doing it.  Being rushed at ringside and told everything that they did wrong and how they blew it for their dog does usually not build confidence, but breaks it down.

So, if you are a show dog owner with a dog that you want to show yourself, I say "go for it"!  Frankly, showing a dog is not that difficult once you understand how to do it and if you have trained and competed in obedience or agility, you sure as heck can learn to exhibit a dog in the show ring.  Do handlers have an edge?  Yes, they do this for a living and many are very skilled at it but they all started out not knowing how to do it either.  This is one of the only sports where amateurs compete against professionals and you won't always win, but I can tell you that sometimes you will.  I finished my first show dog owner handled all the way.  Did it take longer?  Yes, I am sure it did, but I did it!  There is really nothing like finishing a dog owner handled.  If this is what you want to do, do it!

If you are a breeder, co-owner, handler or just a friend of someone who wants to show their own dog, support them and encourage them, but don't put them down and don't tell them, they can't.  Remember, we were all there at one time.

My Blog My Way

I haven't written here for a while.  I think the reason is that I was starting to feel frustrated with people who are not positive reinforcement trainers reading my blog and then getting mad at me for putting down the use of positive punishment, aversives and painful equipment.  Well, this blog is about my thoughts and opinions on training show dogs and that includes the promotion of positive reinforcement training and non-aversive, dog friendly equipment.  There are plenty of other websites, blogs and trainers who recommend and discuss the use of aversives, but that isn't what I am about so it's not what my blog is about.  If you want to read about positive training for show dogs, you came to the right place!