Friday, August 26, 2016

Holding a Stack with Distance and Duration by Andrea Stone

Your dog stacks and holds position at a distance from you
What it teaches
Impulse control, focus. And a really fancy stack!

Before beginning this exercise, your dog should already self-stack on cue, visual or verbal.
Because we are adding two separate criterion – adding distance and duration – to our dog’s stack, each must be taught separately before they are combined. Dogs (and people) learn best when the goal of the lesson is clear.


So first let’s discuss duration. This refers to the amount of time you expect your dog to hold a free stack without moving. It must be built slowly, adding time as your dog demonstrates fluency at the current level for success.

There are two ways to build duration. One is though delaying your click or marker word. Right now your dog will stack on cue, but may only hold it for a moment or two. Using this method once your dog stacks, silently count “one-Mississippi”, then click reward. During this exercise your bait is to remain in your pocket – no luring!

Alternatively, you may use the “1-2-3 game” to build duration. This option is a great one that is very helpful for young or easily distracted dogs because it makes use of a “keep going” signal – you counting! In the beginning stage of this exercise you will cue your dog to free stack, and then count aloud quickly, “Fifi, Stand. One, two, three,” rewarding the dog on “three”. Again your reward is to remain in your pocket. (For the rest of this exercise we will presume you are using the 1-2-3 game. It’s our favorite!)

Review of Action



During your session, if you have five successful repetitions in a row you are ready to progress. You will now count to “three” slightly more slowly, again rewarding on three. You may find you are able to progress rather quickly if you and your dog are really on a roll. YES!

Next time you train, or if you change locations or the distraction increases during your current session, you may have to go back to the beginning level. The point is to have your dog remain successful, slowly raising the bar as she demonstrates fluency. However each time you are likely to find that your dog progresses more quickly.

Do be aware of your own counting style as you will need to be able to keep track of what you’ve been doing. If you are detail oriented and/or have difficulty remembering how fast you were counting, using a metronome and noting your speed may help. (For you engineers in the crowd!) There are many free metronome apps available for smart phones.

You will really be rocking and rolling when you find yourself getting a bit silly,

“One….one and a half….one point six five…..Two….two and a quarter….two and seven twenty-fifths…”

Don’t try to jump ahead too quickly. It is worthwhile to build this skill slowly such that your dog has a good, solid free stack with duration. Moving a single foot is “breaking”, and means you need to get better at the previous level before moving on.

During the entirety of teaching duration  you are right at your dog’s side or right in front. Now we will discuss adding distance. The length of time you expect your dog to hold her free-stack goes back down to just one moment.


Distance is how far you are or can move from your dog and have her remain stacked. Using a platform may be helpful for some dogs during this exercise but is not necessary.  You will cue your dog to free-stack and then take a step away. Before your dog moves, click and lean or step back to offer her reward – this will help cement for your dog that moving is not needed. However if your dog moves before you reward but after you click, that’s fair – the click ends the behavior. This is where the platform may be of the most help, or for very wiggly dogs. It creates a slight deterrent of movement.

Review of Action




After five consecutive repetitions you are ready to take an additional small step backward. As with adding duration, you will need to be aware of changes in context – location and/or distraction – and account for it. If one element has changed all others must remain the same. Be ready to go back to just one step away from your dog if needed.

When you begin to take two or more steps away from your dog you will need to become the Wiggle Police. Any indication that your dog is about to move – a twitch of the ear, loss of focused eye contact, a shift in weight – means it is time to click and reward before the dog does in fact move. If this happens more than once you have either progressed too quickly or something in the environment has changed. Remember our dogs are far more sensitive to changes in the environment than we are. If you can’t figure it out or rectify it, go back to your previous level of success, get one or two reps and call it a night. Everyone will be happier that way!

Putting It Together

When you have reached at least your interim goal for each separate element – Duration and Distance – you are ready to start combining them.  Ten seconds of duration and three normal sized steps back are good goals to consider but each handler must decide for themselves. Adjusting for your dog’s age, ability and excitement level are key.

When you begin to combine the two, however, you are going to go back to “easy” levels. That is, you will take one step back and drop duration down to a quick, “One, two, three”. You will then build your duration to about ten seconds (A fun and silly, “One, two, three.”) before taking another step back. You are then back at square one for duration. Get it? Each phase must be built clearly and separately.

Review of Action




As the trainer, you will have to use finesse to gauge your dog’s ability on the day and in the moment. When you start adding distraction – such as a real show venue or the outdoors – you are likely to have to take everything back to square one again. Do train each element in different locations and levels of distraction before you attempt to “put it together” in a dog show environment.

Oh, and by the way you CAN do a distance stack on the ramp or table. And guess what – it’s impressive!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dog Training Classes - Getting What You Pay For

As most of the people I know who compete with dogs, I enjoy attending dog training classes with my own dogs. I have attended classes from beginning classes and puppy classes to nosework, rally, circus dog class and so many more. The cost of a group class in my area ranges from about $125 to $260 for a six week class. Usually make up classes are not offered and if I miss a class due to my own schedule, I simply miss that class. There are no credits or refunds for missed classes. I don't mind paying what I do for classes because I am taking classes from colleagues who I know are talented, skilled and have a lot to offer me and my dogs. I understand why they charge what they do because I am a dog trainer myself.  I wanted to write this blog to help people understand how we determine what our classes will cost.

Over the past couple of months I have been making some changes to my business and class offerings. For years I have offered a variety of classes including beginning obedience classes, puppy classes and many different intermediate and advanced classes over the years. As I decided to switch my focus to mainly doing conformation classes, conformation workshops and private lessons for conformation clients I have had to make some changes to my conformation class structure, fees and locations. These changes have forced me to deal with some issues that I have seen over the years but been able to gloss over until now.

Traditionally, conformation classes have been drop in and very low cost. Conformation classes are very often taught by people who have been showing their own dogs but are not necessarily professional trainers with dog training or behavior credentials. If someone teaches a class as a side job or even as a hobby and not as their main source of income they are more likely to offer low cost classes. This can be fine if the class they are doing is simply run throughs meaning that there is no real instruction but more of a practice class where the instructor simply acts as a judge. However, if you are dealing with a dog who has behavior issues such as fear or dog reactivity it can be an issue because the person may not be qualified and trained to properly deal with such issues appropriately.

Currently, I am offering a 4 week conformation class in the park which is 45 minutes long and has been offered for $46, which is considered "pricey" by some. Compare that to the $165 people were paying for my 6 week beginning or puppy classes. So, on average people are paying $27 per obedience class, but only about $11.50 per conformation class. It makes it very hard to cut out my obedience classes which are clearly the bread and butter for my business, but I desperately want to work with show dogs and help show dogs clients. I adore teaching conformation classes, both run through and skill building, but it makes it hard from a business standpoint. Additionally, I recently had to give up my training facility. I am very lucky that one of my close friends has a training facility where I teach classes and she has allowed me to offer my classes there, but her building is about 40 to 60 minutes from my house depending on traffic as opposed to my building which was about 5 minutes from home. And of course renting the space isn't free, I have to pay that as well.

In the past year alone I have spent thousands of dollars on my continuing education. On my website I have a list of the different conferences, workshops, seminars and training programs I have attended. Most of these learning opportunities involve air fare, hotel, food and the registration fees for the conference. The one I just registered for next January cost $645 for the three day conference, three training labs to attend with my own dog and my three breakfasts and lunches. I will also have to pay for either air fare or gas, hotel and other travel expenses. It's a lot of money, but it is important because I owe it to my clients to always be looking for the most current information and learning opportunities from the many experts in my field who can help me get better. I also pay hundreds every year for dues for my memberships to various training and behavior organizations. And there is also insurance, marketing, registration system, equipment for classes etc. On the outside, it may seem like dog training classes are expensive, but when you look at what it costs to be a current, knowledgeable and well informed professional you can see why we charge what we do.

I hope that this helps people to understand how we dog trainers set our consulting and class fees.