New to Working Trials

If you have followed this article over the past 3 months, you should have a dog that wants to work with you, will follow a food lure and will take food politely. Now you can begin to train your dog for trials! Always remember to consider my two rules before commencing training;

Anne Bussey’s Two Rules of Dog Training

  1. Make it easy for the dog to get it right.
  2. Provide sufficient reward.

Also remember that these will change not only from session to session, but within the session; my hungry dog is not quite so hungry after 30 pieces of food!
What was difficult last week is now understood. Move the exercise on.
When training for trials it is very important to plan your day, or training session, so that you never ask your dog to jump with a belly full of food. This is just as important – or more important - than warming the dog up before jumping.

There are so many exercises in trials it is wise not to try to train everything in one day! I know this is a tough cookie for people who work all week and have precious little time to train, but remember in your dog’s early training it is better to get him to want to do more, than to bore him, wear him out and tire him. As he matures and develops, if you have built the good foundations we are talking about here, you will be able to work your dog longer. Look at the good TD and PD ticket dogs working. They do all their exercises and come off the field full of it. Remember they are trained to the top of their game. Their owners have built them up over many years to get them to that level. They are at the top of the staircase and right now your dog is at the bottom. He must take one step at a time if you are to make a smooth passage through the stakes.

When planning my training I like to focus on my dog’s weakest exercises. It is all too easy to keep training the stuff he is good at. We both enjoy that! But hey – we need to train the other stuff! Or why not begin with the challenging stuff and then reward yourselves with something you both enjoy after you have made progress with the tricky bits?
For example I could begin my session by training a little heelwork. This will warm his muscles ready for some jump training and then I could reward him with an easy sendaway if he likes running, or track/square if he loves nosework. Then I would put him away to rest while he is still having fun and next time he will be keen to do more.

You will need to plan and be strict with yourself as it is human nature to do the stuff you like first and then feel you ‘should’ do the ‘other stuff’. It is not surprising that the dog trained on this schedule never gets to like the ‘other stuff!’
You will notice I said ‘train a little heelwork,’ not practise. Training, for me, means improving and rewarding, whilst practising is like competing – you just do it. Nothing specific is learned. When teaching any exercise I teach components separately so for example when competing, heelwork always starts and ends with the sit, however, most of the exercise is about the dog maintaining the correct position whilst moving. When training I do not always start from the sit, and I will release and reward the dog on the move. If you think about it, if a dog only gets rewarded when you stop moving and he sits, this could cause a dog to lag or lack enthusiasm. Why walk with enthusiasm when you only get rewarded for sitting?
When teaching my dog to walk to heel I teach three different aspects separately.

1. Focus and duration
2. Style of movement, deportment
3. Position

Having already said that anyone can put a lead on a dog and drag it into the heelwork position, we need to look at other ways in which we can explain to the dog what it is we want from him. We have already discussed how to lure and hand feed. The next essential in preparation for heelwork is to maintain focus and increase duration. Over the past three months we have been looking at ways of gaining and increasing focus by managing feeding and selecting the appropriate environment for your dogs’ temperament and level of training. There are many different ways of delivering a food reward and it is worth taking a minute to consider how they vary and the advantages of changing delivery to get the best results.

Teaching your dog to catch a titbit that is thrown, or dropped, is a great way of keeping his focus. He needs to pay attention to you or he might miss the titbit! Some dogs are really great at learning to catch – and others are not! Young puppies are not coordinated enough for this so do not even try until they are four and a half to five months old. By the time they are six months most puppies are ready to try. I usually start by luring the puppy into a sit and instead of posting the titbit I raise my hand an inch and drop the treat. He is expecting it so usually the mouth opens and you literally drop it in. Repeat this and as he becomes successful at catching raise your hand higher before releasing the treat. To start you are putting your hand above his nose, but before long it will be his job to put his nose under your hand. Some dogs are more successful when the treat is dropped from higher so they get more chance to see it coming, other dogs are better if is only raised a couple of inches. Check your dog’s progress and drop from the height at which he is most successful. Some people find it very difficult to drop a titbit; they flick it out in an unpredictable way and then wonder why their poor dog cannot catch. It is simply that they cannot drop and the dog has no idea where the food is going to appear. Check that you can drop the treat vertically without a flick by putting a small bowl on the floor (dog in another room) and hold your hand above the bowl and drop. If the treat does not land in the bowl you will need more practice before your dog has a chance! Progress this exercise by moving the hand with the treat so the dog has to get up out of the sit. Begin to walk slowly forward and drop on the move. This will mean your dog has to keep his head up and pay attention if he wants to catch his treat. I find this helpful when beginning to train heelwork.

Another form of catch is performed by throwing the treat at the dog when he is sitting facing you. Again it is necessary to practice our throwing technique so the dog has a better chance of catching. If you are a darts player: great. If not, practice keeping your upper arm still and aiming at his mouth using just your forearm and wrist. Soon you will become a team as long as you are predictable with your throw. This type of catching is useful to keep his attention when there are a lot of distractions and I prefer to develop his attention through this exercise than by telling him off for gawking at other dogs and things.
Anne Bussey