Written by Deborah Neufeld
Hello trainers! It’s a new year, with new challenges, and we should be gearing up to meet them. Rally has two new classes (Intermediate and Master) and a new Championship available, and Obedience is evolving beyond group exercises in Open. Then there is nose work, trick dog, and many other activities meant to fascinate and stimulate us. It’s all about choices.
With the menu of activities available, preference needs to be given to our main sport of choice. Other activities may offer fun distractions, but in the long run if we end up neglecting to focus on our primary interest, the repercussions can significantly set us back. Now is the time to create a plan for the coming year, set your goals, and build a strategy to meet them. Success doesn’t happen by accident.
For Rally it’s mostly about the handler learning the exercises. You must know how to properly perform every exercise, not only how to train the dog to do them. Working a dog through a “busy” Rally course can be a challenge. The RACH (pronounced “Rock”) will appeal to many handlers. There are already a lot of handlers working on multiple RAE titles, and for just one more entry they can start collecting points toward a Championship title that goes in front of the dog’s name. Yes, it’s going to be tough to earn, but that’s why it’s worth the effort. My Cavalier has earned the Rally Master title, and I’m so proud of him. With any luck we’ll qualify for the Rally Nationals next year, and hopefully we will see many of you there.
Let’s talk about the changes to Obedience. Times have changed, how we train has changed, and in general willingness to accept responsibility for the dog’s actions has changed. Although I was always a staunch supporter of keeping the group exercises, I understand the reasons for the changes and I am ready to progress into the next phase of Obedience training. The “stay” skill will still be important moving forward, as the new exercises do incorporate stays into the performance.
In Novice, the group exercises will now be combined into one exercise for scoring, and the sit and down will only be one minute each. The dogs will be on a 6 foot leash held by the handler, and the dogs will each be about 6 feet from any other dog. There is potential for up to 12 dogs in the ring at a time, with two lines of 6 dogs back to back. However – the new rules state that if the dog has NQed on any individual exercise, they MUST be released from the group exercise, so I expect that groups will be smaller than anticipated. Although we will still have to train the dogs for back-to-back groups, I don’t think we will be seeing them as often as one might think.
The next challenge in Novice is the “stay to get the leash”. While others have assumed that this will be a no-brainer exercise, I have a different point of view. This exercise comes at the end of the individual exercises, when the dog routinely is ready to rush back to his crate to get cookies for being such a good dog. Keeping the dog under control while the leash is retrieved and attached, and then keeping the dog under control as he leaves the ring, is going to be a bigger challenge than most handlers anticipate. It will need to be trained and proofed.
In Open, the big controversy is the Command Discrimination exercise. For Open A it will be the same order every time, and it will be sandwiched in between the Heel Free and Figure 8 exercise and the Drop on Recall. Identical to the Utility Signals, the order of position changes will be stand your dog, down your dog, sit your dog, but at the end instead of a recall the handler returns to heel position. With the dog sitting in heel position, the handler will stand the dog on order from the Judge. On order from the Judge the handler will then leave the dog and go about 15 feet (which will be indicated in some way by the Judge), turn and face the dog. The Judge will give a signal to down the dog. The Judge will then order the handler to leave the dog again and move to the 30 foot distance, where the handler will again turn to face the dog. The Judge will then signal the handler to sit the dog, followed by the order to return to the dog, then exercise finished. Minor to substantial deductions will be made for a dog moving forward. This will likely be scored similarly to moving forward on the Signal exercise in Utility. The handler may give commands and/or signals for each part of this exercise, and may give a command and/or signal to stay when leaving the dog initially, when leaving the dog at 15 feet to move to the 30 foot mark, and again before returning to heel position from 30 feet away. So the handler’s commands and/or signals will be: Stand, Stay, Down, Stay, Sit, Stay. If your only goal is an Open and/or Utility title, that is the only order of the exercise you need to train. Since the Drop on Recall will now follow Command Discrimination, expect the dog to potentially have come confusion between the two as well.
Open B is a different matter. Previously the only thing “randomized” in Open B was the order of the exercises, but each exercise was still performed in the same manner. Now, the Command Discrimination exercise itself will be in random order in the Open B class. So, if your goal is for titles higher than Utility it will be important to train for those orders from the start. Otherwise the dogs will become pattern trained in Open A, and it will be that much harder to retrain them for the randomized order of the exercise when it comes to Open B. The four orders needed for Open B are 1. Stand, Down Sit (same as Open A); 2. Down, Sit, Stand; 3. & 5. Stand, Sit, Down; 4. & 6. Down, Stand, Sit. While many handlers teach their dogs to stand from a sit (even though it is not required for the Novice Stand for Exam), few handlers teach the dog to stand from a down. My plan is to begin the exercise on a platform, step or curb, or with the dog tethered to prevent forward movement. I also plan to stay close as long as it takes to ensure understanding of the exercise. We all tend to rush to increase distance before the dog is truly ready. In the end we end up going back to square one to fix it. I am finding that using a two part command adds emphasis and aids the dog’s response. I don’t like using the dog’s name for an exercise where he has to stay, because my dogs equate their names with movement (like heeling or coming). I am finding that “lay down”, “sit back” and “stand back” are working nicely so far, as my dogs generally understand that “back” also means don’t move forward. And again, keep in mind that the Drop on Recall either precedes or follows Command Discrimination in 3 of the orders in Open B, so take that into account when training the exercise.
The Open A – “Stay, Get Your Leash” exercise, is two parts. First the handler will leave the dog in a sit-stay and go at least 30 feet to a place designated by the Judge. After one minute, the handler returns to the dog by walking around behind him and the Judge will call “exercise finished”. Next the handler will down the dog, and on order from Judge go to collect the leash from either the Judge’s table or a chair outside of the ring, stop at the gate, and wait for the Judge’s order to return to the dog. The leash must be clipped to the dog’s collar, and the dog must leave the ring under control. This means the Judge will have to watch you until you are out of the gate. Judges should have always been doing that anyway, but now it’s part of an exercise, so it is mandated.
For Open B everything is the same, except that on 3 of the orders the dog will do a one minute down stay, then a sit stay to get the leash.
For all the folks who thought training stays was “boring”, and keeping in mind that you will still need to train your dog to stay, the new exercises will certainly not bore you! We have a whole new slate of challenges, and hopefully a new interest in our traditional sport!
Good training, everyone!