Written by Marilyn Miller
Training the Novice exercises are entirely different than I remember when I trained Luckee Fella and Mandi Ming for their Companion Dog titles 16 years ago. Even more changes since Baby Ming Squeezicks, CDX (my first obedience Lhasa) trained years before that. Our trainer Ms. Hill has us break down all exercises into small parts and eventually work up to the complete exercise.
Every class begins with heeling. Short steps at first, then a halt. Hopefully the dog's attention will be on the handler and not sniffing the floor. Small dogs take more time keeping focused as they are so low to the ground and their noses pick up all the smells. When Blaze's nose starts to sniff the mat, I give a slight upward tug on her leash. When she looks up at me I praise her. Left and right turns are also done with just a few steps in between. Over time these steps are lengthened. Walking on tape on the floor that hold the mats together keeps me walking in a straight line. If I am walking straight my dog should be also. We incorporate the slow, fast and normal in our class heeling exercises. Eventually an about turn is introduced. At home when we practice on the back deck I use a crack in the wood (between boards) for a straight line to heel on.
Ms. Hill suggested I use a long wooden spoon on my about turns to lure Blaze. I put peanut butter on the spoon and stick a piece of cheese or chicken on it and hold it under her nose when making the turn. This saves on my bending over considerably. The spoon extends the length of my arm. I also use the spoon to lure Blaze on the outside turn around the cone on the figure 8. What a simple yet ingenious idea !
We have worked on "set ups" in class for when we enter the ring and set up. We practice this by setting up around a cone. We have worked on heeling toward the cone and doing a left or right turn around the cone and halt. At home I practice each direction around the cone three times. This is also to "cue" Blaze in to which direction I will make the turn and to get her used to my footwork. This was our first step toward an off leash heel. We set up, walk a few feet to the cone off leash, turn around the cone and halt. Every time I have Blaze set up she gets a treat.
Our sits and downs are improving. This week I am to bring a long line to class. Ms. Hill thinks (because she is so young) Blaze needs me on the end of a line for security. Blaze just turned 8 months old on July 9th. Still a baby. At home I can test how far I can go beyond the end of the line. Blaze is doing much better with the long sits and downs. We practice this exercise every day, preferably when she is tired in the late afternoon. We also do a little heeling every day. All the other exercises we practice on alternate days. This week instead of my heeling "inside" the group in class, I will join the mayhem and heel right along with them. At shows there may be practice areas for dogs at all levels of competition to warm up and Blaze should get used to being in the middle of chaos. In all the years of shows I entered I remember extremely few warm up areas. Maybe this is something new since I last showed Mandi three years ago.
The last week Blaze and I have been working on the "wait" command. In class we are taught to give the dog a treat and say " wait". Leave the dog (holding on to the leash). Walk a few feet, looking over your shoulder several times to make sure she does not move. Over time increase your distance away from the dog. Return to the dog and treat. This exercise eventually leads up to leaving the dog for a recall . The dog might be able do a great recall and front, but if she gets up when you leave her it will be a NQ. I will use the long line on this exercise in future classes until Blaze does a reliable stay. In class we also work on fronts. Both straight fronts and fronts off to the side. Blaze knows both the right and left finishes, however, only the left finish is practiced in class. With a left finish the dog does not go around behind you facing distractions as with the right finish. We are not adding the finish to any fronts yet. They are being taught as separate exercises.
I have decided that the clicker is more of a hindrance than a help. I can get out the words "good girl" faster than I can find the button on the clicker. I don't have enough hands to hold the leash, clicker, treats etc.
Our second set of four classes begins tomorrow evening. We will build on what we have already learned. For example, people will replace the cones for the figure 8. The class will take turns giving other dogs the stand for exam. We will work more (with longer distances) on off-leash heeling. Blaze likes the class, the trainer, and being around other dogs. She has two friends in particular in the class: a one year old Golden Retriever and a young King Charles Spaniel. Blaze really seems to enjoy learning which is a huge plus for both of us!
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