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Getting Ready to Compete

In This Chapter

If you and Buddy enjoy working together, the sky is the limit. You can participate in obedience competitions and earn obedience titles. Doing so is a lot of fun, and you meet lots of nice people. We must warn you, though, that after you get started, you can become addicted. And your life will never be the same.

Almost every weekend of the year, you can go to a dog show and show off what the two of you have accomplished. Dog shows are either conformation shows, where your dog is judged on his appearance, or obedience trials, where your dog and you are judged on his and your ability. The shows can be held together or separately.
If you’ve already been to a dog show and watched the obedience trial, you were probably amazed at the training and maybe thought to yourself, “My dog could never do that.” Well, not necessarily. It all depends on his Personality Profile and whether the two of you enjoy spending quality time with each other (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind for more about Personality Profiles).

Training for Competitive Dog Titles

Different organizations have licensed shows, including those in which designer dogs can participate. In this book, we concentrate on the shows held under the auspices of the American Kennel Club (AKC), the oldest and largest organization to license such events.

More information on dog organizations

Check out these Web sites for more information on the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the
United Kennel Club (UKC):

– The official Web page of the American Kennel Club ( offers information on almost everything to do with dogs. You can get the profiles of different breeds, find out how to register your dog, or get answers to questions about registration. You can find out about dogs in competition and what titles dogs can earn. This Web page tells you about pedigrees and, if you have a purebred dog, how to get a three-generation pedigree from the AKC. It offers reproductions from the Dog Museum, where many famous pieces of art and old books are housed, and it has archives of articles that have appeared recently, together with information about how the AKC works.

– The United Kennel Club ( is the second oldest and second largest all-breed dog registry in the United States. Founded in 1898 by Chauncey Z. Bennett, the registry has always supported the idea of the “total dog,” meaning a dog that looks and performs equally well. With 250,000 registrations annually, the performance programs of UKC include conformation shows; obedience trials; agility trials; coonhound field trials; water races; night hunts and bench shows; hunting tests for the retrieving breeds; beagle events, including hunts and bench shows; cur, feist, squirrel, and coon events; plus bench shows. The UKC world of dogs is a working world. That’s the way Bennett designed it, and that’s the way it remains today.

The AKC awards three basic obedience titles:
The level of difficulty increases with each class, from no more than basic control to retrieving and jumping to responding to signals and direction. The classes are designed so that any dog can participate successfully and earn titles. After your dog has earned a Utility Dog title, you’re then eligible to compete for the special obedience titles of Obedience Trial Champion and Utility Dog Excellent. All three classes and all levels of competition have one exercise in common: heeling. This means that you and Buddy need a firm foundation and have to practice, practice, practice.

Understanding the system

You and Buddy can enter either the Pre-Novice or the Novice class. The required exercises for both classes demonstrate the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion. You can also enter the Rally class (see the section, “The Rally Class,” later in the chapter).
The Pre-Novice is a nonregular class that, like the Canine Good Citizen (see Chapter Preparing for Your Dog’s Citizenship Test), serves as an introduction to the world of obedience events. Seven nonregular classes — Graduate Novice, Graduate Open, Brace (two dogs handled by one person), Veterans (for dogs at least 7 years of age), Versatility, Team (four dogs and four handlers), and Pre-Novice — are available. Participation in nonregular classes doesn’t earn AKC titles.
For the Pre-Novice class, no minimum point score is required for a qualifying score, and whoever has the highest score wins the class. Pre-Novice is ideal for people or dogs who’ve never participated in a dog show before.
The cornerstones of the Pre-Novice class, and of all the other obedience classes, are having a dog that does the following:
Later in this chapter, we concentrate on these two concepts.

Requirements for Pre-Novice

The Pre-Novice class consists of six exercises, each with a specific point value. Your dog should respond to the first command, and you’ll be penalized for additional commands. All the exercises are performed on leash. Before each exercise, the judge asks, “Are you ready?” You say that you are, and the judge then gives the command, such as “Forward” for the Heel On Leash (see the section “Exercise 1’s Heel On Leash: ‘Let’s Dance, Buddy,’” later in the chapter) and Figure 8 exercises (see the section, “Exercise 1’s Figure 8: ‘Buddy, Do the Twist,’” later in the chapter), or “Stand your dog and leave when ready” for the Stand for Examination (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title). These exercises are always done in the order in which they’re listed in Table 13-1.

Table 13-1                              The Pre-Novice Class

Required Exercises
Available Points
Heel On Leash
Figure 8
Stand for Examination
Long Sit (1 minute)
Long Down (3 minutes)
Maximum Total Score
The exercises listed in Table 13-1 are an extension of those required for the Canine Good Citizen and are a preview of those required for the Novice class.

Prelude to Exercise 1: Teaching the “Ready!” Command

The first exercise in either the Pre-Novice or the Novice class is the Heel On Leash, and we like to teach our dogs a command that tells them that the two of us are going to heel together. The command we’ve chosen is “Ready!” Notice that the command includes an exclamation mark and not a question mark. You say it in a quiet and yet excited tone of voice — almost a whisper. The reason we’ve chosen this command is simple: In an obedience trial, the judge asks, “Are you ready?” before he or she gives the order “Forward.”
When the judge asks you the question, naturally, you’re expected to give some indication that the two of you are ready to go. We use the answer “Ready!” and Buddy snaps to attention and is all set to go. The judge then says “Forward,” at which point you give Buddy the command, “Buddy, heel!” and start to move.

Dog show tidbits

To participate in a dog show, you need to enter about three weeks ahead of time. To participate in an AKC-licensed event, your dog must be a purebred and must be registered with the AKC.
If you have a dog that looks like a purebred, but you don’t have papers for him, you may be able to get an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) number from the AKC that permits you to participate in obedience trials.
At a dog show, the dogs are exhibited in a clearly defined enclosure, often made of baby gates, called a ring, which is a rectangular area no less than 30 feet by 40 feet.


No doubt you’re wondering why all this is necessary when Buddy is supposed to respond to the “Heel” command and move with you when you do. The reason is that when you give the “Heel” command, you want to make sure that Buddy’s attention is on you and not something else that may have attracted his attention. Otherwise, he may just sit there like a bump on a log, totally engrossed in what’s going on in the next ring, and when you start to walk, he has to play catch-up.

To avoid this scenario, teach Buddy the “Ready!” command. In addition, you need to decide on your leadoff leg — the one that tells the dog when he’s expected to go with you. If you’re right-handed, you’ll be more comfortable making your leadoff leg your right one, but you can start on either leg as long as you’re consistent. We suggest you experiment and make your leadoff leg the one that helps your dog stay in Heel position when you start.

Using Control Position

In practice, you’re also going to graduate from leash over the shoulder to Control Position, which makes it easier for you to remind Buddy of his responsibility to pay attention to you and stay in Heel position when he permits himself to become distracted. Control Position (see Figure 13-1) is used whenever you want to practice attention and precision heeling.
Figure 13-1: Using the Control Position.
To hold the leash in Control Position,

1. Attach the leash to your dog’s training collar.
2. Position both rings of the collar under his chin.
3. Put the loop of the leash over the thumb of your right hand.
4. Neatly fold the leash, accordion-style, into your right hand, with the part going to the dog coming out from under your little finger.
5. Place your right hand against the front of your leg, palm facing your leg.
6. With your left hand, grasp the leash in front of your left leg, palm facing your leg.


Keep both hands below your waist at all times and your elbows relaxed and close to your body. Take up enough slack in the leash so that the leash snap is parallel with the ground.

Focusing Buddy’s attention on you

The purpose of the following training sequences is to systematically teach your dog a command, which means “Pay attention.”
1. Attach the leash to the training collar and sit your dog at Heel position.
2. Hold the leash in Control Position and look at your dog, keeping your left shoulder absolutely straight.

Don’t forget to smile and relax.

3. Say your dog’s name, release with an enthusiastic “Okay,” and take five steps forward at a trot, keeping your hands in Control Position.

Don’t worry about what Buddy is doing; just concentrate on your part.

4. Repeat ten times.

Introducing Buddy to the “Ready!” command

Now for your Sequence 2 goal — to introduce your dog to the “Ready!” command.


When teaching “Ready!” hold your hands in Control Position, and keep your shoulders absolutely straight. You want to use body language to communicate forward motion to your dog. Dropping your left shoulder or pointing it back communicates just the opposite.

1. Attach the leash to the training collar, and sit your dog at Heel position.
2. Hold the leash in Control Position and look at your dog, keeping your left shoulder absolutely straight.
3. Quietly and in an excited tone of voice, say “Ready!”
4. Say “Buddy, heel,” move out briskly for five paces, and release.


Wait until you finish giving the command before you move. Otherwise, you’re teaching your dog to move on his name or your motion — not a good idea.

5. Repeat ten times.

Ignore what Buddy is doing in this exercise. Concentrate on your part — which is making it exciting and fun for your dog — of keeping your hands in position and starting and releasing on the leadoff leg.

Getting Buddy to respond to “Ready!”

The goal of Sequence 3 is to teach your dog to respond to the “Ready!” command:
1. Attach the leash to the training collar, and sit your dog at Heel position.
2. Hold the leash in Control Position and look at your dog, keeping your left shoulder absolutely straight.
3. Quietly and in an excited tone of voice, say, “Ready!”
4. Say “Buddy, heel,” start at a fast pace as quickly as you can for ten paces, and release.
5. Repeat ten times.
Here are a couple helpful hints for you as you do this sequence the first few times:

– Wait until you’ve finished the command before you start to run. It would hardly be fair to your dog to take off without having told him what you want. You may feel a little tension on the leash before Buddy understands that you want him to move with you.

– Resist the temptation to let your left hand trail out behind you when you feel a little tension on the leash, and resist the urge to let your left shoulder drop. Hook the thumb of your left hand under your waistband and lock it in place, and concentrate on keeping that left shoulder straight.

After four to five tries, you’ll notice that Buddy is actually responding when you say “Ready!” and is outrunning you.

Rewarding Buddy’s response

Sequence 4 rewards dogs that respond to the “Ready!” command and helps those that are a little slow to pick up on it:
1. With your dog sitting at a Heel position, neatly fold the leash into your left hand, which should be placed at your belt buckle.
2. Hold a treat in your right hand, placing your hand at your right side.
3. Look at your dog, smile, and say “Ready!”
4. Do one of the following:
5. Repeat until your dog responds without hesitation to the “Ready!” command.

Reinforcing the “Ready!” command

Sometimes Buddy will be distracted to such an extent that he won’t respond to the treat, much less the command. For those occasions, you need to be able to reinforce the command so that he’ll learn that when you say the magic word, he has to pay attention no matter what’s out there. Perform the following steps to reinforce the “Ready!” command, Sequence 5’s goal:
1. Attach the leash to the training collar, and sit your dog at Heel position.
2. Hold the leash in Control Position and look at your dog, keeping your left shoulder absolutely straight.

3. Give the “Ready!” command.

4. Do one of the following:


Nagging your dog with ineffective checks isn’t a good training technique. Get a response the first time so you can praise and release him. If you repeatedly don’t get a response, review the prior sequences.

5. Repeat until your dog is rock solid on responding to the “Ready!” command.

Getting Buddy to ignore distractions

Sequence 6’s goal is to ignore distractions. This sequence is the review progression for the entire “Ready!” exercise.
You can now start working with a helper who will try to distract your dog. Your helper can be a friend or family member. The three main distractions are

Visual, or first degree: Helper approaches and just stands there.

Auditory, or second degree: Helper approaches and tries to distract Buddy with “Hello, puppy! Want to come and visit?” or whatever else comes to mind. Note that the name of the dog isn’t used.

Object of attraction, or third degree: Helper approaches and offers Buddy a toy or a treat.

When doing the following steps, practice with first degree until your dog ignores the distracter. Then move on to second degree and third degree, respectively.
1. Neatly fold the leash into your right hand, and place your left hand around the leash directly under your right hand, as though you are holding a baseball bat.

Allow about two inches of slack in the leash and place both hands against your belt buckle.

2. Give the “Ready!” command.
3. Have the helper approach in a nonthreatening manner.


When you’re working on distraction training, have the helper approach your dog at a 45-degree angle and not straight on from the front or the side. The helper starts to approach the dog from ten feet away and stops two feet from the dog.

4. Do one of the following:
You need to review this exercise with Buddy on a regular basis.

Heeling with Distractions

Now that you’ve taught Buddy to pay attention to you on command and while he’s sitting at the Heel position, you have to teach him to pay attention during heeling. Up to now, most of your heeling has probably been done in areas relatively free of distractions, perhaps even in the same location (see Chapter Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone). The time has come to expand your and Buddy’s horizons. You need to get him out to new places.
For Buddy, any new location is a form of distraction training. Everything looks different, and more important, there are new smells. When you take  him to a new place, let him acclimate himself first — take in the sights andsmells. Give him a chance to relieve himself.


When you participate in an obedience trial, defecating in the ring is an automatic nonqualification (NQ), so you need to teach Buddy that when he’s working it’s not the time or place for bathroom breaks.

Heeling in new places

In a location new to your dog, and after he has had a chance to look around a bit and relieve himself, do some heeling with particular emphasis on having your dog paying attention to you. Anytime his attention wanders — he may want to sniff the ground or just look around — remind him with a little check that he has to pay attention to you. When he does, tell him what a good boy he is, and then release him.
Check in the direction you want your dog to focus — somewhere on you. Depending on his size, this can be your ankle, lower leg, upper leg, torso, or face. Focusing on your face would be ideal, and some dogs learn it quickly; others are structurally unable to.

When you release him with “Okay,” take five steps straight forward at a trot. Keep both hands on the leash. You want to get him excited about heeling with you. If he gets too excited, release him with somewhat less enthusiasm. After a check to refocus the dog’s attention on you, release him. Make it fun for your dog to watch you.

Heeling with a distracter

The purpose of heeling with distractions is for your dog to ignore them, concentrate on what he’s supposed to do, and learn to pay attention to you. Exactly how he accomplishes this goal isn’t important, so long as he does. Dogs have excellent peripheral vision and can heel perfectly well without directly looking at you.
You now need a helper to assist you. Heel your dog past your helper, who can be standing, sitting, or squatting, while smiling invitingly at your dog. If your dog permits himself to become distracted, check him to refocus his attention on you. When he does, praise and release. Repeat until your dog ignores your helper and instead pays attention to you as you pass the distracter.
Next, have your helper talk to your dog (the helper does not use the dog’s name), and then have your helper offer your dog a treat. You want to teach your dog to ignore such distractions and remain attentive to you. When he does, be sure to praise and release him.
After Buddy has caught on to the concept that he has to pay attention to you no matter what, use the release less frequently until you can eliminate it altogether.

Responsibilities during heeling

Both you and your dog have specific responsibilities for heeling (see Table 13-2). Notably, yours are far more numerous than your dog’s.

Table 13-2                       Responsibilities for Heeling

Your Dog’s
Leash handling
Paying attention to you
Body posture
Staying in position
Pace and rhythm
Concentrating on dog
Use of the leash
Anticipating when to check
Direction of check
When and how to reward

The Novice Class: What’s Expected from You and Buddy

The Novice class consists of six exercises, each with a specific point value (see Table 13-3). For a qualifying score, you and Buddy have to earn more than 50 percent of the available points for each exercise and a final score of more than 170 out of a possible 200.


A qualifying score at an obedience trial is called a leg. Your dog needs three legs under three different judges to earn the AKC title, Companion Dog. 

Table 13-3                                The Novice Class

Required Exercises
Available Points
Exercise 1: Heel On Leash and Figure 8
Exercise 2: Stand for Examination
Exercise 3: Heel Free
Exercise 4: Recall
Exercise 5: Long Sit
Exercise 6: Long Down
Maximum Total Score
The six exercises are always done in the order listed in Table 13-3, and they’re all pack behavior exercises.

“So where do I get those Obedience Regulations thingies?”

You can get your own copy of the Obedience Regulations by contacting the American Kennel Club at 5580 Centerview Drive, Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606-3390 (919-233-9767 or
Getting your own copy of the regulations is a piece o’ cake, so go ahead and get them. Knowing the rules is a good idea so you know what’s expected from you and your dog.
Like the Pre-Novice class, the Novice class exercises are an extension of those required for the Canine Good Citizen test (see Chapter 12). The Stand for Examination exercise, for example, is a form of temperament test similar to Accepting a Friendly Stranger and Sitting Politely for  Petting in the Canine Good Citizen test.
There are, however, some important differences and additions in the Novice class exercises:

– Buddy has to respond to the first command.

– Walking on a loose leash (see Chapter Preparing for Your Dog’s Citizenship Test) is now called Heeling and consists of both heeling on leash and off leash and includes a Figure 8 on leash (see “Exercise 1’s Figure 8: ‘Buddy, Do the Twist,’” later in the chapter). It’s also more exacting.

– The temperament test requires the dog to stand and is done off leash with you standing six feet in front of your dog. When you’re in position, the judge will approach your dog from in front and touch Buddy’s head, body, and hindquarters with the fingers and palm of one hand.

– In addition to the Heel On Leash, there’s Heeling Off Leash (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title).

– The Come When Called (see Chapter Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone) is now called the Recall (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title). It’s done off leash and requires Buddy to come on command, sit in front of you, and then go to Heel position on command.

– The Sit and Down-Stay (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title) are done off leash for one and three minutes, respectively.

The Novice class is tailor-made for the dog that’s highest in pack drive behaviors. For the dog that’s highest in prey drive behaviors, this class is a little more difficult because of his distractibility around sights, sounds, and smells. (See Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind to see what the different behaviors mean.)


When you look at the Novice class exercises, you see that 120 points depend on your dog being able to stay — for the Stand for Examination (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title), the Recall (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title), the one-minute Sit, and the three-minute Down-Stay (see Chapter The Companion Dog Title). So you can see how important the “Stay” exercise is.

Exercise 1’s Heel On Leash: “Let’s Dance, Buddy”

Heeling is like dancing with your dog. And you have to be the leader. If you know anything about dancing, then you know that you have the tougher job.
The dog will follow only your lead, and you need to give him the necessary cues to change direction or pace.


Heeling is a pack drive exercise (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind). Before giving the command to heel, put your dog into pack drive by smiling at him and gently touching him on the side of his face.

In the section, “Heeling with Distractions,” earlier in the chapter, you teach Buddy to heel around distractions, and you need to review that exercise on a frequent basis. In addition, you need to work on perfecting those turns and changes of pace.
Under the AKC Obedience Regulations (see the sidebar, “‘So where do I get those Obedience Regulations thingies?’” for more info), the judge will call a heeling pattern for you. The pattern has to include — in addition to normal pace — a fast pace, a slow pace, and a right, left, and about-turn. That pattern is the bare minimum. A simple heeling pattern may look something like this: forward, fast, normal, left turn, about-turn, halt, forward, right turn, slow, normal, about-turn, halt.
If you have your dog’s attention, and if you don’t accidentally confuse him with incorrect cues, everything should go reasonably well. Still, you need to look at each of the maneuvers as a separate exercise that you and Buddy have to practice — sort of like the steps of a particular dance.
Table 13-4 sets up how to practice the different component parts of heeling. (The following two sections get into the specifics.) The column “Responses You May See” alerts you about what to watch for so you can work on it in your training. If you need to check your dog, release after the check. When your dog is doing something correctly, or is trying, be sure to reward him with a treat or praise.

Table 13-4                           Practicing the Components of Heeling

Dog’s Responsibility
What You Need to Practice
Responses You May See
Fast starts
Slow start, lags behind
Normal pace
Normal pace
Straight line or large circle. If the dog is distracted, check and release.
Lags or forges, crowds or goes wide, sniffs or becomes distracted (Prey drive)
Check into sit and then release
Forges ahead, sits crooked
Normal to slow
Draw back on the leash as you slow down
Crowds, forges ahead as you slow down
Slow to normal Normal to fast Right turn About-turn
Alternate between release, treat, and check
Lags, goes wide
Left turn
Draw back on the leash
Forges or crowds then lags, goes wide
Left turn
Alternate between release, treat, and check
Forges or crowds, then lags, goes wide

The halt

When you halt, Buddy is expected to sit at Heel position without any command or signal from you. This maneuver is called the Automatic Sit, because the cue for the dog to sit is when you stop. Under the Obedience Regulations, you’re penalized if you use a command or signal to get the dog to sit. The dog has to do it on his own.
To teach Buddy the Automatic Sit, put the rings of the training collar on top of your dog’s neck. As you come to a halt, check with your left hand straight up. Be careful that you don’t inadvertently check toward or across your body, because doing so will cause your dog to sit with his rear end away from you and not in a straight line. Practice two or three Automatic Sits with a check, and then try one without a check. Your dog will immediately tell you where you stand with that exercise.

Changes of pace and turns

For the changes of pace and turns, we train dogs to take their cue from the leadoff leg. We use three techniques to teach this concept:

Changing pace

This section contains a changing pace example: Suppose that you want to teach the dog to stay with you as you change pace from slow to normal. Perform these steps:
1. Release your dog from a slow pace on your leadoff leg.

The idea is to get your dog all excited about accelerating with you from slow to normal.

2. As you go from slow to normal, use a treat to draw the dog forward as the leadoff leg makes the transition.

Hold the leash in your left hand and the treat in your right. Show the dog the treat just as you’re about to make the change, and draw him forward with your right hand as the leadoff leg accelerates into normal pace.

3. Hold the leash in Control Position (see the section, “Using Control Position,” earlier in the chapter) and occasionally, and only when necessary, give a little check straight forward at the same time the leadoff leg makes the transition.

The check teaches your dog that ultimately it’s his responsibility, on or off leash, to accelerate when you change pace.


Most of your repetitions of any of the heeling components should include the release or a treat.

Making turns

When making turns, try to keep your feet close together so your dog can keep up with you. For the right and about-turn, Buddy needs to learn to accelerate and stay close to your side as you make the turn. You can teach him by using

– The release as you come out of the turn

– A treat to guide him around the turn

– If necessary, a little check coming out of the turn

When you use a treat,

– Neatly fold the leash into your left hand, and place it against your right hip. Doing so keeps your shoulder facing in the right direction.

– Hold the treat in your right hand at your side.

– Just before you make the turn, show your dog the treat, and use it to guide him around the turn.

– Hold the treat as close to your left leg as you can so your dog learns to make nice, tight turns.

For the left turn, Buddy first needs to slow down so you don’t trip over him and then accelerate again. Draw back on the leash just before you make the turn, and then use the same techniques as you use for the right and about-turns.


You don’t have to practice these maneuvers in succession, so long as you do two or three of each during a training session.

Once a week, test your dog’s understanding of heeling by doing a little pattern with him that’s similar to what you’d perform in the ring. In the ring, you’re not allowed to check your dog, and you can’t have any tension on the leash. The only true test is when your dog is off leash, but using umbilical cord or Show position also gives you a good idea of what you need to practice. For Show position, neatly fold the leash into your left hand, and place it at your belt buckle, allowing anywhere from three to eight inches of slack, depending on the size of the dog.


The purpose of testing your dog’s understanding of heeling is to see what you need to practice. Most of your time should be spent practicing. Test every fourth or fifth session.

Exercise 1’s Figure 8: “Buddy, Do the Twist”

The Figure 8 is a fun exercise. In the ring, it’s done around two people, called stewards, who stand eight feet apart and act as posts. You and your dog start equidistant from the two posts and walk twice completely around and between them. In practice, you can use chairs as posts. In order to stay in Heel position, your dog has to speed up on the outside turn and slow down on the inside turn, while you maintain an even brisk pace throughout.


One lament we frequently hear is, “He does fine at home, but take him anywhere and forget it!” Make a point to seek out new locations, at first without distractions and then with distractions, to see how Buddy does.


Until your dog has learned this exercise, he’ll have a tendency to forge or crowd on the inside turn and to lag or go wide on the outside turn. In teaching this exercise, use your body as your main communication tool. By rotating the upper part of your body back toward your dog, or forward away from your dog, you’ll cause him to slow down or speed up, respectively. Your left shoulder will be the cue for your dog, indicating what you want him to do. When the left shoulder points back, your dog will slow down; when it points forward, he’ll speed up. Just as dogs communicate with each other through body language, so can you.

Go ahead and try it. It’s almost the same motion as the twist, only from the waist up. Rotate the upper part of your body first to the left and then to the right. You’ll use this motion to control your dog’s momentum.

Preparing Buddy for the Figure 8

Before you begin practicing going around posts, teach Buddy that he has to speed up his pace when you circle to the right and to slow down when you circle to the left.
For the inside turn,
1. Start with your dog sitting at the Heel position, with your leash in Control Position.
2. Say “Buddy, heel,” and walk a circle to the left, about four feet in diameter, at a slow pace.
3. Twist to the left as you walk.
4. Release your dog after you’ve completed the circle.
After two or three tries, you’ll notice how your dog responds to your body cues. If nothing happens, exaggerate your body motion.
For the outside turn,
1. Start with your dog sitting at the Heel position, with the leash neatly folded into your left hand.
2. Put your left hand against your right hip.

Doing so keeps your left shoulder facing forward.

3. Have a treat in your right hand.
4. Say “Buddy, heel,” and walk in a circle to the right, about four feet in diameter, at your normal brisk pace.
5. Use the treat, which is held just in front of his nose, to guide your dog around, and give him the treat after you’ve completed the circle.


The Obedience Regulations are quite specific about the position of your hands. For the Heel On Leash, you can hold the leash in either hand or in both, so long as they’re in a natural position. For the Heel Free, your arms can swing naturally at your side, or you can swing your right arm naturally at your side and place your left hand against your belt buckle, which is the position we use.

You’re looking for a visible effort on the part of your dog to accelerate. Repeat these steps several times so you become comfortable with the maneuver. Then try going at a trot.

Teaching Buddy the actual Figure 8

The Sequence 2 goal is to teach your dog the Figure 8. Following is the review progression for this exercise:
1. Place two chairs about 12 feet apart.
2. Start with your dog sitting at the Heel position, two feet from the centerline, equidistant between the chairs.
3. Neatly fold the leash into your left hand, and place it against your belt buckle; hold a treat in your right hand.
4. Say “Buddy, heel,” and start to walk at a slow pace around the chair on your left, rotating the upper part of your body to the left.
5. When you get to the center between the two chairs, show your dog the treat and guide him around the chair on your right at a trot, keeping your left shoulder facing forward.
6. Stop at the center, and sit your dog; then praise and release.


Hold the treat at your right side and out of Buddy’s sight until you get to the center and want him to speed up. Then hold it as close as you can to your left leg so he learns to stay close to your side. Don’t show the treat to him on the inside turn, or he’ll try to get to the treat instead of slowing down.


Your success in keeping Buddy at Heel position without crowding or lagging depends on how well you use your shoulders to communicate with him.

Doing the perfect Figure 8

Sequence 3’s goal is the perfect Figure 8:
1. Practice the review progression (see the preceding section), making two complete Figure 8s.
2. Start from the center and complete one Figure 8 at normal pace, using your shoulders to cue your dog.

Stop and sit your dog. Repeat the review progression often to maintain your dog’s enthusiasm.

3. Over the course of several sessions, put the chairs closer together in one-foot increments until they’re eight feet apart.
4. Practice a Figure 8 with umbilical cord (see Chapter 14), concentrating on the direction of your shoulders.

Keep your left hand on your belt buckle.

5. Try a Figure 8 off leash.

Although the Figure 8 is done on leash in the Novice class, practicing it off leash is a good test. You’ll quickly see where your dog needs more practice.


At one point or another, you may have to use a little check going into the outside turn to impress on Buddy how important it is to you that he speed up.

The Rally Class

The name rally comes from the use of directional signs, similar to a Road Rally for cars. The AKC Rally Class provides a link from the Canine Good Citizen test to obedience and agility competition.
In the Rally Class the dog and handler complete a course following a series of 10 to 20 signs, depending on the level. Each sign, called a “station,” instructs the handler on each exercise the dog has to perform. For example, the sign may say “Forward,” “About-turn,” or “Halt.”
After the judge has given the first “Forward,” the handler and dog team move continuously from one sign to the next on their own instead of waiting for the judge’s command for each exercise as in all the other obedience classes. Unlimited communication from handler to dog is permitted, but the handler may not touch the dog and physical guidance is penalized.

Success Story

This class is fun because you can give all the extra help your dog may need in the form of commands, encouragement, and praise. It’s also fast paced, because you move from one sign to the next without any interruption, which makes it very exciting for the dog.

The starting score is 200, and deductions are made for any errors on the part of the dog performing the designated exercise at a station, or for not completing a required exercise. Scoring is more lenient than traditional obedience, although there should be a sense of teamwork between the dog and handler. You’ll encounter approximately 40 different stations, representing all the basic obedience exercises and maneuvers.
There are three Rally classes:
  • Novice
  • Advanced
  • Excellent
To earn an AKC Rally title, the dog must achieve three qualifying scores under at least two different judges.
In the Rally Novice class, all exercises are done on leash, and there are 10 to 15 stations. In the Rally Advanced class, all the exercises, which include one jump, are done off leash, and there are 12 to 17 stations. The Rally Excellent class is also done off leash and includes two jumps and 15 to 20 stations. Finally, the Rally Advanced Excellent title requires the dog to qualify ten times in both the Rally Advanced Class and the Rally Excellent Class at the same trial.

Your Dog Isn’t an Elephant

True or false? After my dog is trained, I’ll never have to practice his lessons again.
Answer: False.
Your dog doesn’t have the memory of an elephant, so you need to review his lessons on a regular basis.
For example, if you’ve used the Recall Game (see Chapter  Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone) to teach Buddy to come when called, you need to reward him with a treat on a variable schedule when he responds to your call and comes to you. If you get lax, the association between the command and the reward will weaken. You can tell when this begins to happen: First, Buddy doesn’t come immediately. He may take a detour or lift his leg just one more time. Then, you have to call him again. Finally, he ignores you when you implore him to come.

Technical Stuff

The principle of successive nonreinforced repetitions sounds more complicated than it is. These repetitions are responses to a command without any reinforcement, such as not giving your dog a treat when he comes to you after you’ve called him.

Every time your dog responds to a command without reinforcement, which can be a reward or a little check, depending on how you have taught the dog the command, it’s a nonreinforced repetition. The number of these repetitions is finite and depends on the extent to which the behavior is in harmony with the dog’s instincts or drives. After a Labrador Retriever has been trained to retrieve, he’ll happily fetch almost indefinitely without any reinforcement. An Afghan Hound will probably retrieve only a few times without reinforcement. The Labrador was bred to retrieve; the Afghan wasn’t.


Every command you’ve taught your dog needs to be reinforced on a random basis, or the association between the command and the reinforcement weakens.

Several years ago, we had a wonderful demonstration of this principle when we visited friends in Newfoundland, who have two delightful Whippets. Every  morning, our friends take a short ride to the local park for their own dailywalk and to let the dogs run. Naturally, we joined them.
The park covers about 100 acres, with wonderful walking trails, plenty of wildlife, and a large pond inhabited by a variety of fowl. After we were inside the park, much to our surprise, our friends let the dogs loose. When we say surprised, it’s because Whippets are sight hounds, extremely high in prey drive that love to chase anything that moves. They’re also incredibly fast and can cover great distances in seconds. We were wondering how our friends would get these dogs back.
To make a long story short, when the dogs ranged a little too far or started chasing something, our friends called them back. To our amazement, the dogs came instantly every time, and every time they got a treat. The response was reinforced!


Any taught response needs to be reinforced. You needn’t worry about the exact number of nonreinforced repetitions your dog will retain of a given behavior. All you need to know is that they’re finite. To keep him sharp, randomly reinforce — whether you think he needs it or not.`

Making excuses and blaming the dog is easy, but your dog isn’t an elephant and needs occasional reminders.
by Jack and Wendy Volhard
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