Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Puppy Dog Training for the Conformation Show Ring

I offer exclusive training to a few lucky dog students. I particularly enjoy training puppies and mostly I am asked to help get youngsters ready for their conformation show ring career. Enjoy this video of yellow Labrador puppy "Google" who was my latest student. It was taken after my typical 2-week training course for conformation showing. Moonlits Hot On The Search aka Google is 5 1/2 months old.

I don't take them to a perfect "finished product" in 2 weeks, I get them started well while they have fun working and their little minds become engaged with the process. Each puppy is invited one at a time and lives in our home as one of the family. This means they learn the rules of proper house manners (at least as they exist in my house), they learn to wait politely for meals, eat side by side with my dogs, meet and be nice to the cat and don't steal her food even if she doesn't finish. They learn about manners at the door and the gate, what is and is not a toy, and a host of other everyday useful behaviors.

For breed ring training each puppy learns to free-stack themselves, or at least get started by learning to move their feet on cue. They are taught to back up on cue. No physical manipulation necessary which I think presents a much nicer picture in the ring. I get eye contact on cue, mouth handling for showing teeth, body handling as a judge will do, they accept being stacked for those times it may be needed and I always want to see a wagging tail. These are Labradors after all!! They learn to stay a nice distance away from me and "be beautiful" for increasing periods of time. Gaiting is important and I teach them the whole package. Position consistent by my left side, even trotting gait, look straight ahead with your head up, turn when I turn and resume trotting, then end in a 4-square stack, wag and smile!

You may not notice all of these little lessons as you watch the video (and others on my Labrador Dogs training channel), but I have used many small steps of positive reinforcement to get each puppy to make their job look natural and easy. I put as much on cue as I can in the time they are here so they understand what is expected of them. I believe this will make their first actual shows less stressful and more fun and that sets the stage for a promising career!


Colette said...

Thanks for all your tips! I am going to show a black lab in Juniors, but she does not wag her tail when stacking (though she does hold her tail out when gaiting). Should I click when she wags her tail at home (not necessarily in a "stack") and put it on cue? Or, should I teach her to allow her tail being held? I haven't figured it out how to hold her tail, because she is a smallish lab, and I am a tallish person. If I hold her tail it looks akward if I'm standing and leaning over her, but I haven't seen people kneel to hold their labs tails. Is it okay to kneel? Do you have suggestions for doing "tailwork"? Thanks so much!

OtterTail said...

Hi Colette. Yes! Click your girl for wagging as a separate behavior and put it on cue. It may take a little longer than some other behaviors for her to realize what it is you want, just be consistent and patient and repeat lots of clicks and treats so she has lots of information. Then you can add it to the stack. It's great to be able to tell them specifically what you want, so dividing any exercise into many small parts and putting them all on cue is a nice way to help your dog show better.

You can teach your Lab to allow you to hold her tail as well. It is ok to kneel. Whether you stand or kneel watch how you hold the tail. Position yourself so you can hold it by the tip rather than hold it "bent" in the middle. Better not to hold it at all than to make it look bad.

I suggest you teach her to show free-baiting and wagging on her own on cue as well as allowing you to position her feet and hold her tail. That way you can show judges your versatility, show off your rapport with your dog and be ready to present her the way any judge prefers. It will also build confidence for both of you if you have the behaviors on cue and you are really working together. Plus, the more you teach your dog the smarter she gets! Remember to keep it fun and she will be more likely to wag on her own. If you are too serious she will get serious and/or bored.

Check out my other videos if your haven't already and see if you can pick out little things I do to help each dog. For instance, how and where I hold the bait as I treat them (can you see me asking Jagger to "reach"?).

Good luck!! Let me know how it goes!