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Simple “bits” vs. Full “chains”

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I just returned from The Fenzi Dog Sports Academy 3.5 day training camp.  (that’s a whole ‘nother story, but if you can get to one – do it.  You’ll learn a lot and have a great time.  Next year it’s in Oregon at the Linn Fairgrounds).

I overheard a comment at camp that stayed with me.  The person commented that all of the skills labs, where students learn how to create the AKC exercise chains, seemed “simple”.

What she meant was that the dogs weren’t showing the full behaviors from start to finish.

For example, in the drop on recall lab,  she didn’t see dogs attempting the full exercise from start to finish.

Which is exactly the point of excellent training.

In excellent training, you do not need to work full exercises.  You need to be aware of your dog’s weaknesses, tendencies, and strengths – and from there train the appropriate pieces.

For example, if your dog is slow to drop on the drop portion of the exercise, then doing a zillion drop on recalls isn’t going to help you.  You do not have a “sit, stay, walk away, call dog, drop dog, wait, call dog, front, and finish” problem

You have a speed of response to the drop cue problem.  Working the entire chain is a good way to develop new problems like:

“dog avoids the sit to avoid a stressful exercise, dog refuses to stay, either out of stress or because you are going to call anyway, dog recalls before being called or refuses to come at all – to avoid the drop, dog recalls part way and drops before you request it or…dog drops slowly (the original complaint), dog doesn’t hold the second part of the drop – since you always call, dog gives progressively worse fronts out of boredom or stress, dog anticipates the finish”.

So – which problem would you prefer – a slow drop or an entire chain of possible issues?

If you have a weak area and you know it, then work on that weak area.  Isolate it from the chain.  Do not put it back until you are thrilled with it on it’s own!

Can your dog drop from a standstill in front of you without creeping?  How about on a platform?  How about on a platform at a short distance?  A long distance?  With no platform at a short distance and a long one?  Can your dog drop when you sit on the floor?  When you have your back to your dog?  When he’s moving away from you?  There is no reason to put the exercise together again until your dog is managing all of those tiny bits.

Now add your drop back into the chain; I bet it looks pretty good!  And you haven’t created new problems in the process.

The urge to “just see where I’m at” is strong.  Resist!  Why not hold yourself to one formal exercise for each training session, just “to see,” and spend the rest of the session working on “the bits?”  It’s good training.  It’s fun for the dog.  And it avoids creating problems where none existed before.



About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

4 responses »

  1. Jenelle Cantrelle

    WOW! Never looked at that way before. So to me it is simple. A simple solution to a problem without creating new problems. Love it! One step, maybe baby steps, at a time.

  2. What a great reminder!

  3. Great article Denise! I’ve been following you here and there for a while now. Hoping I can become a better trainer with my competitive dogs. We cross train agility, herding and rally with our obedience. Aussies can be such versatile dogs! However, my obedience seems to fall apart in the competition ring. I clearly have a flaw in my training program. Bought your new book and am just starting it. Thanks for your great ideas!

  4. Jennifer Hutchison

    I’m glad you posted this. I had a working spot at Sue Ailsby’s “Shaping Retrieves” lab. I’ve taken Sue’s online class before so I knew that she would start out with shaping the Take and Hold. I’ve got a dog that can do the middle part of the ROF just fine (the retrieve). But she’s extremely soft and I wanted for Sue to see my work with shaping the T/H and give me constructive feedback.

    I got out of the lab exactly what I wanted; but, I sensed that some attendees were disappointed that there were NO thrown dumbbells i.e., expecting to see the entire exercise.


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