I am a member/participant in a few different Groups on Facebook and a few random message boards. Some of them focus on certain topics, others cover a variety of topics, and some are just general discussion boards. Some boards contain people just compete in Rally, others are mainly made up of conformation people…you get the idea.
Everyone has their own idea on how dogs should be trained, whatever they’re trained in. You have your Positive Trainer camp, you have your “Balanced Methods” trainer camp, you have the “I’ll just wing it” trainer camp, among others. And everyone thinks their way is the only way to do things. My whole philosophy on dog training is to “Take what works, throw away what doesn’t.” This has allowed me to grow and evolve as a trainer and handler, this allows me to adjust to each dog I work with.
Recently, a topic was introduced recently in one of the groups I participate in. The question was: “Do you train your conformation dogs in obedience?” It’s a common fear that if you train your dog in competition obedience, then that dog will sit in the conformation show ring – and this is a big no-no! (Actually, it’s not that big of a deal.) Then, as the discussion evolved, many people answered with, “Just train your dog to know the difference between collars – a show chain for conformation, a flat buckle for obedience. They will know the difference.”
This made my eye twitch a little. I am absolutely sure that dogs can become collar smart, I am absolutely sure that they will know what you’re going to ask of them when a certain collar is on their neck. They will learn that they can’t pull in a front-clip harness, but it’s “okay” to pull you down the street in a martingale collar. I have no doubts that dogs are that smart.
But, I also have faith (and the first-hand proof) that dogs are smart enough to know that sit means sit means sit no matter what collar he is wearing. I want my dog to know those commands and cues whether he’s wearing his show chain, a flat buckle, a martingale, or whether he’s naked. If I have a busy day on the show grounds, I want to be able to bounce between the show ring and the competition ring, no matter what collar he’s wearing – because conflicts are common when you’re doing multiple events.
Even so, I did have to work with my dog so that he knew the commands and cues no matter what he was wearing. We practiced obedience in his weigh pull harness. We practiced obedience in his show chain, and we practiced gaiting and stacking in his flat buckle. I want him to know what’s what, no matter what.
But I was curious what other competitors thought of the subject, so I posted the topic to our Facebook page. Here are some of the responses I got:
Rebecca (TU) with Cerb says: “Cerb wears a flat collar for everything. he has a couple of collars I choose from, but the collar he wears isn’t related to the type of work we do. It’s important to me to be consistent with Cerb, so “sit” has the same rules no matter if he’s in a flat collar, a show chain or nothing at all. His weight pull harness is different, I guess, because obviously that’s what he wears to pull, but even then he’s in a flat collar and I could take him through a rally course with no issues.”
Wendy says: “Absolutely! When I put on the pull harness, even for walks, she pulls whereas she won’t pull in a martingale.”
Jennifer says: “Yes. The dogs know that when the slip leads come out, we are doing agility. I don’t know if it puts them in a frame of mind, but the excitement they exhibit when those leads are presented is encouraging to me!”
There is no right or wrong answer to the topic – if the trainer/handler wants their dog to know the difference, and they are aiming for the dog to know the difference, then that is right for them. I aimed for a goal with my dog that worked for us, and that is what works for us.
We would love to hear your input on the topic, too!
My corgi, Ein, was no spring chicken when we started our first sport. He was 7 years old. I had always wanted to do agility with Ein. I would do internet searches for agility clubs and classes and think, “Someday.” By the time my lifestyle finally allowed for enrollment in a class, Ein was a whole 7 years old. He had never been to a training class of any kind. I taught him basic obedience at home. What did Ein know before turning 7? Sit, Down, Stay, Shake, Roll Over, Heel, Sit at Halt, Recall.
The agility training center that I looked into asked me to bring Ein to an obedience class, to see if he had the basic skills needed for an agility class. It was a bit of a competitive obedience class, with strict walking patterns and other things that are commonplace in such a class. They made no sense to me. I was acutely aware that Ein was the oldest dog in the class. It was clear by the end of that hour that when it came to basic obedience, Ein knew what he was doing better than I. The instructor was training ME, not my dog.
We were a shoo-in for the Foundations Agility class that I wanted to join. The class would be Foundations Agility one week, Obedience the opposite week. We waited a month for the class to begin, and in that month I wavered between excitement and concern that Ein was Too Old. When the night of our first class finally arrived, Ein was indeed the oldest dog there. None of the other dogs were older than 2 years. Was I doing the right thing?
That was last January. The months flew by, and they were fun. I loved the agility classes! The Obedience classes? Ein already knew that stuff. How boring. My old dog was learning stuff, though. He learned hand touches, target touches, weave poles, teeter, “2 on/2 off” target touches on contacts, running through tunnels. And one class, he started offering “sit pretty” to me for treats. “Sit Pretty” was a trick that I had tried and failed to teach him for years. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Ein’s age was not our obstacle. It was his social anxiety. But something funny started happening outside of class. Ein stopped plastering himself to the sides of the aisles in Petsmart. He stopped full-body shuddering when somebody wanted to pet him. He began sniffing people instead of hiding behind my legs. He ate a treat that the vet gave him. He ate a treat that a dog bakery owner gave him.
Class time continued to progress and we switched over to something called “Rally Obedience” in the opposite week to our agility class. And something else switched over. My brain. I began looking forwards to both weeks equally. While Ein was progressing and learning agility, he was slow with it. He was in no hurry at all. Some of the obstacles were still frightening to him. While it improved Ein’s confidence to work through that anxiety, I could see that he did not wholly enjoy what he was doing. What Ein did enjoy doing was walking at heel with me. He enjoyed working closely with me as a team, instead of being sent away from me. In Rally Obedience, we could do just that! But we had a lot of learning to do. Rally Obedience was more than just heeling and sitting. Each class we learned a few new AKC Rally signs, practiced them, and worked on heeling patterns. And I fell in love with the sport. Ein learned, at 7 years old: Call Front, Right Finish, Left Finish, About Turn, About Turn Left, About U Turn, Stand, Moving Down, 270 Right/Left, 360 Right/Left, Figure 8 Heeling, Serpentine Heeling. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks??
After about a year, I stopped agility with Ein. We had had a good run. And we, by chance, had found a sport that we enjoyed. So I entered Ein in his first AKC Rally trial. Terrifying. He qualified and placed in Rally Novice. My 7 year old anxiety-ridden corgi walked into a busy dog show and earned a qualifying score. Good boy. And I was hooked. We continued to work up through AKC Rally, as well as APDT (now World Cynosport) Rally.
And now, this year, I find my dog to be 8 years old. He is still learning new tricks. He has to. We want to earn our Rally Excellent and Level 3 titles after all. At the age of 8, what has Ein learned? Ein has learned to walk at heel…in reverse. Call Front, Walk Backwards. Drop on Recall. Moving Stand. Moving Down. Sit from a Distance. Down from a Distance. Perch Work. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks???
This past weekend, Ein and I made a second attempt to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. It was crystal clear that Ein’s confidence has improved by leaps and bounds. He allowed the instructor to pet him. He did not shake or drool when I walked away for three minutes and left his leash in the hand of a stranger. He heeled smartly without forging or worrying. Ein still has his anxiety demons. He failed the test, no way was he allowing that instructor to BRUSH him. But it is clear that learning all of his “new tricks” was just the thing that my old dog needed to help him feel more confident about himself, and to not be so afraid of the world.
And as if that was not enough, Ein also earned his Veterans title in World Cynosport Rally this past Sunday. (Veterans is a class for dogs 8 years and older.) It seemed odd to have my dog, who is still green in so many ways, entered in a Veterans class. After all, we have only just begun. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Lots of them. And those new tricks can strengthen your bond, build teamwork, and enrich your dog’s life in ways that you cannot even imagine.