Flexibility and trying new things
In October of last year my good friend and I imported a puppy from Australia. Jager was shown by his breeder in Australia and won multiple Best Baby Puppy in Shows and Baby Puppy Group Placements before coming to the US. After he got settled in I began working with him and training him for the show ring. He is a very social, happy and active puppy. When we started working his leash work left a lot to be desired. He would get so excited that he would shoot out to the end of the lead.
Less than a month after Jager arrived I entered him in his first show. While he took Best of Breed over three specials for a major, I knew I wanted to work on his gaiting to make sure it was more reliable and predictable. He would have periods of moving nicely and then jump around.
When puppies or dogs gallop or leap when gaiting I will start them on “circle work”. This means that I will work the dog in large circles to the right. Because circle work has the dog moving at a curve it is much more difficult, nearly impossible for the dog to run and they tend to go into a trot fairly quickly. I will then do circles to the right and once the dog is gaiting I will move from circles to straight gaiting patterns. Here is a video of some of my early circle work with Jager.
Over the next month or so I worked with him regularly on the gaiting. Going from circles to straight lines and then adding a free stack at the end. I also decided to try something different in terms of how I hold the lead. In the beginning of January I traveled to Arizona to teach two day long workshops. I was hosted by Phyl Scalf, her husband Robert Churchey and their daughter Dr. Ryan Buzard. This wonderful family has a rich history in dogs being breeders of Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Tibetan Spaniels, professional handlers and now Robert and Ryan have become AKC judges. While our training philosophy is the same in that we both use positive reinforcement rather than compulsion we do some things differently. I tend to look at each individual dog and build my training around that learner’s needs. I like to try different things and see what works for each dog which helps me to get to know the best way to proceed in an organic way.
After spending the weekend working with their students I found some specific things that they do as a rule. One of those things is how they hold the lead. They recommend firmly attaching the left arm to the body and bending it out at the elbow and keeping it this way when moving the dog. Of course I have held the lead similarly, but I never intentionally made it a rule or thought of it as a way to work with every dog.
Because I feel that Jager needs very consistent information I decided to give this a try. I am really happy with the results of this. I feel that having that left arm firmly placed is making it easier for my puppy to understand what I am asking from him. It is an environmental cue that tells the dog what we are doing. I always encourage my students to get into a solid routine so that the dog and the owner do not have to overthink things while in the ring. I found it easy to remember to do this and I feel like it gave very good information to my Jager.
I showed Jager this past weekend and found that while his gaiting was much better, he still needs help getting into his best trot. I rarely do a “courtesy turn” because I don’t generally have a need for it. Since it takes a bit for Jager to get into his movement I decided to give courtesy turns a try and again was really happy with the results. Doing that turn took him right back to that circle work and I was able to seamlessly get him into a really nice trot after doing the courtesy turn.
I am happy to say that this resulted in another Best of Breed over a special and a Best Puppy in Show award! The lesson here is that we must always look at each dog as an individual and be willing to try new things or modify what we are doing it if better suits the dog we are working with.