We are creatures of habit. The longer something remains the same, the harder it is to change it and then accept the change. People cling to what is familiar. So, the new rules that eliminate the sits and downs for Open, and the changes for the Novice sits and downs caused giant uproars for many obedience competitors. Some liked the changes, some did not, but everyone was forced to accept that which now would become the new normal.
For this issue, I will touch primarily on the new Open rules. I will address the Novice exercises in the next issue, focusing on the Novice handler as well.
To briefly address what these new rules are:
For Novice, the 1 minute sit and the 3 minute down, executed off leash while the handler is across the ring from the dogs has been changed to a 1 minute sit and 1 minute down, on a 6 foot leash. Dogs may be lined up, back to back, with a minimum of 6 feet from the next dog, either at their side, or behind them. Novice also added a “Sit stay, and go get your leash” at the end of the regular exercises. The handler must leave the dog, go across the room to retrieve his leash, and then return to his dog. The dog must be in control as you leave the ring.
For Open, the 3 minute sit and 5 minute down, while the handler leaves the room have been eliminated. A “command discrimination” exercise was added. The handler leaves the dog in a specific position, goes 15 feet, turns and asks for another position, then again leaves the dog and goes another 15 feet, turns and asks for yet another position, then returns to his dog.
At the end of the regular exercises, the handler must do a 1 minute sit or down, going across the ring, and the handler and dog are the only team in the ring. Then a sit or down, and they will be instructed to “go get your leash.”
Going ahead briefly, this last two exercises (the stay and the get your leash) are possibly going to change, based on the AKC October Board Minutes. The link if you are interested in reading is: http://images.akc.org/pdf/Board_Minutes_ October_2018_FINAL.pdf
Check out page 8 of the PDF file. That is where the Command Discrimination starts.
The people that were in Open, and perhaps needed only one leg, have to now retrain their dogs for the new challenges. The seasoned people that have been showing for many years, more than likely, in anticipation of the new rules, already have them trained.
What about the new people to the sport? The rules for Open are challenging, but something that they accept, as the old rules were not so much a way of life as they are for many of the long-time competitors.
And lastly, what about the dogs? As we struggle to conform to the new rules, the dogs have to deal with us, and the dogs also feel that change. They must adapt to what we are now telling them, and we believe that they should already know.
What I mean by this is the people that believe because their dogs already know how to “down, sit or stand”, that they should just blindly perform the new exercises. The dogs that already are in Utility should already know this new sequence of commands. But dogs are creatures of habit, just as we are, and this change can be quite confusing for them.
Let’s begin with teaching the newer competitor how to teach command discrimination. I begin using a treat at the dog’s nose, with an instruction to either sit, down or stand. I push slightly back, encouraging the dog to keep his legs under him during the transitions, without moving forward. It takes a certain amount of “muscle memory” for the dog to retain the exact motion when performing these exercises, and the last thing you want is for the dog to move forward towards you on any of those commands.
In the beginning I would not even worry about the signals, just that the dog performs the commands while stationary. A fold back down is preferred, which means that the dog downs in place, and does not go into a sit first. If you have taught your dog to down from a sit, now is the time to change that, and down him from a stand.
Once you are sure that the dog is performing what you ask without moving forward, move to the end of a six foot leash, where you can move towards him slightly on the commands, again getting him used to not coming forward. At the six foot level, you can start using your hand signals at the same time as you give the verbal commands. Once your dog is solid on leash, and you move to off leash, you can start doing the exercises a bit more formally. PLEASE read your rule book. It gives you all the answers to the specific exercises, how they are performed and what the criteria is.
I did find an AKC link showing someone performing the command discrimination for Open A.
If you notice, the Open A command discrimination is the same sequence as the Utility signal exercise. You start with the stand, then down, then sit. This makes it a bit easier for those getting their Open A titles, and moving on to Utility.
Please note: There is a difference between the Novice stand and the Open stand. In Novice, you are able to touch your dog, even move his legs and position him before leaving him, and you must move to the heel position before leaving his side. In Open, when told to “stand your dog”, you cannot move your feet or touch your dog. Once your dog stands, if he moves a bit when standing, you cannot move into position as you did for Novice. You must wait for the judge to tell you to leave your dog.
I have to address an issue that has come up with a few of my students. In one instance, the dog had been training Utility but not shown yet. In Utility, the signal exercise is done without speaking. In the Command Discrimination exercise, you may use your voice AND signal. Once the owner taught the Open signals using her voice, then went back to her Utility training, the dog did not work for just the hand signals. The look in the dog’s eyes said it all. She was not saying “no”, but saying, “I am not supposed to do this, you have to say the words also. It could be a trap.”
What I did was to do an experiment, and have her simply whisper the commands with the Utility signals, and the dog did them without question. So, what this particular person had to do, was to drop the voice from the Open Command Discrimination exercise. It just made more sense to the dog.
While many of us assume that our dogs know these signals, and know how to sit or down or stand from a distance, the situation changes. The exercise changes, and we do something different. So even a solid dog may become confused with this change. Give your dogs a lot of slack when converting them over to the new rules. While in the beginning, we all had questions on what was right and wrong, imagine what the dogs are thinking.
I find the greener dogs have trouble going from the down to the sit. I have observed handlers, in an effort to get the dogs to sit, reaching way up in the air, as if they could simply lift the dog to a sit. The dogs can mistake this for a down signal.
While you can use whatever signals you want to for these exercises, I find that changing arms helps the dogs somewhat. But what I find is even more important, is to make sure your signals are all different, at least from the dogs’ point of view. My down signal is to raise my right arm in the air. My sit signal is to give somewhat of a scoop with my left hand, and NOT raising my hand higher than waist level. It really makes a difference. For the stand signal from a distance, my signal is my right arm, elbow into my side, and I show the dog the palm of my hand, with my arm out to the right.
Develop your own signals, but be sure they look different to the dog, regardless if you intend to use verbal also.
One more minor tip that I teach. When instructed to leave your dog and go get your leash, I tell my students to wad the leash up in their right hands. This eliminates the dog thinking you are coming towards him with a leash that you are going to put on him, and does not encourage him to get up and run to you.
Good luck with the new exercises, and have fun.