SHOW TRAINING A PUPPY
By Pat Gilbert
I have some thoughts on show training a puppy. They have worked well for me through the years and with all the breeds and dogs I have trained.
I start with the concept of a collar. I let the puppy wear it and get used to it. It doesn't matter what age you start except I believe that the earlier the better works. I don't let puppies wear a collar constantly because they soon take it as normal and don't really pay attention when I start to use the collar. Puppies need to know that a collar means something special. If your dog must wear a collar, then make sure your show or training collar is very different from his every day collar.
I start all dogs, no matter what age or size, off on a grooming table. I teach them the grooming table is a place to behave and one of the few places they have to always do what I ask of them.
The collar concept comes into play here because I may have to use a grooming arm and loop A puppy won't panic when you put the loop around his neck because he is used to something being there.
I start as soon as I can. If it is a litter I am close to, I start when their eyes open. All puppies go up on the grooming table individually for grooming and of course training. I find a dog is much more amenable to my ideas when his feet are up and off the ground and on the table.
I put the puppy up on the grooming table. I then start to set the puppies legs and tell him Stand. When the legs are where I want them I tell him Stay. I only ask the puppy to hold the position for a few seconds and praise him profusely. I then increase time until he can hold a stack for roughly a minute. If the puppy has a tendency to post (lean back) then set his hind feet at the rear edge of the table. Make sure you gently support him because he may step back. Let him step back and find no footing. You are there to catch him. He will learn to lean forward and eventually into the collar if that is what you want. I may also gently rock him back and forth from front to back. This teaches him to grab with his feet and plant them when he finds firm footing. That firm footing placement is chosen by me. I say Stand while I do this. The dog will stand like a rock. Then I say Stay.
When my puppy is steady and consistent on the table with the Stand/Stay, I start on the ground. I put the collar on the puppy and gently hold it. I say Stand, set the feet as I normally would in the show ring and then of course say Stay when I am happy. Again I may rock the dog. Since he is trained on a table, he will automatically freeze into position.
I do periodically put my dogs up on the table for refresher training sessions.
Big Tip: If you have a dog of any age that backs up or leans away for examination, train him on the table. Have people go over him on the table. When he is steady up on the table, try it on the ground and go back to the table if necessary.
I also practice in front of a mirror so I know what it looks like. I check all views (side, front and rear).
Eventually when I say Stand my puppy will begin to position his feet automatically into a show stack. I may only have to move one or two feet. When I say Stay, he knows he is to hold that position.
I can take my dogs by the collar and say stand when I slow down for the judge. My dogs, as I said, automatically place their feet where they need to be. A free stack does not have to have all feet perfectly in position. It simply has to look good and correct for its breed.
Notice that I am making a big distinction between Stand and Stay.
Notice too that all I am using is my bond with the puppy and copious amounts of praise. You can use bait but I recommend that you train your dog to be motivated by you and not food. What happens if you run out of food or (gulp) the judge says no bait?
My dogs are very comfortable with this style of training. It accumulates and builds up to each subsequent level. It builds up to very natural free stacks and speed stacking. I have won because my dogs set themselves so quickly the other dogs were just getting started into their show poses. This training is not in direct conflict with training for the obedience ring. This method teaches a natural way to look and stand and teaches confidence. I have always preferred a natural looking rather than the contrived method of showing dogs. My philosophy is let the dog show himself.
Good luck in the ring and remember to always have fun with your dog. That is what it is all about. Unconditional love.