Getting ready for National Event?

I am often asked “how do I get ready for a National event?”

A few months before the event, my training sessions consist of 3’s.

1 skill, review foundation – example-pick up dumbbell up close, drop/down games, etc.
1 skill, build desire – example-adding games to the Broad Jump like the toss back as dog lands.
1 skill, proof – i.e. adding distraction, training new locations, etc.

This would be a training session. Pick 3 exercises or skills and do 3’s. Reminder there are many SKILLS in all exercises. It is important to be able to break out all “skills” to build desire, precision, and problem solve issues.

Of course games are always spontaneously added into all of the training session.
Desire above all and KEEP TRAINING FUN!

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Training Tip

When training or showing:

Be Positive — Use positive reinforcement when you train your dog by offering treats, games, and a lot of praise if he performs a task correctly.

Be Patient – Patience is the key when you are working with your dog.  If you have had a bad day, or you are in a bad mood, don’t attempt to train your dog.  Your dog is smart and sensitive and will pick up on your mood.

Keep it Short – Training sessions should end before your dog starts to fatigue.  The length of the session also depends on the age of your dog.  For example, a puppy has a very short attention span and needs sessions kept short.

Distractions – Try to pick a quiet spot that is free of distractions when teaching your dog a new trick or skill.  A quiet place in your back yard or inside your house works well.  If there are other pets in the household, put them up so they won’t interfere with training.

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Training Tip

Whenever I teach and or practice fronts, I always stand up straight and “keep my face in my space”.   

In other words, I keep my head/eyes looking between my toes. 

When practicing fronts, I do not try to straighten my dog’s sit or path by turning my body or head.  If you turn your body and or head, you will inadvertently “gray” the “Line of Front”. 

The “Line of Front” is explained in the “Fronts” Class in more detail.

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Is my dog ready to show? When starting to determine if your dog is ready to show there are a few rules of thumb that you should ask yourself BEFORE sending in those entries.
• Does your dog understand the skills required to perform each exercise? Are you training each skill and each exercise, adding random releases and games to keep desire and focus high?
• When you go out training, can your dog successfully complete each main component of an exercise with NO help from you 80-90% of the time? That means no tight leashes, extra commands, or movements that will “help” your dog completes his job.
• Can you go to at least three new locations and “qualify” the first time with NO extra help in all exercises your dog will perform in the ring? If your dog can perform all the skills, just like you want them to be performed in the ring, without any help or extra cues, then you are ready to enter a show.
• Have you weaned off all extra verbal and physical input to your dog? Your dog needs to be able to complete each exercise successfully the first time in a new environment without any help from you.
• Are you training like you will be showing with an occasional motivational surprise release? Be careful of using cues that you will not be able to use in the ring.
• When training, do you often need to simplify or give extra help or cues to your dog so he will be successful? If you do, then your dog will not be able to perform in a ring situation.
• Can you train your dog with no visible or known toys, treats, or rewards? Will your dog will still work for you? Can you train with no leash? With few exceptions, if you need to use props or aids while training, your dog really is not ready to show.
• If you decide to show, could showing be a detriment to your dog or other dogs? Remember one bad experience to some dogs can ruin or severely set back their career.
• Have you videotaped yourself to see what you and your dog look like while training? You would be surprised at how many problems you can spot when scrutinizing yourself.
• Have you talked with your instructor for input? Your instructor is only interested in your success, and it is always to your benefit to talk with her or him BEFORE entering a show. They can give you additional skills or proofing to work on before entering and showing and can review and recommend ways to improve or fix holes in your training that they see.

Prepare, Train, and Proof.
Make sure all your bases are covered and that your dog is truly trained will aid in your dog’s confidence and success in the ring!

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Training Rule of Thumb!

When sequencing an exercise, I will NEVER move from one skill to another IF the first skill did not meet my criteria. For example, if I am heeling and the right turn did not meet my criteria, I will stop my training and not continue to heel. We will review and work on criteria and perfecting the right turn separately before adding it back into my heeling.

Same if we are working on agility contacts, 2o2o behavior. If my dog does not perform the criteria for the contact, I will not let my dog continue to the next obstacle, rather we will stop and perfect my dog’s contact behavior before continuing to train other obstacles or skills.

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(or proofing) builds your dog’s confidence, focus, and attention on you so that your dog can perform a skill any place, anytime, no matter what is happening.


I introduce and teach my dog a NEW CONCEPT, such as distraction/proofing, using non-traditional skills.  In this case, proofing/distraction work will be done first when my dogs are doing fun tricks/games.

What things impact your dog’s ability to work around distractions?

  • How far your dog is from the distraction.
  • The distance you are from your dog.  The closer you are to your dog, the more confidence your dog will have.
  • The value of the distraction.  High value reinforcements (A’s) used as distractions are more difficult for your dog to be right than low value reinforcements (C’s) used as distractions.
  • Whether the distraction is moving or stationary.
  • Whether your dog is moving or stationary.
  • Your dog’s basic temperament.  Some dogs worry about things in the environment; some dogs are very visually sensitive, some dogs have noise sensitivities, etc.

Watch your dog for signs of stress when working with distractions.  Your goal is to build confidence, yet not make your dog worry.

Some of the signs of stress are:

  • Ears laid back
  • Panting
  • Yawning
  • Mouth tight
  • Low body posture
  • Eyes wide or glassy
  • Tail tucked

If your dog is unsuccessful two to three times in a row, simplify what you are doing, BUT keep the distraction present.

Examples:  If you are working away from your dog (such as doing a recall), and your dog was unsuccessful two or three times, decrease the distance between you and your dog.  So, if you were standing 20 feet away when your dog was unsuccessful, shorten that distance to 10 feet, but keep the distraction in the same location.

Another way is to increase the distance between your dog’s position or path, and the location of the distraction.  So, if the distraction was 5 feet away from your dog or your dog’s path, move the distraction so that it is 8 feet away from your dog or your dog’s path.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Making it too easy. If your dog is right all of the time, you are not getting the most out of proofing training.   Your being wrong is your opportunity to show him how to be correct.
  • Making it too hard. When training, look to the 80% rule.  That is, I want my dog to be correct 80% of the time.
  • Correcting a dog that does not understand the skill. During proofing, I will repeat the proofing challenge 2-3 times.  If my dog is always wrong, he doesn’t understand the skill.
  • Simplifying too much when the dog is wrong.  Once my dog shows me that my proofing challenge is too much, I will gradually simplify until a proper proofing level is found.
  •  Once a dog knows a skill, luring can longer be used!

It is not bad for your dog to be wrong.  Your dog being wrong is your opportunity to teach your dog how to be correct.

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When showing, is your dog leaving you to sniff or go visit?

Is your dog stressed in new locations when training or anytime you show?

Does your dog not perform in the ring as he does while training?

In other words, do you often say, “he never does that in training!”  


Many problems or a combination of issues can contribute to dogs leaving their handlers, become unable to perform in the ring, or show differently than they train.  Problems such as stress in the ring, lack of confidence, inconsistent handling, etc. can create a dog that has issues when showing or even training.

First, Stress in the Show Ring can cause a dog to become unconfident and fearful to the point of leaving their handler.  Every show you attend is a “new” location.  This even applies to a training facility in which you train frequently, because the environment of the show is new and different.  Why?  Different dogs, different people, a new atmosphere, etc. all add to a heightened level of excitement, stress, and “newness” to your dog.

  • Solution– One way to help reduce show ring stress is to train in “new” locations on a regular basis.  This doesn’t mean other training facilities.  This means going to a new location that you have never been before or rarely visit.  New locations do not need ring gates, rally signs, or jumps and contacts to be effective.  Examples of new locations include store fronts (Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, etc.), outside dog park fences, business centers, schools on the weekends, etc.  It is the “new” that gets the dog.  In fact, train in new locations more than you train at home or in your training facility.

Second, Stress of inconsistency.  What does your criteria of a skill really mean?  Are you inconsistent in asking your dog for skills to be performed the same way, anytime, or anywhere?  For example, is your dog’s “sit” always performed the same?  Does your dog sit the same way, with the same speed, every time, even if he is at home, in the ring, out running and playing with other dogs, or chasing a squirrel, etc.?  If the sit is expected to occur in 3 seconds, then the sit should always be 3 seconds, regardless.

  • Solution– In order for your dog to perform a command/skill in the ring and under stress, that skill/command should be performed to the same criteria every time no matter where or when.  Also, that skill should be tested and proofed before ever asking your dog to perform at a show.

Third, Stress of emotions.  When going into the ring, you, the handler, are nervous.  Your dog picks up on your nervousness and feels that the ring must be a bad place.  Make sure the ring is “fun” for your dog so that he can perform in a confident, relaxed manner.  How?  You, the trainer, have to be able to control your emotions when in the ring.

  • Solution– 2 ways – First, the handler should practice mental toughness training (see the MindSet Tab). Second, is the confidence you have in what your dog has been taught.  My question to students is “will you bet me $100 that your dog will perform all the skills needed for the ring if you enter?”  If not, then your dog might need more training and proofing before he is ready to show.

Fourth, Stress of lack of reinforcement.  Have you gone to the next step in training by randomizing your reinforcement?  It is important to wean off giving your dog a reward EVERY TIME he does a skill properly.  Once your dog knows a skill, pick your dog’s best efforts, and reinforce only those worth the reward.  For example, if you ask your dog to sit five times, pick the best 2-3 sits to reward.  Too often trainers get in the “habit” of rewarding their dog for every repetition.  The result, then becomes, your dog expecting a reward every time and will quickly stop working if not rewarded.  In the ring, your dog must be able to chain a number of skills together to create the performance.

  • Solution– Randomizing your rewards will help accomplish this goal.  Once your dog understands a skill, pick the best efforts to reward.  Rewards, while still used in training, need to be given for best efforts.

Give more treats less often!  OR instead of giving a treat for every skill, pick the best efforts and give a bunch of treats.

Finally, Stress of poor rapport.  The one thing that becomes clear when you go into the ring, is the RELATIONSHIP that you and your dog share.  Good rapport and steady, consistent leadership will be clear whether you win or qualify.  With a great relationship, you and your dog will look like a team.

  • Solution– It is easy and once you have established the habit of training 24/7, your dog will find the time with you reinforcing and fun.
  • How do you build a great relationship?  It is establishing good structure and boundaries.  This includes your everyday life with your dog.
  • Does he work for affection?  Treats?  To go outside, or to play ball?  The more your dog works for what he gets, the more “in tune” to you he will be.
  • How many times during your daily walks have you trained your dog?  It is easy to incorporate training into everyday life.  Ask your dog to do a skill, or two before getting his meal.  YES, change the skills you use on a regular basis.  When out for a walk, ask your dog to do a trick, or come to front, or walk with you without sniffing.  When playing ball, ask him for a down or a sit while he is running to pick up the ball, or coming back to you.

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Many times, I hear, “my dog works great as long as I have treats” or “my dog knows when I have treats and will not work with the same enthusiasm.”

One of my SECRETS, and a skill that is a must for all trainers, is the ability to play one on one with your dog.  Play in this context means, interacting with your dog WITHOUT any toys or treats present.

The one-on-one connection and fun are one of the best ways to reward your dog.  Examples can be anything from petting and praising your dog, or running around laughing, or using transition games that your dog loves, or clapping your hands and praising your dog, or getting down on the floor and rolling around with your dog.  Hahahaha.  Actually, I do get on the ground to play with my puppies, not so much with my older dogs, BUT I do often interact with my older dogs, so they are used to having fun with me without toys or treats present.  Use one or any combination.  Have FUN with your dog!

The key to having a dog that will work for you, and not the reward, is as simple as playing with your dog!

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 – Or shift responsibility to your dog!

Once your dog understands what you expect (your criteria), extra help (verbal reminders, luring, leg pats, leash cues, etc.) should no longer be used and food is taken away as a lure.

In the final stages of training, treat incentives should become a reward for correct responses.  As your dog becomes more proficient, the reward is given to your dog on a random basis to reward only the best responses and efforts.  If your dog chooses not to respond correctly, the reward should be withheld.  When he puts forth effort to respond in the correct manner, praise and reward him with treats, a game of tug, or both!

To ensure your dog will perform the exercises when the toy or food is NOT present and without any help, follow these simple guidelines:

As your dog becomes more successful with a skill 80% of the time (the 80% rule), start randomly saying your cue word or giving your signal with no treat/toy visible.

Give verbal praise or input during this phase of training.

DO NOT return to luring once you have successfully weaned off of visible rewards.  This will create a “helpless” dog.  That is, a dog that can no longer perform without visible lures.

Keep the rewards a surprise and use the games you have learned in this course to keep your dog’s focus and desire.

Make sure that your primary reward is your praise and that the toy and food are the secondary rewards.

Shift the responsibility of the skill to your dog.  This means no help from you, i.e. cues or extra commands. The first command is what counts!

Once your dog understands how to perform a skill or exercise, only reward his best efforts!

Avoid advertising the fact that you have food in your mouth or toys in your pocket!

Every dog is motivated by something!  Take the time to figure out what best motivates your dog and reward him for giving you his utmost!

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