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 Rule of Thumb!

When sequencing an exercise or skill, NEVER move from the first skill in the sequence to another IF the first skill did not meet your 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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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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(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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Watch POE Grow – The life and training of a competition puppy.

Now is your chance! “WATCH POE GROW” will give you that opportunity to watch me train my new puppy, Poe.

In the upcoming videos, Poe and I will be showing you everything I like to do with a puppy or dog to build a great competition partner and a wonderful family member.

Poe will be learning skills that will help create a great foundation needed for future competitions as well as learning how to be a well-adjusted partner and pet.

You will get to spend time with Poe as he experiences new locations, and socializes with new people and dogs. In addition, you’ll learn how I teach various skills, while we build confidence, focus, and enthusiasm.

More importantly, Poe and I will show you how to build desire for focus and engagement through great skills like recalls, tug, bringing back toys, self-control, and much more.

Don’t miss out! While a new puppy offers you a clean slate to build solid foundations, confidence, focus and desire, it is never too late to address issues and clean up foundations with your current dog.

This is the opportunity to teach your new puppy or your current dog everything you want your dog to know.

Poe says to Click LIKE, SUBSCRIBE (to get updates) and SHARE as we “WATCH POE GROW”.

Is there a differenace between a skill and an exercise?

You bet there is!

What is the difference between a skill and an exercise????

An “exercise” is something I am required to do in the ring. It is a sequence of skills.  The Drop on Recall, Heeling, courses in Rally or Agility etc.   All of these are exercises.  They are the “Things” we are required to do at shows.

Skills, on the other hand, are individual tricks that we teach our dog.  As your dog learns more tricks, you can start combining tricks that will be combined together to complete an exercise at a show.

Think of all “exercises” as nothing more than a bunch of tricks chained together! 

So…. Tricks include things like going around me for the short finish, jumping to my either my right or left hand for the beginning of the long and short finish, successful completion of weave poles or contacts, etc.

When training, teach the skills first and separately.  Break down any exercise you might need for a show and teach all the skills in that exercise separately. Once your dog is proficient with all the skills, start to mix and match what you may need for a ring performance but also mix and match the skills just to be random and test your dog’s knowledge and understanding of all the skills.

My point is for you to start thinking out of the “exercise box”. (Don’t just train exercises.)

Start training skills/tricks.

Proof and perfect each trick/skill to meet your criteria (which you should set high).

Mix and match tricks/skills, to test your dogs knowledge and have fun!!!


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Maintaining Focus

Attention and focus can make or break a performance.

This article ran Feb 18, 2020 USDAA Training Tuesday

It is hard for your dog to learn, perform a skill or exercise correctly, if you do not have his complete attention. When training, insist that your dog pay 100 percent attention to you, and be alert for any breaks in focus that may happen.

Once you begin a training session, be aware of any “down time” that may occur while you are working with your dog. Down time happens when you are getting more treats, setting up jumps, walking a course, etc. During this time, if your dog is allowed to wonder around, sniff or visit with others, he is rehearsing a behavior that you most certainly will frown upon later when competing.

Rehearse goDebby Quigley and Rip focusingod HABITS. Before ever getting your dog out of a crate, make a plan. With a plan in mind, you will be able to set out everything you need for your training session. Being prepared will enable you to move from one skill or exercise to the next without losing your dog’s focus. While you are working with your dog, insist that he give his undivided attention and stays engaged with you.

How do you do this? One way is to randomly reward your dog’s effort to pay attention to you by paying him with treats or a game of tug. WHAT? your dog won’t tug? Play the “KrazyKookie” game with him. This is a great game of having him chase the treat that stays in your hand until he catches the yummy.

Next, teach your dog it is in his best interest to watch you closely. While training, be unpredictable and spontaneous with your movements, or give unexpected commands to discourage him from taking even a single glance away from you. Your ability to praise and reward attention, and to discourage inattentiveness, will have a direct effect on your dog’s performance during training and also in a ring setting.

While training, maintain your dog’s focus in non-audible ways. Here are a few ideas:

Debby Quigley and her dogs

  • Push and run away, or push and play tug or KrazyKookie with your dog.
  • Drop a toy or treat pocket to your dog that is hidden underneath your arm.
  • When leaving on a sit or start-line, quickly turn and toss a reward to your dog.

Attention and focus can make or break a performance in any sport. Work to build and maintain your dog’s focus on you during all training sessions that will ensure your success when competing or showing.

Look for Debby’s “Games4Focus,” “Skills, Drills, and Thrills” and “Focus Cram” classes to learn more fun games, drills and techniques to getting and maintaining focus while training and competing.

Debby Quigley been showing and teaching for more than 30 years in many venues including obedience, rally, agility and nose work. She has earned multiple OTCHs, MACHs, PACHs and perfect scores of 200. Debby also owns Dogwood Dog Training in Houston, Texas; she teaches classes there and online at