Today’s topic is focus before the test. This tip that I’m giving you today is for those competing with our dogs. Whether you’re competing in nose work, agility, competitive obedience, or maybe you’re even competing in IGP. This could be for anything where you have to enter into a testing environment with your dog.
A Little About Me
First of all, for those of you that don’t know me, I train my dogs in the sport of IGP, which is formerly known as Schutzhund. This sport has three disciplines, and the dogs have to do tracking, obedience, and protection work. There are various levels in the sport, from basic obedience tests to very advanced tracking obedience and protection.
So for any of the sports that I mentioned, you have to enter the testing field. Our dogs must be focused from the moment that we enter the testing arena. Whether it’s a field or a ring, or any other type of environment, we need the dogs to be ready. They need to focus on the tasks that we’re about to ask them to do.
One thing that I learned many years ago is that you should have a ritual from the moment your dog exits the back of your car or comes out of the crate. While you’re leading your dog up to the testing area, your dog should understand that there will be a lot of rewards during the transition of getting there. And if their focus is there, it’s going to be something truly remarkable.
Alpha and Jericho
So today, I was practicing with Alpha and Jericho. As soon as I brought them out, I started to make myself as rewarding for these very young dogs. I should mention that Alpha and Jericho are seven-month-old and five-month-old German Shepherd puppies, respectively.
So as soon as I get them out, I am starting to show them the routine that I will use to get them onto the field where we’re going to compete.
Some Tips For You
Here are some of the things that I like to do. I put my training vest on as I’m heading to the crate where my dogs are, typically in the back of my vehicle. As I’m walking there, I’m asking the dogs a question, “Do you want to work?” And sometimes I’m asking, “Are you ready?” I go back and forth between the two of those. There’s no specific reason why I do. That is just what I do. Stay as consistent as you possibly can. I feel that I’m pretty consistent using those two.
Okay, so I begin to repeat that quite a bit. And then what I quickly start to teach my dogs is when they come out, I will use food or their ball to get them into heel position. And then I begin to reward them just for doing that dramatically.
Once I get them interested in heeling after they’ve come out of the crate, I might come out with a toy for a moment and begin to get the dog to bark at me and to start to engage with me in the game. A game that they love, and we practice every day at my house. So while I’m doing this, I’m slowly moving my way to the entrance of the field that I’m going to be testing the dog on.
I think what many people tend to do here is get the dog out, put the leash on them, and begin to drag the dog onto the field. They then try to create the engagement that they’re going to need. If you continuously do this, it will be tough for you on test day because your dog is accustomed to not focusing until they’re on the field.
You want to build that focus well in advance of getting onto the field. Because when you go to test, have your dog tested, and your self tested, your nerves are likely to be there. It will be challenging to get your nerves to calm down if you don’t have a powerful ritual leading into that.
So that’s the tip today. Create a ritual for you and your dog before you enter the field. So that way, when you do get there, your dog is ready to engage with you and to perform.