Teaching your dog how to get into the “basic position” is not an easy task. Watch the instruction video and follow my step-by-step instructions to learn how it can be done with ease!
[Links to Part 1234]

Verbal cue in English:
“Heel” or “Swing”

Verbal cue in German:
“Fuss” or “Schau”

 

Part 4 of 4: Getting your Dog in the Basic Position with Speed

By now you have probably figured out that teaching your dog to get into the basic position takes a lot of work. Now you might think that getting this behavior from your dog on command – quick and reliably – takes even more work. Not really. If you have followed my advice, you and your dog should have had a lot of fun going through the basic position exercise. This is your foundation for any future practice. In the following part, I would like to offer some tips on how to reinforce this learned behavior while still keeping our dog excited about the basic position.

Concentrate – for more than a second: This exercise continues where we left off in part 1. We have trained our dog to look up to us by feeding him treats from our mouth. Now its time to increase the time in-between treats from just a few seconds to up to several minutes. This does not just happen overnight and we want to take it slow. Eventually, our dog will get to a point where he gets distracted or looses some interest. He will look away – and exactly at that moment will remind him with the “Look” command in a firm but friendly spoken voice to tell him that he should not do that. If he looks back, we praise him calmly and give him his treat after a few more seconds (we wait here because don’t want him to think he gets rewarded whenever we “remind” him to look at us again). Then, we gradually expand the time between our “reminder” and the treat over the next few days. Eventually, we will phase out the treat, but we will continue to praise our dog whenever he corrects himself. Depending on your dog and the frequency of practice, this can take from a couple days to a couple of weeks. The goal is to teach our dog to look at us until we release him by feeding him a treat. Tip: You dog will learn this lesson much quicker if you randomly change the length of your training sessions. Don’t wait 15 seconds, then 20, then 30 and so on. Instead, have your dog wait 5 seconds, 20 seconds, 3 seconds, 15, 20, 5 etc. This way, your dog never knows what to expect.

If you are showing in competitive obedience, you should also train your dog to continue to look up at you even when you are not looking back at him. There is just one problem, how do you know if your dog is looking at you if you don’t look at him? The solution is simple: Take an old mirror and position it in front of you so you can see the reflection of your dog’s head. I actually had quite a bit fun with Andy when I did this for the first time. He probably thought that he can look around while the boss is not watching – and his confused look was quite amusing when he got caught for the first few times.

Don’t feed your dog without it! One of the best ways to practice the “getting into basic position” exercise is to do it every time before you feed your dog. If your dog is like mine, he probably can’t wait for his food. My dog Andy always sits behind me whimpering when I prepare his food. So take your dog’s food bowl, go to the spot where you usually feed him and ask him to get into the basic position. Think of the food bowl as your treat, he gets it when he sits next to you and looks up. Practice this for a few days and you will see!

You are more important than food: As add-on to the food bowl exercise, try to put the bowl on the ground in front of your dog while he is still waiting in the basic position. Initially, you may want to hold him by his collar so he does not just “reward” himself. Ask him to “Look” at you and when he does, mark his correct behavior and then allow him to feed. I use the German word “Los” as Andy’s release command which translates into “Go” in English. If your dog is not familiar with being released on command, read my lesson on how to teach your dog to wait. You can also practice this with a treat: Take a treat, but instead of holding it close to your head (to encourage your dog to look up) extend your arm and ask your dog to make and hold eye contact (“Look”). When your dog looks at you, mark his behavior and reward him. This way, your dog will learn to make and hold eye contact.

Adding distractions: I am sure you have noticed a huge difference between obedience practice at home and in public places. The difference is distractions. At home or in a quiet location, your dog can and will focus completely on you. If there are other people or dogs, your dog will probably look around to see what else is going on. It is possible to train a dog to ignore any and all distraction, but most of us don’t need that. What we do want our dog to do is to stay focused on us when we ask him to while there are other people or dogs around. This needs to be trained. A good way to start is to ask a family member to be with us when we practice. At first, ask the other person to quietly wait near you when you practice the basic position. Whenever your dog turns his head away from you to look at the other person, remind him with the “Look” command that he is not allowed to do this. Reward him when he looks back at you, wait a second and then release him. Once your dog does this reliably, ask the other person to make sounds or to call your dog’s name. If he looks away, remind him again with the “Look” command. You can watch me practice this in part 4 for the “basic position” videos. My wife Sandra is calling Andy to distract him while I am watching him through a mirror. Poor little thing Eventually, you will be able to keep your dog focused when there are other dogs around – but I need to warn you that you won’t be able to accomplish this overnight.

Getting up to speed: If you are showing in obedience, you want your dog to perform the getting into basic position exercise with great accuracy and speed. I primarily use treats when teaching my dog a new behavior. This keeps him calm and focused so you can work him all the way from a basic understanding of the exercise to performing it with great accuracy. To get to speed however, you want to work your dog in play or prey drive. That’s where a prey-toy comes in handy. When you train the basic position, keep your dog’s toy in your left hand. If you hold it in your right hand, your dog might try to forge in front of you so he can be closer to the toy. Keep in mind that you can not work on two issues at the same time – so don’t try to improve your dog’s accuracy while working on speed. To get speed, step in front of your dog and call him into the basic position. When he is circling around you, throw the toy straight forward so he can chase after it. Make sure he can see you throwing it. Use you release command (such as “go” or “get it”) at the moment you let go of the toy to tell your dog that it is okay to chase after it. If you have used a different method to get your dog into the basic position (such as to swing his rear end into it), the flying toy won’t work. That’s why I always teach my dogs to circle around me. Make sure your timing is right. Sometimes, dogs anticipate the flying toy and try to turn right in front of you to go after it. No shortcuts here! If your dog tries that, keep the toy in your hand and start over. Once your dog has built enough drive, start to alternate this exercise between the immediately flying toy and a complete basic position before the toy flies. If you keep your dog guessing whether the toy will fly or not, he will get next to you sooner because he can’t wait to find out…

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