Formal Obedience Classes

24 May 2016 10:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

We have received a few requests for formal obedience classes and I would like to take a moment to explain that we already are teaching formal obedience.  However, we must not be explaining the classes well enough or frequently enough, so I would like to use this blog to share the rationale for our competition classes.

In a previous life, I coached women's basketball and I’d like to compare my experience of teaching athletic skills to young women, to teaching dog sports skills to dogs. I taught about 10 sequential steps just to teach my players how to shoot a layup with their non-dominant hand. My practices would consist of foundation drills and mini games that may only emphasize one piece of a behavior chain. Several weeks of practice would go by before I ever allowed players to "scrimmage", to put it all together in a game like environment. Eventually, we'd be as ready as we could be for game day.

Dog training is really no different. First, you teach the pieces. Gradually, you string those pieces together to create a behavior chain, and eventually you have a complete exercise.  The class titled Building Blocks is really the class to teach the foundations of formal obedience skills.  In it you work on fronts, finishes, retrieves, directed jumping, drops on recall, scent discrimination, signals at a distance, and virtually every skill required for your dog to compete in formal obedience from beginner novice through utility.

At the same time you are developing skills, you also need to build engagement, focus, duration and confidence. You want your dog to be capable of heeling correctly, for the duration required, in a distracting environment.  You want your dog to be capable of selecting the correct article while mom's nerves are turning her into a strange new person. You want to prepare your dog for the ring environment.  You enter matches, show n go's, and the CWAGS trials. Finally, it's trial day. You and your dog will enter the ring, nervous but confident, well-prepared and ready to compete. Maybe you'll  "Q". Maybe not, but you will be as ready as you can be. 

If all I did in my basketball practices was run drills, the girls would have no idea how to play a game. And if all we did was scrimmage, well, I can tell you, it would be sloppy. So good coaching requires working on the pieces, putting it together, putting it to the test, and finally, entering a trial.

So, that's the rationale behind building block classes, engagement classes, and putting it together classes. As trials approach, we absolutely will have matches and "ring ready" classes. In the meantime, take the building blocks classes, flip over to doing some focus and engagement classes, add the putting it together classes, enter matches to find any holes in your training, and enter a trial.  I think you will like the results.


  • 24 May 2016 3:14 PM | Deleted user
    excellent analagy of what training is all about, putting the peices together.
    very well explained....
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  • 24 May 2016 8:52 PM | Anonymous member
    Ok, I understand the philosophy behind the building blocks. I also understand the club only has a limited number of volunteer teachers and a limited number of teams that want to participate in any given dog sport. We also have limited classroom space. I have not taken the building block classes yet but I am having a hard time imagining how teaching novice , open, or utility skills will proceed in a logical manner if the class is made up of teams of all levels and the content will be determined by the needs of the class. Would you have wanted middle school, high school, and college level girls all on the same basketball team and would you have taught ndh lay ups , then dominate hand dribbling, then foul shooting to your mixed team all at once? Back to the dog teams, I can't see teaching Coal the various skills needed for the utility stand for exam exercise ( if someone in the class wants to work on this one) before he will allow someone to touch his head with out jumping on them, before his heeling off leash is solid, and before he has a moving stand. If we were to take the building block class and another team wanted to work on this, would we be working on the sit for exam at the same time? I am having trouble picturing how this class would work. I am going to take Kathy's class next time so I will see how that fits.
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    • 24 May 2016 10:58 PM | Anonymous member
      I hope you do get a chance to do the building blocks class because it does work. For example last week we did work on the exam, I paired with someone who had her dog sit and I just walked by, gradually getting closer, then holding my hand out and eventually touching him. When it was my turn I stood my dog, left him and had her walk by with him staying focused on me. When he did I rewarded. We did this a few time and then she touched him. So although we are both working on having our dogs examined we are at different places. But it is still very effective to work together and learn from the facilitator and from each other.
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    • 24 May 2016 11:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
      Good thoughts, Susanne, and I'll try to explain how it would work. And perhaps, Nicole, will chime in as well. Of course you wouldn't ask Coal to attempt to perform the utility stand for exam before he had the ability to allow someone to touch his head. And yes, perhaps you would work on pieces of the sit for exam at the same time someone else was working on pieces of the utility stand for exam. Both the sit for exam, the Novice SFE, and the utility SFE have some commonalities, some of the same building blocks. They all require accepting an approach from a stranger, holding a stay in position while being touched, maintaining focus on the handler, and continuing to hold position until the handler returns and releases the dog. Different levels could absolutely be accommodated in the same class.
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    • 28 May 2016 9:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
      Even though a stand for exam might be one of the exercises the group as a whole decides to work on, the work itself is done by dog handler teams individually instead of as a group exercise. Nicole is very good at breaking an exercise down (spliting) what is needed for a particular team. Both Nicole and Mary can recognize when a particular exercise needs to be split further to insure success.
      Back to the women's basketball analogy, you may have a camp where you would have middle and high school girls with college players. A talk may be given on a particular exercise then break off to work in teams according to skill level then rejoin for some discussion and peer to peer feedback.
      The level of interest in the subject matter is a mutual commonality among the students. Everyone in this class is competing at some level. Even though they are not teaching the class I value highly what Deb Shealy or Kathy Evans or Nell or anyone in this class has to say about training. That is another big plus for me with this format.
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  • 24 May 2016 10:47 PM | Anonymous member
    Great Blog post. Maybe in addition to the building blocks we should occasionally do a class for obedience like the rally run thru class. I think people going into Beginner Novice might need a little help with the procedures. (When and where do I get my number, how do I warm up, Oh, I need to wait for the judge to tell me to come in the ring, what instructions will the judge give, why is this judge walking right behind me ??) This could just be a one or two session thing and would not be a class to teach or drill the skills, just an opportunity to try putting things together as if in a trial. I personally want the building block approach in training, but I do like to compete and I do think we can do more to prepare folks to know more about competing and to be more comfortable in the ring and help to identify some of the holes in training before they get into competition.
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    • 24 May 2016 11:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
      Absolutely. Wehope to have a number of "ring prep" type classes. We need to add classes that put the building blocks together and gets folks ready to trial.
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  • 25 May 2016 9:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    I would like to add a little more background and give folks an idea of the goals for competition classes. Originally, we anticipated 3 levels of fundamentals with each level building on the previous foundations. At the end of those three levels folks would have the skills necessary to create the behavior chains that become finished obedience ring exercises.

    We also had three levels of engagement that we wanted to teach. First, play, then a class on duration, distractions, fluency and proofing, and third, a class on ring confidence. Well, there were two problems. Not enough people to fill those classes and it would take a very long time to cycle back around to the first levels. So, we have opted for 1 continuous Building Blocks/skill building class and intermittent play and engagement classes. We have also supplemented with the heeling classes that are part building blocks for heeling and part focus and engagement exercises.

    Ideally, we would like to return to the concept of 3 or even 4 Building Blocks levels. I was very encouraged by the number of members competing in Rally, Beginner Novice, Novice, and Open. I think in the not too distant future we will be able to perhaps split the building blocks into 2 levels. But it depends on the demand -- we need thhe current class to fill and have a waitlist before we can split it.

    In the meantime, or if our current classes are not meeting your needs, there are at least 2 sources of teaching that I would highly recommend. The first is Hannah Branigan's 2 DVD's, Obedience Fundamentals and I think he second one is Beyond Obedience Fundamentals. I have a copy of the first one and would be willing to lend it out. It is a four disk set that is essentially a filmed 2 day seminar of Hannah teaching her fundamentals. Most of you know I am a big Denise Fenzi fan but Hannah is absolutely amazing at building skills, fixing broken skills, and splitting training down to the small, but totally trainable parts.

    The other excellent source of teaching is Hannah's Skillbuilding Classes available through the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. I have taken all four of those classes and loved them. They are available in my Fenzi Library and I refer to them regularly.

    So, if you want to delve into Obedience Fundamentals, you can borrow my DVD set. I think Renee has a set also. Or sign up for Hannah's Skillbuilding classes online. Or let me know if you are interested in some privates with Hannah and we'll arrange a group trip to go see her in North Carolina, Durham, I think.

    We are committed to building a program that encourages members to train and compete in formal obedience.
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    • 26 May 2016 7:45 PM | Anonymous member
      I would like to say thank you to GCOC, the training committee, and all the volunteers who have taught classes and arranged clinics. Everything I have accomplished with Cody is due to all that I have learned through our club. Cody and I still have a long way to go to achieve all that I would like, but I am confident that GCOC will continue to be there for the journey!
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