Reflections from a Working Dog Seminar

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Last weekend I attended Shade Whitesel’s Seminar: Play Your Way to Powerful Obedience in Missouri hosted by Riverfront Working Dog Club. Shade has achieved some of the highest titles in Schutzhund with her dogs.

“Shade has been involved in the sport of Schutzhund for the last 15 years. Shade and her current competition dog, Reiki vom Aegis, placed fifth (97-88-97) out of over 60 dogs at the All Breed Nationals (AWDF) in 2010. More recently, Shade and Reiki won the Northwest Regionals in Sacramento, CA on September, 2011. Reiki also won the Sch 1 level at the 2008 Malinois Nationals and the Sch 2 level at the 2009 DVG Nationals. In his off time, Reiki trains in French Ring and obtained his Ring 1 title. Shade also trained Talender von Grunhiede to a perfect score of 100 in tracking at his Sch 2, and a perfect score of 100 in obedience at his Sch 3 trial.” – PosiDog Canine Learning Center

Shade was patient and helpful with each working dog team that was at the seminar. Below are some of the key points that I felt really ought to be restated.

  • If your dog can’t play in an area, it can’t work. This really hit home with me because I have taken my dog to parks and tried to initiate play, but he was way too distracted to play. After hearing that statement, it definitely made sense to me that if he wouldn’t play, how could I ask him to work?
  • Quickly move away from food. Shade uses treats to teach a behavior, but as soon as the dog knows what to do she switches to play. She stated that she uses treats for no longer than a week when teaching a new behavior. After hearing this advice, I realize that I use food a little too much and I look forward to playing with my dog to get the behavior I want instead of continuing with treats.
  • Keep each command specific. The best example she gave was when she said to make “Out” and “Drop it” two completely different terms with two completely different meanings. To her dogs, “Drop it” means drop the toy on the ground and “Aus” means to release the toy into her hands. It is not fair to a dog to say “drop it” for both those behaviors because to a dog those are completely different. I can see how this would translate to other behaviors we ask for that might confuse the dog if they aren’t exactly the same.
  • Teach the dog that the sooner it lets go, the sooner it can play again. Shade’s dog, Reiki, had an awesome “Aus” which meant he would let go of the toy into her hands as soon as she said the command. I wondered how to get such a precise release because while my dog has a pretty good “drop it”, it wasn’t as quick as Reiki’s! The strategy to teach this was to let the dog bite the toy again within 1-2 seconds after releasing it. I was waiting too long to let my dog start playing again which is why he didn’t want to let go of his beloved toy!

I learned so much from this seminar that I am writing more than one post about it! Be sure to subscribe in the column to the right to get notifications of future posts as well as the blog newsletter! Stay tuned!