Dog training: How to structure a beginners’ obedience class

Be successful when training 4-H youth to work with their dogs by following this eight-week course outline.

Many 4-H Dog obedience leaders have struggled with how much information to put into each week’s training session for youth. I have found that a leader can teach the basics in an eoght-week course. In eight weeks, youth are able to keep up without feeling too much pressure and the dogs can perfect a move before moving on to the next, but not get bored. Moving at a pace that is right for the dog and the handler is very important so that patience is always present for both, and so no one becomes discouraged.

The following will explain each session and what is taught at each. Of course, you should always adjust for quick learners and for the age of your audience.

Basic Eight-week Beginner Obedience course

Session 1

Basic heeling position

Dog on left side sitting quietly (both handler and dog facing forward).

Forward

Handler should walk off with the leg closest to the dog while clearly and loudly saying   the dog’s name and “heel.” Dog should heel at side with lead in handler’s   left hand, unless the dog is hard to handle. If this is the case, the handler would put the lead in the right hand and have the left hand placed on the leash a few inches away from the chain.

Halt

With a straight sit at handler’s side (using the three-command style: say sit, pull up on lead [short jerk] and push down on rump of dog).

About turn

Turn on a roll back or pivot and go the opposite way. Do not cue the dog; handler should just turn. If the dog does not respond and needs a correction handler   may give the choke a quick jerk to get a quicker response and say the dog’s name and heel. However the handler should not use the choke or voice command after the first week of training.

Exercise finish

Once the handlers are all finished with an exercise, be sure to call an exercise finish. This is a release when the handler will praise their dog excitably, playing with a toy or giving them a treat. (I actually prefer praise over treats). This doesn’t last long just a few seconds unless it is the end of a class or   break time. If that is the case, make sure the handlers know there is no work   to be done during breaks or after class unless you have a one-on-one time set   up with them. They should not practice after a class until the next day.

Session 2

Basic sit-stay

This first step of the stay will be done without leaving the dog. The handler will   tell the dog “stay,” move their hand in a quick motion in front of the dogs   face, and move out in front of the dog leaving with the leg furthest from the   dog. The handler should be standing directly in front of the dog with little   space between them. The handler should hold the leash directly above the dog   without any slack (don’t choke the dog or pull too tight), then after a count   of 10, the handler should walk all the way around the dog while keeping the leash tight; stop in the heeling position. After a count of 10, call exercise finish.

Down

There   are many different approaches to getting the dog down. This process is where you will find some dogs growling and resisting. Please be sure to work   one-on-one with these members so they can learn the safe and proper way and   establish dominance over the dog. A few different approaches are:

  • Always start with the dog in the sitting position
  • Place your hand on the dog’s front shoulders, push down while saying down and pulling leash to floor
  • Pull the leash to the floor, say “down" and pull the front feet out slowly causing them to lie down
  • Simply tell the dog “down,” while using a sweeping hand motion to the floor

After the dog is down, handler needs to count to ten before releasing them. If this   means holding them down that is fine. Sometimes just staying on the floor   with them is enough. As the weeks progress the handler will stand at their side and eventually leave to the end of the leash. Then release them with a lot of praise.

Slow

Have the handler change their pace to a much   slower one with the dog remaining at their side heeling. If a correction is   needed it should be a quick jerk on the collar while saying the dog’s name   and “heel.”

Fast

Have the handler change their pace to a quicker pace usually a jog for a large dog or a fast walk for a small dog. If a correction is needed, it should be a quick jerk forward or back depending on   if they are longing ahead or lagging behind while saying the dog’s name and   “heel.”

Normal

Handler will return to their normal pace correcting with a quick jerk and telling the dog to heel if necessary.

Session 3

Right turn

Handler will simply turn right while the dog remains heeling at their side. Turns should be a sharp 90 degrees; handler can correct by giving the   leash a quick jerk and telling the dog to “heel.”

Left turn

Handler will simply turn left while the dog remains heeling at their   side. Turns should be a sharp 90 degrees; handler can correct by giving the leash a quick jerk and telling the dog to “heel.”

U-turn

Handler should turn into their dog 180 degrees and go the other way. The handler may have to keep a tight leash and hold the dog back the first   few times.

Stand your dog

Handler should be heeling their dog when he or she calls this command;   the handler will then stop, face the dog, tell it to stand, while touching it   in the flank area. It may be necessary to hold the dog at first or put the   leash under its groin area and hold it up. (The leash is a safe for   comfortable way for dogs that are shy about their groin or bellies.) Count to   10; call exercise finish.

Down your dog

Handler should tell the dog “down” or use a hand command, and the dog should lie down without any extra help.

Session 4

Leave your dog at the sit

Handler should tell the dog to “sit.” Leave on command by telling the dog to “stay," make a hand motion in front of the dogs face and walk to the end of the leash   with the leg furthest from the dog. Once at the end of the leash, turn and   face the dog.

Return to your dog

Once at the end of the leash and the command is called, handler will return to   their dog by walking back and all the way around returning to the heeling position. It is very important that they stay in this position until exercise finish is called.

Come fore

The handler should be in forward command when this is called. While walking   forward, the handler will call the dog by saying its name and “come”, i.e.   “Rover, come.” Run backwards and pull the dog directly in front of them.

The handler should run backwards approximately five steps, stop and have the dog stop in front of them. First the dog will just stop and get praised, but eventually they should stop and sit in front of the handler.

Session 5

Leave your dog at the down

Have the handlers down their dogs; then leave their dogs by saying “stay,” moving   their hand in front of the dogs face and then walking away with the leg   furthest from the dog to the end of the leash. They will then turn and face the dog. Try to keep the handlers from putting any tension on the leash as   this may cause the dog to get up. If the dog does move, the handler should move quickly to tell the dog “no,” put them back into place and leave them again.

Call your dog

Handlers   should leave their dogs on a sit stay to the end of the leash. Once at the   end of the leash they should turn and face the dog, on your command, they   should call the dog by saying the dog’s name and “come.” They can guide the   dog with the leash so that the dog will come with straight and with speed, stopping   to sit directly in front of them.

Finish your dog

After the “call your dog” exercise, the dog should be sitting directly in front of   the handler. At this point, the handler will say the dog’s name and “heel.”   The handlers will take a step back with their left leg, pull the dog in a circle (like stirring a large witch’s pot) and stop so that the dog can sit directly at their side while stepping back into place with the left leg. The right leg should never move.

Leave your dog at the stand

Handler should stand their dog, leave to the end of the leash; when you call a return, they should return by walking all the way around the dog and ending at the dog’s side facing the dog. (Dog should not move feet at all.)

Other sessions

Work with dogs so they will stay with distractions for a total of 1 minute at the   sit and 3 minutes at the down for a first-year dog.

Refine all the above by eliminating all the training commands and using only the one   command allowed for each. Refer to the basic commands for calling a class sheet for the proper commands.

This   is also a good time to run the handlers and dogs through a one-on-one pattern, such as the judge would use and score them. This will allow them to know what they need to work on. Please refer to the score sheets in your handbook.

It is also equally important to establish what equipment a handler needs to bring to each class and to establish rules. Rules will allow everyone to know the Leader’s expectations up front and alleviate problems in the future. For more information on example rules and equipment needs, see these Michigan State University Extension articles:

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