Advanced Obedience -- The Signal Exercise

copyright 1996 by Cheryl May

Like most of the exercises in utility, the signal exercise requires a confident dog. If you move too quickly, you are likely to undermine your dog's confidence. This will take its toll in bad heeling before the signals begin. Dogs who are worried about the signals often show that by lagging and dragging around the ring. They know what's coming - and they don't like it. Prevent this by helping your dog achieve a solid understanding of signals.

After all, it is your responsibility to help the dog learn the exercise well so that he is solid and confident. The biggest mistake most people make (been there, done that myself) is to increase distance too quickly. The handler goes too far away and the dog becomes confused.

Anytime it appears that your dog is slow to respond to your signal, examine the following:

Consider jackpotting (several pieces of yummy treats at one time) for good attention. Let the dog look away and when he looks back (wait him out) make a big deal out of it and jackpot. Reward the dog so that he looks on distractions as an opportunity to earn a big reward instead of fearing them as an occasion to be corrected.

Consider backchaining. Start with the dog in a sitting position and then do a come signal. When that is secure teach a sit from a down, then a come. Then a down from a stand; sit from a down; then a come. If the dog looks away and doesn't look back quickly, move closer.

You may use any signal you devise, as long as it is one continuous motion. Some trainers alternate hands for signals. Some carry two shirts to shows and wear the one that contrasts most with the background wall.

Standard Signals
Heel - left hand, palm forward, arced forward beyond the dog's nose
Stay - left or right hand, palm facing the dog, moved across in front of the dog's muzzle toward the trainer, or hand with palm toward the dog, dropped straight down in front of his nose
Come - right arm held straight from the shoulder at right angles to the body (in front), the palm then pulled straight to the chest. The arm should not extend to the side, because it can cause confusion with directed jumping.
Down - may be given either with the arm raised overhead and dropped, or by bringing the arm straight up over the head and then returning it to hang by the side. The latter is called a windmill down signal. Whatever you choose, please remember that one continuous motion is required.
Sit - the arm is brought palm up from a natural position at the side to a position outstretched in front, as if lifting the dog from a down into a sit. I angle my hand out slightly so the dog can see it separate from my body.
Finish - a circling motion of the left or right hand which indicates heel position and duplicates on a small scale the path followed by the dog on a return to heel.

Note: the description of the standard signals owes much to "Competitive Obedience for the Small Dog," by Gerianne Darnell and Barbara Cecil. I highly recommend this book and suggest it to students who like motivational training methods, regardless of the size of their dog. I have students with Dobermans and German shepherd dogs who use these techniques.

Copyright 1996, by Cheryl May
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