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More Articles

Where Obedience Leaves Off and Freestyle Starts
A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose
The Freestyle Challenge
Getting Started With Freestyle
Definition of Freestyle and Structure of a Freestyle Performance
More Than Just Heeling
Creative Development of Movement
Music, Rhythm and Freestyle
Understanding Required Moves
Do I Have to Dance?
Freestyle - A Point of View
Training: a New Mindset
My Introduction to Training a Freestyle Dog
It Takes Three - The Audience
Choreography: How to Begin
40x50 Feet: The Empty Canvas
Direction
Rhythm: The Great Organizer
What is a Guild


Front and Finish Articles

Issue One - Teaching Side Steps
Judges' Comments
Backing
Commands: Getting Personal
New Steps for Old Bones
How to Plan a Demo
Presentation Elements

 
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While teaching freestyle to not only my dog but to other freestyle students and their dogs as well, I have noted the need for what I term "ancilary" commands. These commands are supplemental to those other commands (whatever their name) that we all teach to achieve both the required moves and many of the more popular optional moves of a freestyle competition routine. Though in many cases the difference is slight between these two types of commands, "ancilary" commands, to my way of thinking, are not so much commands for specific, different moves but are instead cues for alterations--albeit sometimes subtle-- of existing commands. For instance, I use the word "charge!" in my routines when I desire a sudden burst of speed off a recall, during heeling, or to increase the dog's energy level during a specific part of a performance. "Easssssssy. . . " designates the opposite: a slower pace in the execution of a particular command and/or a "sucking back" of an energy level.

To teach "charge," I want to use a technique that really gets across the point: a sudden burst of speed or energy. In my dog's case, I simply grab hold of his buckle collar, creep forward stealthily with him, suddenly hold back on his collar, pause and command with enthusiasm: "CHARGE!" while running away from him as he quickly accelerates to catch up. Cajun thinks it is a great game. I sometimes use "easy" with the creeping part before the charge but take care to reinforce his compliance with "easy" before continuing on to the charge. When he seems to really understand what "charge" means, I then put him on a stay and creep away without him, at some point commanding him to charge and letting him catch up to me. After that, I start using it with different movements in my routine. "Easy" is taught in a similar fashion by pairing the word with exaggerated stealth on my part. I reward quietly for his correct response and then frequently break out into a fun romp or leap, which, for Cajun, makes "easy" less boring and intensifies focus on his part.

"By me" means we're about to execute a maneuver in heel position without actually traveling very far forward. I use it during pivots or zig zags and especially during "sparkles" (an exaggerated, scallop-like pivot of elegance named after the golden who first performed them). Yes, it is still "heeling," but at the cue "by me" Cajun seems to know that rather than his usual barreling forward at heel, he needs to keep his movements tight and be very alert for sudden and/or subtle changes of direction and moves.

I'm not certain if my words "BIG cookies!" (which mean "jackpot's a comin'!") fall into the same category as the above commands, but the term definitely does not denote a required movement (except perhaps in Cajun's hungry mind). Rather, "big cookies" means "that was good enough for a special treat, BIG TIME!" (an expanded "Yes!" I guess). I sometimes whisper it as a promise and motivator when Cajun's performance is a little flat, but more often I use it at the end of a good performance or following a particularly stressful or difficult training exercise. Because it usually means taking a break and racing to the treat container for a jackpot, using it as an incentive during performance could backfire: he might run out of the ring to try and find the treats. Used too often without immediate gratification could also cause disbelief in the dog's mind. So far, this hasn't happened to me. Yet.

My instructor and colleague, Joan Tennille, uses the expression "abort!" to signal to her dogs that THAT particular move (or not) was a complete washout, a "P.U.; that stinks! Back-to-the-drawing-board" sort of term. The technique is straight forward. Joan simply stops all action, throws her arms up in the air, turns away from the dog, and declares "abort!" The dogs get the point without undue chastisement.

I would be interested in hearing from any others of you as to what and how you may use personal, particular (dare I say "odd?") ancilary commands in your training vocabulary.

While we're on the subject of somewhat oddball commands, let me explain the origin of some of the more interestingly named optional moves you may have heard CFF trainers mention. The three most common ones I know are the "sparkle," the "tugger," and the "thunder" moves. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the "sparkle" is a flashy, fancified pivot intended to show elegance, focus, and precise maneuvering. Its variations are endless, and thus it is a move which most any dog/handler team can adapt to its own skill level, personality and music choice It was named after Dee Dee Rose's golden retriever, Sparkle, who first performed it at an AKC Regional freestyle demo. .

The "tugger" is named after Verne Foster's little Portuguese Water dynamo, Tugger . I first saw him perform this nifty little maneuver, again at an AKC Regional demo, in St. Louis about 4 years ago. It consists of starting a dog in heel position on one side of the handler and asking the dog to switch to the other side heel position, while the handler (usually) stands still. The dog might swing around in front and pivot his rear end into heel, or back himself in front of the handler from one side to the other. The dog can do the whole bit in a stand or from-and-to a sit or down. Usually "tuggers" are done serially, involving the handler also moving from one side of the dog to the other as soon as the dog is done moving, etc. I have found "tuggers" useful to match to certain music cues, to focus on a given dog's particularly cute movement, or to incorporate as transitions or "rest" periods between more flowing or higher energy moves. Verne explains how she taught her dog the "tugger" by using "basic obedience finishes as its foundation. Tugger knows a simple finish to the left from front position or from my right side. I tell him to stay when he is in heel, and then I finish to his left. When he is sitting on my right side, I direct him to finish to my left. The whole process can be repeated many times. That is the basic move, with nice quick finishes and perfect fast sits.

The move has since developed into Îmoving' tuggers, where just as he gets into heel position, I start to move before he sits; as I start to stop in position, he starts to go." Verne notes the many variations she's seen: on one spot in the floor like a dose-e-doe; or moving in a row, horizontally; performed only on the right side or some on the right, some on the left; from a distance or in a square. Keeping in mind Tugger's special talents, Verne believes that "Tug's quick finishes and cute, accurate sits are what give the move its pizzazz for us a team."

Renee Napier's German short-haired pointer, Thunder, was the first to illustrate the "thunder" move in a class we took together nearly 5 years ago in Silver Spring, Maryland. The "thunder" is a lateral move executed by the dog in opposition to the movement of the handler. For example, the handler might be facing forward with the dog on his left (or right side), at a 90-degree angle to the handler's leg. As the handler moves forward, the dog maintains his position relative to the handler by sidestepping with the handler's forward movement. Variations are many. The dog can be on either side of the handler, or in front (or, I suppose, in back of the handler if said handler is a real risk-taker and does not have a heart condition!), or close or far away from the handler. As long as the dog is moving laterally in opposition to the handler's movement, the dog is "thunder"ing! This move provides texture to a routine and also fulfills the sidesteps requirement: a handy element indeed.

While at a wonderful CFF Workshop featuring Joan Tennille and hosted by the Sirius Guild in Richmond, Virginia, on November 18-l9, I was treated to an informative clicker demonstration by Jeanine Brown and her Brittany, Trapper. One of the clicker-taught moves Trapper performed was a complete, tight, BACKWARD circle around Jeanine, starting and ending in left heel position. Jeanine starts Trap at heel and by luring his head into turning to his left and by pushing the food gently against his mouth, he starts to back up. Because she does this in a corner, he has to back around her to create enough space to eat the food. She simply clicks when he takes one step back and around and asks for more shaped backing as he begins to understand the maneuver. We all tried it, and it wasn't easy but with persistence could result in a very creative interpretation of backing? circling? finishing? heeling? Your choice! We now have one more "personalized" optional move: the "trapper."

So far, the focus of this month's column has been on teaching the dog commands to tighten up his response to and performance with his handler. Let's keep in mind, however, that the dog is only half (albeit usually the more interesting half, if we are correctly fulfilling our role) of the team. We owe it to our canine partners to do our share in making our commands clear, brief, and unobtrusive. If we try to get cutesy with matching energetic arm/hand commands with music cues, we not only pull audience attention away from the dog but run the danger of confusing and distracting the dog, as well.

In CFF-style freestyle, our human bodies are our dogs' accessories, not the other way around. We are there to help make the dogs look good, to enhance THEIR performances by our supportive handling. Our role is a vital one, and one of teamwork, to be sure. However, I would far prefer that someone unknown to me recall one of my performances by identifying my dog and his talents, and the close, HARMONIOUS bond we share, than by my outfit, my movements, or my dog's ability to follow my movements without getting in the way. By training our dogs (and ourselves) to the optimum, devoting as much or more training time to artistry as to technical execution, fine-tuning movements and energy levels with ancilary commands, and continually experimenting with new movements and combinations of movements, we as handlers can go far toward fulfilling CFF's signature goal to "showcase the DOG to its best advantage."

 
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