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
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
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."