Lil and I are developing a new start line routine.  She has always preferred to stand at the start line, but since head bobs and nose touches have become linked to standing, I needed to change her position, at least for the time being.  So for the past week I’ve been heavily rewarding SIT in Lil’s day-to-day life.  I’ve been very careful to reward in ways that do not cause Lil to move her head and so far so good.  Lil’s head has remained perfectly still and she is sitting faster and straighter with each passing day.

One thing I have noticed about Lil’s sit position is its rather slouchy.  Her front feet are not deep under her body and her head is not held high.  This position can easily morph into the dreaded (HA HA) vulture pose which could easily lead to head bobs or nose touches.   So one thing I’ve been doing a little here and there is asking for SITs with front feet on a Mark bucket.  At first this was hard for Lil to do, but after maybe 10 reps over the course of a week, it became second nature.

Lil sitting with front feet on the Mark

Just for kicks, I elongated Lil’s legs (below) to show how the angle of her back is similar to longer-legged dogs when her front feet are on the Mark bucket.


Now, back to the slouchy sit.  A friend suggested I ask for Sit Pretty (begging) but the thing that doesn’t work well with Sit Pretty and Lil is she positions her rear legs in a way that makes the position very stable and easy to maintain.. but she is not really sitting.. its more of a very low crouch.  I assume she learned to do this in anticipation of “Sit Pretty to Stand back to Sit Pretty,” which is difficult for dogs to do but great for conditioning so we do it now and then.

Since I don’t need or want any duration of Sit Pretty at the start line, I decided to train a new trick that will position her front feet deeper under her body.    Below is a video of this new trick. Its pretty simple.  Starting in a SIT, Lil lifts POPS her front feet up and back onto the ground, while maintaining a SIT position with her rear feet.

Already I can see how well this trick is influencing her sitting position.  Even before I cue POP, her front feet are already in a good, non-slouchy position under her body  in anticipation of the next POP.  The rep at 0:16 is exactly what I’m looking for:  a small, fast popping up of front feet with feet landing a tiny bit deeper under her body.

After watching the video I see that I have to be careful to reward her in ways that keep her weight shifted back.   In some reps, she leaned forward to get the reward, which is the opposite of what I’m looking for.  This is still very new for her so she sometimes offers a lingering Sit Pretty, which is fine since POP is still a new trick.

My end goal is to be able to cue POP from any position and from any distance… but that will take a while… or maybe not.  Lil is a super fast learner and this is an easy trick for her to do.

Lil practicing Forward Focus with choices.

I woke up wondering how “Forward Focus” might be useful beyond traditional Start Line Stays and Freestyle, so this morning I set up a couple of simple sequences that allowed me to ask my dogs the following questions:

1) Can you look where I’m looking…and pointing with my body language vs. look at the obstacle I’m standing closest to, or behind, even if that obstacle is a tunnel?

2) Can you perform 180 turns away from me and a tunnel, and run through a sequence of hoops behind you, with me standing next to or behind the tunnel?

Lil and Jake answered YES to all the challenges I presented them with.  I think Australian Terriers are exceptionally smart but I also think dogs naturally look where we are looking (and where we are pointing towards with body language) so it’s just a matter of rewarding their natural response to look where we are looking enough times to be able to then use Forward Focus to enhance the performance of what many would call “challenging” behaviors.

An added benefit of practicing Forward Focus with choices might be for dogs who like to decide for themselves what the opening sequence is vs. waiting for their handlers to show them the correct opener.  I suppose another benefit could be for dogs who self-release as soon as they focus on what they think is the first obstacle.  Regardless of those benefits, I see this game as another fun way to reinforce solid Start Line Stays while upping the ante in new and unexpected ways.