Monday, August 22, 2011


One of my most useful tools in teaching competition obedience is the PVC box.  I was introduced to that versatile tool at a Louise Meredith seminar in Los Angeles nine years ago.  While the tool was new to me, the concept was not.  For many years I had been using Janice DeMello's "ruler chute" to teach go-outs.  It was formed by folding a measuring stick into a three-sided box.  The PVC box is simply an upgrade.  The fact that it is raised makes it adaptable to teaching several exercises.

It is made of half-inch PVC pipe with corresponding joints to hold the three pieces together.  The dimensions of the box will be determined by the size of your dog.  You want it to be a little bit wider than your dog, but not wide enough for him to wander around in there.  The purpose of the box, after all, is to restrict his movements.

I have a border collie.  The box I used to train him is two feet long and 20 inches wide.  I define the front as the end facing the other end of the ring.  The front is closed and is raised to a height of 3.5 inches.  The back, which opens onto the end of the ring, is slightly raised, about 1.75 inches.  So we have a three-sided box, open toward the end of the ring and closed at the front.

You might as well know right now that there is one aspect of this tool that is a real pain in the butt -- it frequently falls apart as you're carrying it.  So why not glue the pieces together?  Because as you reach the latter stages of teaching go-outs you're going to want to take the box apart, eliminating one piece at a time.  I've come to grips with this annoying situation by making two identical boxes.  One has the parts glued; it helps me keep my sanity until my dog reaches the latter stages of learning the go-outs.  That's a many- months period of mental equilibrium.  The second box isn't glued.  I introduce it when we reach the taking-the-box-apart stage of our go-outs training.  By that time I'm so delighted with my little guy's progress that when the box keeps falling apart I don't come unglued.

Before you can use the box to teach exercises, the first order of business is to teach Phydeaux to get into the box and be comfortable in there.  It's really easy; you'll have it in one short session.

The first few times, lure him into the box with a treat, saying, "Get in your box."  Next tell him, "Get in your box," and give him the treat as soon as he's in there.  I continue to reward that behavior for quite some time, eventually randomizing the treats.  You want him to think that being in the box is heaven.  I've found that before long if I leave the box on the ground in the yard after we've trained, the next time we go out there he'll see the box, run into it and look at me expectantly.  I reward that, too.

Once you've got your dog convinced that his box is wonderful you're ready to apply it to your training.

Let's look at how the PVC box can enhance your teaching of sits, downs, stands and (next time) go-outs.

The reason I teach sits, downs and stands in the box is that I don't want the dog to creep forward on any of those position changes.  When I see a dog creeping forward on the signal exercise or walking forward on the turn and sit, I know the trainer has skimped on teaching fundamentals.

The sit, the down and the stand should be taught at the front of the box, where the raised PVC bar impedes forward movement.  If you allow Fluffy to start a few inches back, you lose the advantage of that barrier.

The sit  I want a tuck sit.  I want Bowser's front feet to stay planted while his butt pops forward into the sitting position.  And by the way, I want those back feet and legs perfectly aligned with the body, not tucked under in a "puppy sit."  Correct that the first time you see it and every time thereafter.

The stand  I want a kick-back stand.  Again, the front paws mustn't move; the back legs kick out into a stand.  Remember, the front feet can't creep forward if they're right up against that bar.

The down  I know from experience that if the dog is taught to down by first going into a sit, then sliding down onto his tummy, sooner or later that's going to bite you.  He'll get to the sit and say, "There I did it," and never go down the rest of the way.  And that's probably going to happen in the ring when he's stressed.

So why let the sit be a part of the down in the first place?  I teach the concertina or fold-back down.  From a stand, I hold a treat under the dog's chin and move it in and down -- not one or the other, both at the same time.  As the treat goes toward the dog and down, he'll naturally fold back as he seeks to get the treat.  If necessary, I'll put my other hand on his rump to help the rear end go down.  Make sure Fluffy doesn't get the treat until she's all the way down.

Next time  Using the PVC box to teach go-outs.


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