In last Friday's post, "The Importance of Role Models," I mentioned Sandy Rowan and her late, great border collie Rev (OTCH Copperlane R.P.M.) I recounted how I first saw them at a Gaines tournament in the early '90s and was stunned by the way Rev dove into the drop on recall, skidding on his chin.
Just seeing that kind of commitment to hitting the deck wasn't enough, I had to know how Sandy attained that level of excellence. She lived in Anchorage at the time, so I called her.
"How do you get Rev to dive into that drop?" I asked her.
"I train it that way," she said
"Oh," I said.
Sandy laughed, then she continued, "Actually the method is kind of complex."
Tape recorder running, I said, "Shoot."
Before I recount what Sandy told me, a few comments about the drop on recall exercise.
From the dog's point of view, this exercise is loaded with contradictory handler expectations. First the dog is expected to stay, then come, then drop and wait, then get up and come again. You can hear the dog thinking, For Pete's sake, make up your mind.
Inherent in the exercise are the following common errors on the dog's part:
-- Anticipating the recall. Border collies are particularly prone to anticipatory behavior. We all have the classic picture of the border collie waiting to be called. Everything forward -- one leg, the shoulders, the head, the ears. A loaded gun, ready to go off. Only a split-second away from serious point deductions.
-- Anticipating the drop. This can manifest itself in the dog (a) creeping tentatively forward, body low, waiting for the drop command, or (b) simply hitting the deck before the command is given.
-- Or the converse: coming with such lightning speed that his forward momentum carries him many feet before he can drop. It's a rare dog who can come like a bullet, then drop like a rock. Rev was such a dog.
-- Oh yes, the dog may not drop at all.
Sandy's method covers all of the above. (She disclaims exclusive credit, however. Like all of us, she has sat at the feet of others who are outstanding and learned her lessons well.)
Important: This exercise always begins with the dog in a standing position; do not drop your dog from a sit.
Begin with the stationary signal drop. Your dog must understand to drop behind a bar. Start with the two-inch-square bar from the bar jump; it's highly visible. As this sequence progresses, you'll want to shrink the diameter of the bar down to one-half inch PVC pipe and eventually to only a clear plastic dowel.
Stand only a few feet in front of the dog and begin with the stationary signal drop behind the bar. After he drops, tap his feet three times with the bar (yes, the big bar), saying, "Down, good boy! Down, good boy! Down, good boy!" Then throw a toy into his chest or behind him.
Gradually increase the distance between you and the dog until you are giving your signals from 50 feet. The bar remains directly in front of the dog's feet; in this initial stage, don't give him any room to travel. Eventually -- and we're still talking about the stationary signal drop here -- begin moving the bar back so it's no longer a factor in the exercise.
Your dog must be really solid on the stationary drop before you progress to the drop on recall. And he must understand that he must not continue forward beyond the bar once he sees your drop signal.
Assuming your dog has done well on the stationary drop exercises described above, he's now ready for Sandy Rowan's supercalifragilistic, dynamite method of teaching the moving drop. We'll go into that in detail in the next post.