As promised today I am going to write about finishes, specifically, the right or “around” finish. Like everything else, there are a dozen ways to teach this and if what you’re doing works, doG bless you, don’t change a thing! But if you’re not happy with what you’re getting (lazy, slow, sloppy, crooked, casual, unmotivated finishes), here’s an idea for a little game that might just push your dog’s buttons.
First, I have to say a word about games. Have you ever noticed that some people like to play training “games” intended to improve their dog’s performance, yet totally ignore the fact their dog clearly does not LIKE these games? The trainer is delighted, the dog is miserable. How much good do you think THAT game is going to do? I bring it up only because I’ve seen it time after time. Either the handler is not using them correctly or the game just isn’t the right fit for that particular dog.
Don’t worry, this finish game isn’t one of those. First, it’s totally hands-off, so if your dog is demoralized by being physically manipulated, no problem. In the beginning you can lure the dog with food or a toy, so again, no problem. If you have a high prey drive dog, he’s going to get to chase you - YIPPEE! - no problem. In fact, the only problem I can think of is that you are going to have to run. Not a marathon, just maybe a couple of yards? Can you run a few yards? Of course! No problem!
Start with two pieces of food - one in your right hand to lure (yes, lure, it’s not a bad thing, you have to start somewhere; the lure will go away later) the dog around and one in the left to bring the dog toward tight heel position. So you would say your finish word, draw the dog around to your right with the visible food in your right hand and have your two hands meet behind your back. When they meet, your right hand closes shut over the food and now your left hand has the visible food, so your dog switches his focus from your right hand to the left. He never actually gets the piece of food in your right hand. Who knows, it might last forever.
As soon as you see your dog’s nose at your left hip - almost but not quite in correct heel position - take off running. Run straight ahead. Let your dog chase and follow the food in your left hand. When he catches up, he can have the food. Once your dog gets the idea, you can quit holding food in your right hand at all, and just keep it in the left. It shouldn’t take long to get to that point, especially with a dog who already KNOWS what the finish command means.
When your dog is beating you and you almost cannot take off fast enough before his nose is at your hip, THEN you can add a verbal “sit” command as he’s at that nose at the hip position. That gives him a split second to react to the command and sit in proper heel position. You can also bring that left hand (still with food) up your body slightly so it keeps his attention/face pointed UP when he sits.
Of course, you will gradually fade the food but can continue to run on finishes at random to keep them fun and unpredictable. Run in training. Run at show-and-goes. Run and don’t ask for a formal sit, give a big, happy release instead. Your dog never knows when you might take off. Dogs who love to chase will seriously get off on this.
I’ve worked this in two separate sessions with Phoenix. No, he’s not immediately doing wham-bam perfect around finishes but he definitely LIKES this game and it is making what was previously a very tedious skill a whole lot more fun for both of us. One thing about Phoenix, he loves to chase. And he loves to catch. So you’d better believe I have that piece of food VERY visible in my left hand. Otherwise he tends to “catch” whatever he pleases.
It’s nice if your dog will charge into a gallop when you take off but that’s not required. I’ve spent nearly 3 years working on Phoenix NOT galloping anywhere near heel position so he does what I call an extended trot to catch up with me. It’s brisk and he’s moving with purpose and it’s basically what he does on “fast” time in heeling. Besides, I am on the short side of average height and he is a very athletic dog and I KNOW I can’t run fast enough to make him break into a gallop so am not going to have a heart attack trying.
Thanks, Renee, for letting me share your idea. Hope some of you find it helpful. And thanks Sheryl for this lovely pic of Phoenix from his Novice debut in the spring.
Today, I am thankful for my club’s “new” training building, which we have rented for the winter.