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Discussion Starter #1
Okay, so we're starting to train a free stack on Felix. Most of the advice I'm following advises having a strong focus/watch me/whatever command to train a nice free stack.

I'm struggling quite a bit getting him to both offer and maintain eye contact. We tried to do this when he was 3 months old, and he would not look at our eyes, I couldn't capture the behavior and I assumed he might still be too young. So now, he's 6 months old, going on 7 months, and I would like to try again, and I'm running into the same issues. I'm wondering if I'm expecting too much of him (I come from Border Collies, and they offer eye contact constantly, all the time, for anything), or if its unusual and if anyone has advice.

We've been trying multiple ways to see which he responds to better. Attempt one: capture it randomly throughout the day. This in theory works well, but I haven't been able to be consistent enough throughout the day for him to understand what I'm asking. Ie, I'll start off strong in the morning and by 12, I'll have not clicked and rewarded for the random times he'd make eye contact and I feel as if perhaps this method may be too confusing if I can't be consistent.

Attempt 2: Call his name, reward for the contact offered, and click and reward for eye contact, attempt to build duration. This is my most successful route, but I still lose him within a minute or two of training.

Attempt 3: Luring, holding a treat between my eyes and click for him looking and rewarding. This my least favorite method, I do not feel he understands the concept well and I feel as if he is not making contact but staring at the treat or hand.

Attempt 1 is one that I think has the potential to be very successful if I could be consistent. Attempts 2 or 3 are very difficult. He will make eye contact, but his body language is very stiff, head low, no tail wag or relaxed/happy panting, it's almost as if he's stressed. No matter the treat value, I lose him within a minute or two of training and he walks off and lays or, or just lays down at my feet where we're training. I'm worried he's not understanding what I'm asking or expecting of him and I'm not sure how to help him understand. I'd like to add, that between these attempts has been at least 3 weeks.
 

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How I train it- start not in a stack but a stand. say stand. step out a foot, not totally in front of puppy. move my eyebrows and hold my eyes as big as I can make them.High voice. I might be bent over initially. immediately 'click' with my cheek and step in to treat.
That only lasts a couple of days if I hit it 5X a day.
Then I say stand and move just his front. Step in front, mostly and do the same eye thing/treat thing. That is just a couple days too but I come back to it randomly after he learned the stand stay in stacked position.
When you feel like you have that solid, add in the back feet.
Keep the sessions to his attention span- so if you lose him after a couple minutes take it down to 1 minute. In the ring you aren't going to need to get a 5min stand stack.
 

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Maegan
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Personally, I feel as though eye contact should be an independent skill regardless of if the dog is sitting, laying down, standing, free stacking, etc. The stand and the eye contact can be added together to get a free stack when the dog fully understands each individual component.

I teach eye contact when they are baby puppies. Saying the dog's name means "look at me" in any and all circumstances (which is also why I don't say the dog's name for no reason if I can help it). I started out teaching the stand command as part of the sit-stand-down drills during puppy class. Part of this is so that the dog learns a kick-back stand (pops back legs up without moving front feet) and sphinx down (elbows go down first) for obedience and rally. Then, after the dog can reliably change positions, we mix up the order so that the dog learns that "stand" means a specific body position (same for down and sit) versus an action. The action is to get into the correct position from whatever the original position is. So, the dog should eventually be able to complete a stand from both a sit and a down. Next, we work on moving stands - which blend right into free stacks - but ONLY once the dog understands that "stand" is a position and "stay" means "do not move your feet no matter what position your body is in". Eventually you can combine stand-stay-dog's name and get a free stack, but the free stack is ONLY rewarded with feet in the correct position. It's also ok if the dog looks at bait in your hand while free stacking. Sometimes you won't be directly in front of the dog for them to look at you, so you will need to have them look at your hand.

You may need to focus more on a stay at first than the looking part to build up the duration. The dog will need to be able to stay still for line-ups, exams, free stacks, etc. Sometimes the judge will try to get the dog to look at them during the free stack so that they can really see expression, so staying in place is very important. The only time the dog needs to really hold position for a long time is when the judge is looking at the entire line-up, in which case you may not be in front and will want the dog to look at bait that you hold out in front of him in your hand. When you do your down and back and free stack at the end, the judge usually only looks for a few seconds and then has to move on to the next dog. They are supposed to only spend 2 minutes per dog per AKC rules. That 2 minutes is spread out from the initial lineup look to the individual exam, down-and-back, and go around to the final line-up and group go around. Of course not all judges adhere to the 2 minute rule, but most of them really do try.

Do you have a release word? If not, this may help your dog understand when he can stop looking. I use "free." Others use "ok". This also goes back to the beginning: building in the bridge to the reward (click or "yes" or whatever you want to say to communicate that the reward is coming) and then the release.

I hope this helps and I didn't go too far off of your original question. :)
 

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Kate
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I'm not sure how to answer this one because for conformation I don't want the dogs looking up to my face.

If I'm out in front, I'm baiting around my hip area because I think the headset is about right thereabouts???

Look at Maegan's pretty pup in her signature - I want the head to sort of look like that even when I'm out in front. Head up, ears forward, looking slightly up but not looking way up.


Now for obedience??? Totally different story. I want my dogs to be looking up at my face or side of my face at all times. Treat goes into my mouth and rewards come from my mouth (even if they weren't there originally - as in, treat comes from my pocket, touches to my mouth area, and I reward at the point where I want my dog's head to be).
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you all SO much.

Prism: this is solid and I think this may be the best way to teach him as it is similar to how I taught his stack. Thank you! I didn't understand why they said to use a focus command.

Maegan: Thank you so much!! This definitely makes a lot of sense. I've never taught conformation, but in the collies, they all have an individual focus command, it was just a breeze to teach and put duration on. His current stack has a duration of about 20 seconds. He does not however, have a stand command. I can definitely work on that next, as I think it will be absolutely beneficial to teaching the free stack. Thank you :)!

Megora: I didn't think they were supposed to look up at the face either? When I hand stack him, I can position his hand with my bait hand and I thought that was the goal with the free stack is about.
 

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Once he has the stand stay in place you can start to use wiggling fingers, etc to get him to put his head where you want it.
 

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Maegan
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The teacher in handling class actually taught me to have Eevee look at my pocket/hip area like Kate said. I keep my bait in my pocket for conformation so I can just touch my pocket and she will look just where I want her to, but sometimes I get a sweeter expression if she looks at my face. She doesn’t raise her head up way high or tilt too much thankfully. She’s pretty good about only flicking her eyes to my face and not changing her whole head position.

off subject PSA: make sure you empty your pockets after a show or you might end up finding month old cheese and beef liver in the dryer. ??
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)

There is a video of last night's handling class :) There are some things I would love to work on. Number one being my inability to properly use his lead, I feel like it either isn't releasing the pressure or I'm holding onto it too tightly and I don't want to be applying any corrections if I can't do it appropriately. Tips on better lead control? Just practice?

Secondly, his gaiting is getting better, but it's a work in progress lol. In the part where we come up to the judge, he's doing very good at stopping, but he stands naturally with his hind legs more underneath him, so that's what we're working on as far as his freestack goes.
 

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There is a video of last night's handling class :) There are some things I would love to work on. Number one being my inability to properly use his lead, I feel like it either isn't releasing the pressure or I'm holding onto it too tightly and I don't want to be applying any corrections if I can't do it appropriately. Tips on better lead control? Just practice?

Secondly, his gaiting is getting better, but it's a work in progress lol. In the part where we come up to the judge, he's doing very good at stopping, but he stands naturally with his hind legs more underneath him, so that's what we're working on as far as his freestack goes.
Your video isn't viewable........


870411
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Ohh hold on, I'll see if I can get it published, thank you for letting me know!

EDIT: this is my first time posting something on youtube, but the video was listed as private and I put in on public, does that help?
 

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Maegan
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I thought the free stack looked pretty good honestly! He will naturally start to stand more correctly as he grows and builds muscle in his rear. It's a little hard to see, but regarding your leash control question: I think maybe he could use a bigger collar? I am about to get a 22" chain for Eevee - started out with an 18" collar for puppy shows and had to move up to a 20" collar by 8 months and now I think we need to move up again. Anyway, a bigger one will be easier for you to position and manipulate. If you look at the Dobermans behind you in line, they both have a lot of extra length in their collars. Other than that, you just have to practice wadding up the lead. The old adage "be quick, but don't hurry" seems to be applicable for moving the collar around and making adjustments, which takes practice.
 

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Kate
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I think his stack (after d&b) is awesome + he looks like he's doing great during the exam.

Speed - you had him at a good speed. He looks like he's ready to start showing.

Only oops I really saw was as you approached the end of the line, he was lunging a little. Experience/practice will get him past that, but to be honest the judge might not be looking by the time you get back there. The points where the judge would ABSOLUTELY be watching, you had him going at a good trot. He's a very nice boy. :)

My guys wear an 18" show chain.

I mainly noticed that his fur was bunched up under the collar. That's something you adjust every time before you begin gaiting - and taking that moment is a "calm down" moment for you + cue to the dog.

*** I'm currently waffling about going to handling class tonight for my pup who needs the practice - especially having people go over him. >.< We are supposed to get a ton of snow tonight with it starting right around the time I'd be getting to class....
 

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You are doing great!! I usually take a moment after we have gown down (away from the judge) to pause, adjust the collar/lead LOOK at the judge and where I am going and then go back down toward the judge. I had a tendency to do the whole thing very fast and look right down at my dog the whole time. I have also heard a lot of judges prefer dogs to "just stand" after they have gone down and back so they can see the dog naturally. I was at a show this weekend watching the goldens and most of those handlers just had their dogs stand naturally after the down and back before being send all the way around. The winners bitch was a really nice girl, and her handler did not "over-handle" at all, and also had a naturally wavy coat.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thank you all! That collar he's wearing is one we picked up at the Lakeland shows, its an 18in. She told me I need to get another color, I feel silly for grabbing black ?, but I'll probably attend another show before too long and pick up a more appropriate lead for his coat. I feel like I'm constantly putting his lead in the right spot ;_;, I think it's mostly just me not having enough practice on what it should all look like, I need to watch more shows! He's really putting in a good effort for me and we've been doing a lot of practice wherever we can and having different people (petsmart employees love volunteering), run their hands over him while I stack and present him. I have to say his pacing has been decreasing notably too. I'm really happy with him. When we talked to a Golden handler at the Lakeland shows, he told us to wait a couple more months because he looks like such a puppy still, but I'm excited!

Megora: she told me I need to keep my back straighter when I run, I still am kind of hunched over. She's a boxer breeder/handler, so I think she wants him to gait a little faster, but I've heard that Goldens shouldn't be flashy, just moderate and move at a pace that doesn't exaggerate their trot so much that they're floating.
 

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As Kate said, use the time you adjust his collar before gaiting to calm yourself. Take a deep breath as you're adjusting the collar. Start out slowly, taking the first two or three steps to build up to the correct speed. Practice by telling the dog, in a low voice, "s-l-o-w as you go...." and then start out. (That was a tip I learned at a George Alston seminar.) Relax and your dog will start to relax more. Eventually you will be able to have some slack in the lead and if he starts to lunge a bit, you can give him a small correction and say "easy", and get him back under control. Your boy is nice and you're doing great. Just remember to relax, relax, relax (I know it's not easy at first).
 

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Kate
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Relax and your dog will start to relax more. Eventually you will be able to have some slack in the lead and if he starts to lunge a bit, you can give him a small correction and say "easy", and get him back under control. Your boy is nice and you're doing great. Just remember to relax, relax, relax (I know it's not easy at first).
^^^ This times 100% :)

As dogs get more experienced with the whole routine, you can feel the difference on the lead which will let you loosen up on the lead and soften up from your arm to your shoulder. It will come. He's still a baby. :)
 

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Not sure why you would want a strong, reliable focus command or skill in conformation, but you definitely do want that skill set for obedience (after novice) so here's how I was taught by a multiple OTCH/200 club trainer.
(Disclaimer-- I have a calm, focused dog to begin with).
The goal is to get the dog to focus on you regardless of what is going on around him, so what we really need to teach is distraction inhibition and delayed gratification.
Never lure a dog to your face with a treat, it's counterproductive to what we're trying to achieve. In fact, this is taught the opposite way. We want them to learn to ignore the treat and focus on us.
Start with the dog sitting facing you. Hold a treat in each hand, hands at the level of your face and about 18 inches stretched out away from your face.
The dog's natural inclination is to look at the treats. Say your command quietly and calmly (mine is "watch") and the instant the dog looks at you, give both treats and praise him.
Only do 2-3 times at a time.
As he starts understanding the command, try your hands in different positions. He is being rewarded for ignoring the treats.
When you feel he has a good grasp of the expectation, try it in different places such as out walking, at the store, etc.
Now for the real training. After he's solid on ignoring treats to look at your face, VERY slowly increase the amount of time he has to look before getting the treats and praise. Try to work up to several minutes. If he looks away just calmly repeat your focus command. Progress SLOWLY!
Finally, enlist the help of others to use different distractions when you feel he truly knows what you want when you say "watch" (or whatever).
My dog Q'd despite amazing distractions (including a florescent light bulb falling out of the ceiling onto the floor and shattering into millions of pieces just a few feet behind him when he was sitting waiting for the jump command in directed jumping, and a kid with an ice cream cone leaning over the ring gate near him, and many many instances of people playing tug etc. with their dog right next to the ring) because he can focus on my face and ignore distractions.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Thank you so much! I hope more practice will help me relax. When I showed horses, I held my breath when jumping and had to remind myself to breathe! I know Felix picks up on some of that, maybe I'll practice some meditation before going in the ring lol.

I would love to do obedience with him when he's older. I do not think he's got the mental focus yet. As far as the focus practice, I generally do only do it 2 - 3 times thinking he has the concept, but staring at my eyes does cause his body language to change in a way that makes me feel bad for him. I can only get him to maintain contact for maybe 1 second before he quits on me and lies down. I shape it (click for increasing length of time and reward) and whenever we practice its always going back to point zero. I'm wondering if maybe my training body language is too strong? I have big eyes (lol), so maybe they're intimidating? When he looks at me during this practice, his head is low, he's looking up at me, no tail wag, no pant, very tense body language. I'll try again later, but whenever he quits and lies down, I feel like I'm failing him and not understanding what I'm missing with training this behavior :( if we're just playing around or playing games, eye contact comes naturally to him, he uses it to engage me in play, so I've been tossing around the idea of trying to capture it during play behavior.
 

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Kate
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Never lure a dog to your face with a treat, it's counterproductive to what we're trying to achieve. In fact, this is taught the opposite way. We want them to learn to ignore the treat and focus on us.

^^^^ Basically, when I train my dog to look up at my face, I kinda want it to be the same kind of "maybe Maybe MAYBE!!!!" excitement that dogs have about the magic windows at drivethroughs.

They don't always get treats from the people in the windows - but they are conditioned to get all excitement and literally VIBRATING from the possibility that the magic window will give them timbits or whip cream or dog biscuits. There's no such thing as distractions in the car to get the dog's focus off the magic window.
 
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