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Starting your dog in conformation

I attended a Kathy Lang seminar that was really informative. Kathy Lang has been an active obedience exhibitor and instructor since 1977. She also teaches conformation classes and has successfully combined conformation and obedience training. Kathy Lang breaks down conformation exercises into a 4 week pattern. The first week she starts her puppies at 12 weeks of age on a buckle and leash and lets them pull on the leash. She teaches everything at a walk, including all handling patterns. The faster the dog goes the less the brain engages. The second week of exercises she concentrates on down and back only. Week 3 concentrates on the various patterns. Handlers and puppies don’t get to run until Week 4.

In the beginning dogs need big cues: elbow in; forearm out and head straightforward. She also uses verbal cues, such as the word go. To get your dog to gait out in front, Ms. Lang suggests pointing with index finger, toss a cooky and letting the puppy pull to the cooky. Repeat: gait 6 feet and get a cooky, gait 6 feet and get a cooky. However, the dog is only allowed to get the cooky when you say so. Along that line, teach the puppy to sniff on command. Make sniffing (the ground in particular) an on-off command. Kathy Lang also teaches right turn and left turn. Right and left aren’t as necessary with small dogs as they are with big dogs but they are still necessary. She also teaches other commands such as “step,” “back,” and “cross.” Step means make front legs even and the puppy gets to eat when front feet are square. You can teach a dog to back up by walking like a duck. To cross, turn the dog’s nose to left or right and get the dog to cross over its front legs. Ms. Lang also uses aids such as a dressage whip and chest rope. She teaches dogs to come into a stand with a chest rope. That way they learn to lean in to the stand. You can put a toy or bait on the end of a dressage whip and also encourage them to move out ahead.

Ms. Lang has different words for everything in conformation. She has two forms of baiting. One is when you go around the ring and then step in front of your dog and free stack. By stepping in front of your dog you are cueing it not to sit. The other is when you want the dog to bait off the judge. To teach that exercise, you toss a cooky to the wall and say “judge” when it rebounds back to the dog. If you are in a conformation class you can gait the dog to the “judge” and have the judge feed them.

To teach a dog to really sparkle on command teach the dog a cue word such as “wow” and give it a lot of treats at the same time (jackpotting). You can only do this about 3 times per training session.

Ms. Lang emphasizes some points such as: the more you fuss a dog the more it falls apart. In fact, standing still and hand stacking are the last things she teaches. She sometimes shows young dogs in a brace to build confidence.

Each maneuver has a different word. One useful command is “show time” and the dog gets mentally ready for the show ring.

Lastly, Kathy Lang discussed natural remedies to relax the dog such as “Relax” for fear based aggression. She recommends 12 sprays the first day, 10 sprays the second day and 8 sprays as a maintenance dose. Valerian capsules are also recommended. She uses Bitter Apple in the dog’s mouth every time it barks or growls.

For those of you who are uncomfortable cramming a show lead in one hand, both Kathy Lang and Pat Hastings recommend tying the lead to a chair or table leg and working it up and down in your hand while you’re talking on the phone, watching TV, etc.