I can honestly say I was scared to death to show a dog when I went to my first dog show in the early 1990's. I had preferred to watch from the sidelines or on TV for that matter. But once I decided that I could do a better job, well I jumped in with both feet and have never looked back.
I credit my ability to train dogs for conformation to my first love, obedience. The partnership that you have with your dog makes all the difference. Trust is something that you earn from your dog. Once you have their trust they will cross an ocean to please you. You can take parts of obedience training and apply them to conformation training. Patience and more patience is the key. You can't rush a dog to do something if they don't understand what you want from them. I like to take what they can do and make it into what I want them to do.
First and foremost I like to work from the front of the dog to the rear of the dog. My puppies are always given a variety of toys to play with. Interaction with them during their play periods is an ideal time to train. I typically will hold a toy and at the same time tell the dog to stand. Of course at first you probably won't be successful cause they want that toy. They will jump at it, grab it and continue playing. But as you continue to repeat the exercise and use your other hand to block them from stepping forward they will start to get the exercise. You will know when the "light bulb" goes on. They litterly freeze and will stand still, briefly, but it is a start.
From that I will progress to working just the front end. Asking them to stand, I then place the left front leg, using a mirror so that I can see that I have placed it straight down. Holding the collar also gives you better control. Then the same is repeated with the right front leg. While placing each leg you can use "stand" so they know what you want. Once you have the front under control you can start the process of working on the rear in the same manner, left then the right. Again a mirror is your best friend and a useful tool in training conformation.
I love to teach a "self stack." Once I have a dog that has been proven to stand for as long as I ask, I then can start working them to walk into place so that the front is even as well as the rear which creates a pleasing profile of a correct stance.
I have certain secrets to training that I use. This came from years of watching the professional handlers in the ring and building a basis for how I train. I do use treats as reward and depending on the dog I might even use a favorite toy. I like to train in short periods since most dogs can get bored and I want it to be fun and rewarding for both of us. There is more to discuss like showing the bite, moving the dog, etc., but I can't give everything away!
If you are local in Evansville, Indiana or don't mind driving a distance I am available to help train your dog and you. Because if you don't help and continue the training exercises at home, you are wasting your time, my time and your money.
Now obedience was my first love and still is. The rewards are beyond what I can explain unless you have experienced it first hand. Again, I look back and remember that first time when I competed, I was a nervous wreck. I think I did just about everything wrong but it just made me more determined to do it right the next time. Well, I did go back and within a short period of time I was training for the next level, from novice to open and so on.
So much has changed over the years with obedience and I think what is new is awesome. But there came a time in my life that I had to walk away from it. It was in the 90's that I lost 4 dogs in a 15 month time period. Illness, old age, cancer and they were gone. I was devastated to say the least and had lost my passion almost entirely to train and compete. I stopped teaching and working my dogs that I still had. But I'm back thank goodness. I'm having to learn new things like Rally, etc., but I'm back!
I highly recommend finding a club in your area and take at least one set of classes. Whether its a puppy or an adult, you can train obedience. I shy away from places like PetSmart that offer some obedience but typically they aren't real trainers nor have experience in teaching competitive obedience in the event you get bit by the bug.
Not everyone wants to compete, they just want a dog that will listen to them and there is nothing wrong with that. But socialization, getting the basic commands and teaching them to your dog is what everyone should want to do. Your dog is a lifetime commitment. Not something you dabble with and hope that it turns out. Its hard work but so rewarding when you see the results.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard how horrible this sport is. I'm not trying to have the meanest dog on the block nor am I trying to abuse my own dogs. What I am doing is honoring a sport that provides a connection with my dog, a dog that has a strong working ethic and the abilities to be successful in just about any venue that I want to pursue. That being said, I felt it necessary to educate and not to attempt to sway people simply because I want them to feel what I feel about it.
I'd like to take this time to explain a little history of the sport of Schutzhund. It is a German word and the translation is "protection dog". It is a sport that focuses on development and evaluation of traits in dogs that make them more functional and happier companions to their owners. It also builds positive character and confidence in your dog.
The first Schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901. Steps were taken to point out the correct working temperament and the ability in the German Shepherd breed. SV (Germany), parent club of the breed, developed the Schutzhund trial as a way of improving and maintaining a reliable dog with the intention that would be suitable for breeding. Not an "attack dog" as so many novice people think.
Schutzhund is a representation of the quality and character of a dog as superior breeding stock. The complexities of the schutzhund trial and the adversity of the sport should determine the much superior dog to whom is physically and mentally capable to complete the title of Schutzhund.
It is a dog training and breeding sport developed originally in the 1920's by the Deutsches Shaeferhund Verein (German Shepherd Dog Club), or SV, in order to maintain the working ability and the quality of the breed. Training involves working equally in tracking, obedience, and protection. In order to obtain a Schutzhund degree a dog must pass all three phases of the work.
There are three major degrees awarded. Schutzhund is abbreviated as SchH. So there is a SchH I, SchH II, and SchH III. Each level having a higher difficulty to achieve the next level. SchH I (IPO I) is the apprentice test.
Special and unique traits that make a good Schutzhund dog are mostly inherent characteristics that must be bred. Even those dogs bred out of Schutzhund litters, only a few will have the ability to reach a SchH I title. A small percentage of those dogs will have the necessary drive, intelligence and the desire to achieve the highest level of Schutzhund, the title of SchH III.