Speed training

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Speed Work
In dog training there is a saying, “The fast dog loses marks slowly but the slow dog loses them quickly.” When two dogs do an exercise such as a “Recall” or “Retrieve” equally well, in my experience, the judge is likely to favour the one that executes the exercise the quickest. Quick sits or downs create a very favourable impression and speed should always be encouraged in obedience training. When a dog runs with speed he will not notice or interfere with other dogs on the way.
However, dogs like people can be very different from each other in that some can naturally do things very fast but others cannot do it as quickly. They can sit correctly but not very fast. We can encourage the dog by reserving our rewards/treats for quick sits. But does the dog understand that the treat was given because he was now sitting slightly faster than the previous time? The dog may not know the difference.
No matter what your plans are for your dog you must first build the right attitude in the dog to work with energy and high drive. This includes the critical process of bonding and trust between handler and dog. The dog must understand that all good things such as food and play centres on the owner/trainer and no one else. Short play sessions to maximise the dog’s energy in a safe area, alone with the trainer, is what is needed. The dog must look at being with the trainer with anticipation and focus.
A mistake that is made is that owners take their new dog to a field, tell it to sit and use the lead to jerk it into position. The dog does not understand the command and sees it as abuse and stress will slow down his reactions to what you want to teach him. Aggression or submission generally results in a lifetime of problems with the dog.
I have always in my training tried to put my dogs into drive with the aid of a ball on a string. To teach a quick sit I get the dog to chase after the ball which I move in a circular direction around my body, as low as possible, to maximise his energy and drive to get a fast sit. He may not sit very correctly every time when told but that’s okay. Remember, the aim is to teach the dog to link the command, sit” with the act of a quick sit. All I have to do is to tease my dog into high drive by chasing the ball, then suddenly to raise the ball over his head and say “Sit.” As he looks straight up, his butt will already be close to the ground and he easily gets in to a sitting position. I then throw the ball as a reward. It does not take the dog long to learn that he must chase hard and sit quickly on command to get me to throw the ball. The dog will sit fast if he knows what is coming! The same exercise in the same place with the same reward.
Halt on the Heel
When ordered to “Halt” during the heel routine, my final half pace as I come to a halt was always with a “Stiff” left leg. By not bending my left knee as I came to a halt it became a signal to my dog that the halt came next. This enabled my dogs to anticipate the halt and sit quickly. This way of halting must be practised without the dog until it is mastered. No judge has ever picked it up as an extra command given to my dog.
In the beginning I would drop my left arm over the dog’s lower back as we halted and he would have to sit quickly to avoid a rap on the bum.
Once my puppy has a fairly reliable Sit I start developing a fast recall. My driveway slopes downwards so I go to the gate in order that my dog can run downhill towards me; this is an easy run which usually ends in a fairly fast recall and a game with a ball on a string. During the next- and subsequent recalls my dog knows what to expect and charges towards me when he hears my call, “He-e-re.”
On a level training field I take up position for the recall by placing my legs more than shoulder width apart. With the ball in my hand I call my dog and move the ball low down to just above the ground. This encourages a fast return and just as the dog is almost ready to grab the ball I throw it through between my legs for the dog to charge through underneath me chasing the ball. (Timing is important because if you release the ball too early the dog will go around your side and not between the legs.)
Repeat at least five times. The dog must understand the exercise and the reward system. He must know what is coming and have the right attitude in order to perform a fast recall.
Very occasionally you can do a front sit, with legs closer together. However, I spend more time doing speed work. Dogs soon become “ring wise” and know they must stop close to your body in a trial.
Recall from distances of at least 30 paces of further will produce faster returns.
Once my dog has mastered the retrieve exercise we begin to work on speed. When I throw the dumbbell the dog is not sent before making eye contact with me. The dog learns that he can control me to give the “fetch/bring” command by looking at my face instead of staring at the object. This gives a quick start to the retrieve exercise.
As soon as my dog starts his run towards the dumbbell I turn and run in the opposite direction, halt and turn to face the dog just as he gets to the article. When the dog sees how far away I am he will run much faster during the return. Speed retrieve soon can become a habit.
By running backwards you can encourage a dog to speed up when running towards you.

Voice encouragement is important. Calling, “Come..come..come” in a high pitch, excited voice is guaranteed to get most dogs to speed up their return run.
Over the years as I worked and competed with my dogs I got into the habit of getting my dog to focus by “priming” my dog before the start of an exercise. While waiting for the stewards’ order I would whisper to my dog, “Hop” (jump) or “Vorous” (away) “Bring” (Fetch) etc. warning them of what is to come. Sometimes it was possible to repeat a word a few times before the start of an exercise with the result that the dog expected it and was very ready to move on command and therefore work with speed.
Making a puppy “ball mad” creates arousal in training. Later, as he get older training can be viewed as a “fun” exercise. Being both enjoyable and rewarding will produce faster reactions.

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