Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday Training Tip: Beginner Novice Week 1

What the heck is Beginner Novice?

The beginner novice title is an optional titling class the American Kennel Club (AKC) started in 2012. It's designed to be an introductory title that actually integrates Obedience with the style of Rally (the heeling pattern is displayed with signs from Rally). All dogs are eligible for it as long as they are registered in some fashion (PAL, ILP, Canine Partners, or regular registry) with the AKC and are 6 months of age or older. In order to receive a title (and be able to put BN behind your dog's name) you have to have a qualifying score three different times.

There are 5 exercises to complete and each is worth 40 points (for a total possible score of 200):
  • Heel on Leash - you will go through an 'L' shaped pattern consisting of a right turn, left turn, about turn, slow speed, normal speed, fast speed, and halt/sit, all heeling is done on leash.
  • Figure Eight - same as Heel on Leash but done in a Figure Eight pattern (and doesn't consist of turns or changes of speeds).
  • Sit for Exam - the dog sits for exam (touch on the head) by the judge with you at the end of the leash, your leash should be 6 foot long.
  • Sit Stay - you will leave your dog in a sitting position while you walk around the inside perimeter of the ring and then return to heel position.
  • Recall - you will leave your dog in a sitting position and go about 25 feet away from your dog, where you will turn and face your dog and then recall your dog to you on the judge's order.

Doesn't sound too hard does it? I'm actually only partly worried about performing the exercises - I'm mostly worried about how Monday will handle the crowd and the close proximity of tons of dogs. These things are chaos!! Plus, most people crate their dogs (either in their car or around the facility) but Monday can't be crated so that is always something I have to keep in mind. Damn her slight separation anxiety! We will have to work harder on that as well.

The AKC put out a video on the Beginner Novice title:

I'm not real impressed with the video - for one thing this sucker is 5 minutes long. I couldn't pay attention to the whole thing :). But it does have a lot of information in it.

Our First Step

The first thing we are working on is readiness for the ring. Your dog needs to know when they are working, when they are not working, and when they are about to work but have not begun yet :). A lot of people rely on food or toys to create engagement and focus, but what happens at the ring entrance when you can't have your 'props' with you? Your dog might have trouble focusing :). I, personally, don't want to leave this to chance.

So to teach your dog to understand that work is going to start, you want to pick a position for the dog to wait in. Monday loves being between my legs so I decided to use that position. Denise Fenzi calls these positions 'squishing' because the dog is squished safely against the handler. I rather like her term :). Whatever position you choose, it should make your dog feel safe and protected. And by 'squishing' near the rings, your dog also has a chance to adapt to wherever they will be asked to work.

'Squishing' should always end with a high energy interaction with you. When you release your dog from their position, you should turn quickly away from the dog and either reward heavily or go into work. At first, while your dog is still learning this concept you want to release and always go straight to food or a toy and make the dog catch up to you to get that reward.

Here is a video of Monday 'squishing':

The Process

Place your dog between your legs for no more than two seconds at first and then gradually lengthen the time as your dog accepts the position. To release your dog, take several steps backwards so that your dog turns and faces you. Keep moving backwards so that your dog is rewarded basically in the front position. When that is going well, take your steps backwards but then also turn to the right so that your dog ends up in heel position and gets rewarded in heel position there. That is what I am doing in the video above and that is how I would then enter the ring. With Monday already in the heel position ready to work :).

When your dog is rockstar-solid with this concept, you can start alternately squishing to work (without an immediate reward) and squishing to a reward. As usual you want to practice in as many environments as possible and use it in varying situations with varying time lengths - while you wait for your turn in class, while you talk to an instructor, while you watch someone else, etc. So get out and squish :) LOL.

Check back next week for an overview of practicing the basic Heel on Leash pattern and the Figure Eight.


  1. You make it sound so easy . . . I'm having a hell of a time with my dog so keep the posts coming!

  2. It always sounds easier than it actually is :). But practice certainly pays off and if your dog's motivation is high it will come!