“…(b)efore you teach your dog to stop when you do, you need to know the proper footwork. This is an important cue to your dog that you are, in fact, going to stop really soon. If you just stop short, your dog will keep going. Getting a stop and an automatic sit is very important for quite a few of the behaviors needed for both AKC and APDT Rally.
Practice this first without your dog:
- Take one small step (the length of your foot – not an entire stride) with your left foot.
- Take one small step with your right foot.
- Bring your left foot up to meet your right foot.
You may chant to yourself, “left, right, stop.” If your toes are all thumbs like mine are, believe me, it will help. Feel free to look down at your toes when practicing this. It will help you later on when you do it with your dog. You can still see your dog if you are looking at your feet.
Once you can do this without thinking about it, add in pretend heeling before you stop. Continue to practice until you can make a smooth transition. Be sure you don’t slow down while you are stopping; just do your footwork and stop. When you are comfortable, you can put your dog into the picture. You will “back chain” the halt for him:
- Stand with your dog in heel position.
- Take a small step with your right foot.
- At the same time, say “come up,” and lure your dog forward with you.
- As you bring your left foot to be next to your right foot, raise you hand up to lure him into a straight sit.
Be sure to keep your hand in front of your dog’s nose to keep his body straight. Practice in front of a mirror so you can see, without twisting your body, if in fact your dog is straight. Click and treat for all straight sits. If your dog is sitting crooked more often than not, that only means your lure is off. If your dog has a tendency to sit with his hind end out, place your hand so you are feeding him with his head turned away from you. As an added benefit, your dog will be doing what is commonly called a tuck sit rather than a rock back sit. (A tuck sit is when the dog’s hind end comes forward into his front feet. This is the preferred sit for competition, because his head remains in heel position. A rock back sit is when the dog’s front feet move back into his hind feet. If your dog does this sit, he will be behind you when you halt and will no longer be in heel position.)
If your dog’s hind end goes out, don’t get fooled into thinking you should push it in with your hand. This will only make him resist and he will move even further away because of the pressure.
It is very easy to teach a tuck sit without any physical manipulation. Just grab some string cheese – don’t cut it up into tiny pieces. Do the same luring into the sit in heel and front positions, but let your dog nibble the cheese as you bring his head up very high (not so high that he has to jump for it). Because his head will be high, his hind end will naturally scoot forward into his front legs. I like to use string cheese because it is harder fora dog to bite off a chunk than when I use a hotdog. Once he has scooted, lower your hand slightly and click him for sitting.
If your dog is very hairy or very small, or if you can’t quite see if he is tucking, have someone help you click when he has done the tuck. Bigger dogs may have a problem with this depending on their conformation. Try not to get frustrated – just keep going. If you have to, bring your hand a little farther forward when doing the tuck in heel position.”
Excerpted from Pamela S. Dennison’s book Click Your Way to Rally Obedience. To learn more of how to master and perfect the Halt and Automatic Sit and other behaviors, be sure to read this book.