Photographs by Tom Eldredge

Just the thought of training a puppy for the show and obedience rings simultaneously probably makes some of you cringe. You’re likely thinking, “But then my puppy will sit in the ring!”

A dog who knows the obedience commands for stand, sit and down can simply be told to stand. In addition, those obedience exercises make for a better muscled show dog. Many judges are frustrated when they put hands on a dog, especially a young puppy, and feel an overweight or out-of-condition body. Too much weight on a young dog can also lead to orthopedic problems later. Being out of condition and poorly muscled is especially a problem with the hot weather so many areas of North America have had this summer. Show dog should never be flabby – they should all be fit!

After more than 30 years of showing dogs, I can say – without a shred of doubt – that dogs sit in the breed ring for three reasons – none of which has anything to do with training.

The most common reasons dogs sit during conformation events are:

  • • They don’t want their rears examined, whether it’s a nonviolent “sit down” protest or a panicked snap sit. These dogs aren’t comfortable with an exam by a stranger. It has nothing to do with training except that you need to do more training.
  • • They are tired or bored. During a four-day circuit outside in heat and humidity, yup, some dogs may sit for a break.
  • • They want to scratch, and a sit is the easiest position in which to do this.

Many breeds are hand-stacked or shown with the handler holding the dog in position. Why the worry about sitting? For free-stacking dogs, there is more chance for a sit, but even then, dogs are easily trained to stand. A step toward a free-stacking dog who sits down will almost always get him to pop up into a stand.

Puppies are clean slates, as well as sponges waiting to learn new things. Take advantage of this wonderful window. Training your pup will build confidence and muscle. In addition, a pup with some training will be much easier to rehome if you decide it’s not your future BIS star after all.

In Novice obedience – the first level – a dog must do a stand for exam. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? However, in obedience the dog must stand for an exam by a judge off lead and with the handler six feet away! Granted, the pup’s teeth and testicles won’t be checked, but dogs are faulted for moving even one paw. The judge simply approaches the dog, generally lets the dog sniff his or her hand, then touches the dog’s head, withers and rear. Still, that means obedience dogs must know a stand – not just the dreaded sit.

The Benefits of ‘Puppy Aerobics’
So how do you start your pup? Right at 8 weeks, you can start “puppy push-ups” or “puppy aerobics.” These exercises teach your puppy basic positions and build muscle, especially in the rear. In addition, your pup will be more coordinated and confident. All are good things for a future superstar.

Puppy aerobics will strengthen and define the large muscles in the rear of your pup. Building muscle with these easy workouts should not strain your pup and is much safer than using some of the supplements available that contain steroids or hormones. The gluteal muscle and biceps femoris will both be worked as your pup does these aerobics. That means more muscle definition for the rear.

In short-coated dogs like Rottweilers and many Sporting breeds and sighthounds, the added, obvious muscle is a real aid in the show ring. Think about the last time you looked at the well-muscled rear of a young German Shorthaired Pointer. Didn’t it catch your eye, especially when that dog moved off with power and ease? A coated dog may be able to hide a lack of conditioning and muscling a bit better, but not under a knowledgeable judge who puts his or her hands on the dog.

Additionally, the long muscle along the back, the latissimus dorsi, will also get a workout: think stronger topline and fewer back problems. What’s not to like?

Sit and Down – the Magic Moves

Start with a tasty treat by your pup’s nose as shown at left. Raise the treat, and the pup will bring his rear under him (center). The end result is a nice, tight, tucked sit.

To teach the sit, simply bring a nice treat from right in front of your pup’s nose straight up over his head. The pup will sit to raise his head for the treat. With most puppies, you can do this on a grooming table. Ideally, you want his front feet to remain in one place while his rear tucks under. This exercises his rear and back muscles the most.

A treat in front of his nose, brought down and back, leads to a down.

Once your pup is sitting, you can go to the down. Simply take another great treat and bring it from his nose, straight down to the floor or table, then back between his front legs. You can also teach the down straight from a stand – do the same motion with the treat. This quick drop is a “foldback down” with no forward movement.

The stand is a bit trickier from a sit or a down, but getting into a stand from those positions really helps both coordination and muscle. For the stand, take a treat from right in front of your pup’s nose and bring it forward just a touch, then slightly to the side. Your pup will stand. Once again, the ideal stand leaves the pup’s front feet in place and involves using back and rear muscles in what’s known as a “kick back stand.”

The treat is brought forward and a bit to the side which brings the pup to a stand as shown at left. The treat is then brought straight forward for a nice stand.

Training as Workout
You can now mix these positions up to give your pup a real workout. Lure sit, down, stand, down, sit, stand, sit, etc. Don’t do these for more than a few minutes as your pup will tire from both mental concentration and the physical work. Once your pup understands the movements of the treat, name the positions, and gradually fade away the treats.

Your pup now knows “stand,” along with sit and down, both of which can be useful in real life. In the ring, until he is steady with the routine, simply tell him to stand for his exam.

Still not a believer?

My 10-month-old free-stacking Belgian Tervuren, who has a Rally Novice title, recently finished a four-show weekend, going Winners Bitch three days, RWB the fourth day and BOB on one of those days over a special. She had to do plenty of sits for her RN, but she didn’t sit a single time in the breed ring during the entire circuit. This circuit was held outdoors in hot weather. My pup who runs and does her aerobics daily had the stamina and strength to easily hold up for all four days. No question about the muscle in her rear and the strong topline from the judges, either.

Isn’t that what we all want?