Monday, July 21, 2014

Thinking About the Stand Command

I’ve been getting some questions about the stand command that got me thinking about why it’s so important to the West method. Simply put, the stand command is a non-verbal command to stop and stand-still. From the dog’s view point, the stand command shows the dog what you expect him to do once the bird flushes, and for you, it’s a silent command to teach your dog to pay attention to you and eventually earn his respect.

This summer I had an opportunity to work a two-year old English setter named Molly. Molly was the type of dog that had been allowed to do her own thing for most of her life. A friend described her perfectly when he said she was self-employed. She was self-employed so the first thing I did was teach her that I was part of the team. Besides introducing the e-collar and teaching her to go with me, the stand command gave me a way to gain her attention in the training field.

I used two cues to teach the stand command, a tug of the pinch-collar and a nick (momentary stimulation) with the e-collar and I used them at the same time. Once Molly stopped and I was standing next to her, I showed her that this command also meant all four feet had to be planted on the ground until I released her with a tap on the side. As I watched her feet for any movement, I worked at stepping behind her and in front of her. If she took a step, I combined the nick and tug to ask her to stop. After a couple of workouts it was clear Molly wasn’t paying attention to me. While I could get her to stop and stand, her tail wagged back-and-forth in rapid beats and she was focused on the horizon instead of me.

I needed to do more to get into her head so I began to pick her up by the pinch-collar and tail and set her back about 6 inches for taking a step. If she took another step, I got hold of the pinch-collar and spun her in a circle. The spin didn’t hurt her but it disoriented her.

After a couple of weeks with little progress, I decided to use the nick cue by itself without the pinch-collar tug. By now I was 90% sure Molly knew how to stand still—she just didn’t want to do it. In the next workout and once Molly was stopped, I started to walk in front of her, and when she took a step, I nicked her. I guessed right and she stopped. I continued to walk and as I turned and started back towards her, she looked me right in the eyes. It was the first time she gave me eye contact, and as I petted her up, I chuckled at how pleased she was with herself. While there was still lots to do, she was working for me now and training would be easier and more fun.

Once I had Molly’s attention and she understood the stand command, I was ready to use this command to teach her not to chase pigeons. Molly loved to point a pigeon in a releaser but she also loved to chase it when it flew. Her point was natural, but standing still and letting me walk in front of her to flush the bird went against her every instinct to survive. She saw the bird as hers and my job was to teach her it was mine. When pointing pigeons in releasers, I had let her chase to the end of the check-cord, but now I began to stop her earlier and I set her back about 6 inches and walked in front of her. If she took a step, I spun her and set her back and kept at it until she let me walk in front of her. It didn’t take long before she realized she already knew what I was asking her to do. It was the stand command. The only difference between what I was doing around birds and how I’d taught the stand command was I avoided using the e-collar since the releaser was still on the ground and I didn’t want her associating the e-collar with the releaser.

Molly isn’t steady on birds yet but I’m already imagining the problems I might encounter with her. As training advances, dogs like Molly that don’t readily give you their attention may start to challenge you for the bird. These dogs stand solid on point but start to creep or charge in just as you walk past them to flush. Any time a dog competes with you, chances are he doesn’t respect you and often this lack of respect can be traced back to the stand command and the trainer not being demanding enough. Once a dog accepts training and allows you to walk in front of him, he is giving you respect. If your dog is having problems during the steadying process, many of these problems can be fixed by reviewing the stand command, even with older dogs that have started knocking birds. Maurice Lindley describes the stand command as the glue that holds the West method together. It certainly does and it holds this method together on multiple levels. By making sure you do a good job teaching this command, your dog will understand what you expect of him around birds and you will experience the joy of working a dog that respects you.