Training Multiple Ring Boxers
By Mike & Claudia Clifton
Many people who are familiar with breed ring competition only, however, have reservations about training for more than one ring at a time. There is a baseless "old wives tale" that says breed dogs will be "ruined" if they are trained for obedience before completing their breed championship. This is nonsense, but in order to alleviate any fears on this account, we went to Mike and Claudia Clifton of Semper Fi Boxers who have developed methods to successfully train their puppies for all three rings simultaneously. Mike and Claudia Clifton live in Georgia and have a highly successful kennel. They make it a policy to prove their Boxersabilities in obedience and agility as well as the breed ring and typically put numerous titles on their dogs in both obedience and agility as well as finishing their championships in the breed ring.
Here is how Mike and Claudia handle the training of highly successful multiple-ring Boxers.
The main problem is that the dog needs to be pumped up for Conformation yet a bit more focused when it comes to work time. We frequently show our dogs in Conformation and Obedience/Agility at the same show. So how does the dog know the difference?
First off, you always use different collars. We always use a fabric (nylon/cotton) show collar and a metal slip-working collar.
Second, if your dog works for treats, use a different type of treat when training for Obedience/Agility than you would use for bait in Conformation.
When it comes time to go in the ring, the dog can sense the handlers excitement/enthusiasm/focus. The dog will pick up on your attitude. It should be more happy and upbeat in Conformation and more of a serious "work" attitude in Obedience/Agility. This isn't to say that the dog shouldn't enjoy the working exercises. The dog just needs to understand it is time to pay attention to you, the handler.
We think that the major problem with working and conformation is what we have been told so often by the "professional handlers": do not to teach the dog Obedience "because the dog will sit in the show ring." Or another that we hear a lot is that "Obedience training will take away his spirit."
Our opinion on this subject is that as a part of obedience, my dog will also be taught the "Stand" command and that the handler needs to be smarter than my dog and give him/her a "Stand" command! This requires that the handlers actually watch my dogs the whole time that they are in the ring and earn the handling fee that they are charging me.
We do owner-handle our own dogs frequently. Because of a neck injury and the resulting surgery, Claudia usually only handles in Conformation, and I take them out in the working events. So whether Claudia or a professional handles the dog, they will always have a different handler for each ring. So I guess the dogs associate me with working. However, I believe that one handler can handle one dog in both events.
During the three days that Libby finished her CD at 6 months & 8 days, she was also shown in Conformation, placing each day. We were literally running her from one ring to the other barely making it in time for the next event. The final day was at the Georgia Boxer Club Specialty. When Dr. Bob Oliver found out that Libby had finished her CD the day before; he approached the Judge, Ms. Cheryl Robbins, and asked if she could be brought out into the conformation ring to do a couple of Obedience exercises for all of the Conformation people.
The last class was the "Brood Bitch" class, which Libby was entered in with her Mom and a littermate. Ms Robbins asked us how long it would take us to get "the obedience puppy" to the ring. You should have seen her face when Claudia told her "Just as quick as I can get her collar changed!" Anyway, if anyone has any specific questions about showing in Obedience/Conformation at the same time, please feel free to ask. We would love to help any way that we can.
Mike has addressed the problem of training for more than one ring at the same time in detail but what about their actual training schedule? I asked Claudia the following questions and here are her answers.
1. When do you start training your puppies (at what age) and why?
We start our puppies as early as possible for obedience usually around 8 weeks. We believe in an early head start since we believe that what the puppies learn in the first 6 months of their lives they usually retain. Besides I find it a lot easier to deal with a 15-20 pound puppy than with a 70 pound dog that has no manners. It is less frustrating for both, owner and dog.
2. Can you describe your obedience ring training methods?
We start early and teach the basics first before we built in the distractions. We never train the "off-leash" exercises off-lead. The first time the dog will be off-leash is in the actual ring. The idea behind this is that if during training your dog gets away from you, there have no recourse and the dog just learned just that. I feel that many dogs that do great on the leash exercises and poorly on off-leash have been trained off leash before and had a chance to experience "freedom".
3. How do you train for agility competition and again when do you start?
We try to introduce young dogs to various obstacles, but don't start competition training until the dogs are obedience trained and somewhat mentally seasoned. Agility requires a lot of focus, and most Boxers (and other working breeds) just don't reach that focus until a little bit older. Of course training can start at a young age, but considering that physical strength and stamina is required, I prefer that they are old enough to have preliminary hips done before serious jumping begins. I personally think 2 to 3 years old is a good age with a solid obedience foundation.
For Competition Training when do we start? Teach the basics first and then it is only a matter of familiarity and experience. We stress accuracy over speed; speed will come with time and experience. A time fault will most often still give you a qualifying run, but a missed contact or a downed bar will get you disqualified regardless of the time.
4. How do you train for the conformation ring and how do you keep your puppies and young dogs from becoming confused, if you are training for all three rings at the same time? (Because this is a serious issue for many people, and I wondered if Mike and Claudia felt the same about multiple ring training, I asked her as well as Mike how they approached it.)
First, I do not believe that dogs are so stupid that they would not learn to recognize the differences. Obedience will have a choke chain, and a business like demeanor on part of the trainer, and the dog will pick up on that. In conformation everything is more relaxed, and even if using a choke chain, it is a much lighter type than the one used in obedience. In young dogs that are somewhat rambunctious, an obedience command will actually do wonders at times when moving the dog around the ring.
As far as the fear of sitting, oh well, just be prepared and it can be prevented. That of course requires that the handler pay attention to the dog. Maybe that's why a lot of handlers prefer that the dog NOT be trained in obedience. I found obedience very helpful in nervous and insecure dogs and will use it as an aid for conformation training, since it seems to stabilize the dogs.
Agility comes into play a lot later as serious training, and usually does NOT create a conflict in regards to conformation, however sometimes refreshers in obedience seem necessary to gain or regain control and focus.
5. Do you have any special advice for someone who has gotten a new puppy and wants to begin training it -- that is, things to watch out for, etc?
Anybody with a puppy should train it. Preferably before the puppy arrives, or as part of the decision process of acquiring a puppy, people should contact local breed and /or obedience clubs, get names and references and attend a few classes with different trainers (as visitors) to see who they would be comfortable with. Inquire about prices and what's offered for the price.
Many people use in-home training or have someone else train the dog. We truly believe in the owners training their own dog. It encourages bonding. Many basic things such as sit, down, stay, heel can be taught at home before the puppy goes to a class. Socialize your puppy with people, not with other dogs. After all, you want your dog to be a people dog, right?
We do not feel that puppies need to play with other dogs, unless they have been removed from the litter prior to 8 weeks or were a single puppy with no opportunity to play with other (older) dogs. This method has shown us that dogs will ignore other dogs and focus more on the human. It comes in handy, since our dogs do not tend to go and play with other dogs during the long sits and downs. But they are not dog aggressive either; they simply don't care to be with other dogs, they prefer to be with us.
Part 4: Training For Agility With Your Boxer Puppy