Much has been written in the Bulletin about training your Shih Tzu for “Novice” competition. The next several issues of the obedience section will be devoted to concerns and trouble spots pertaining to training for “Open” competition. Open consists of the off lead exercises: heeling, figure 8, retrieve, recall, broad jump and sits and downs.
THE DUMBBELL RETRIEVE
Trainers, of course, are excited to start the retrieve exercise with throwing the dumbbell over the jump and having the dog bring it back. It is very important to understand that this is taught as two exercises and then put together as one exercise later. Make sure that you have a dumbbell that fits the flat face of the Shih Tzu. Adequate room for the spacing of eyes and the shape of the head are essential for the Shih Tzu to obtain the sight it needs. I found that my dog needed a longer stem so that the “bell” part of the dumbbell did not obstruct his eyesight. Begin with a flexi lead attached to your dog’s collar. The flexi will help you guide your dog back to you after he runs out and picks up the dumbbell. At first your dog will think that this is a tremendous amount of fun, but the day will come when he will refuse to do it. This is why I feel that you will have to do a “forced retrieve” so that the dog will distinguish this activity from a “play retrieve.” The dog should not be allowed to bring the dumbbell back whenever he feels like it. A forced retrieve usually consists of a pinch of the ear or the twisting of the collar. The intensity of the pinch will depend on the temperament of your dog. The flexi is used to ensure that your dog comes back to you instead of running somewhere else. It also helps to produce a quicker return with your verbal encouragement and praise.
THE HIGH JUMP
It seems that trainers are more excited about the jumps than dogs and seem unaware of the purpose of the exercise, which is to practice angles. The first rule is to keep the jump LOW. Usually keeping the jump low is not much of a problem with Shih Tzu, but because of the Shih Tzu's small size they may be even more afraid of the 8 inch board that must be used to hold the standards. I started my dog with a 2 inch board in my living room. It is wise to put baby gates or chicken wire on each side of the jump to force your dog to take the jump and not go around it. Make sure that your dog has a flexi attached to his collar as this will increase your control. Begin by going over the jump with your dog. Make it fun and give lots of encouragement. After you have built confidence, you can allow your dog to go over the jump as you run alongside it, but keep the flexi on. Only after you are sure that your dog understands the dumbbell retrieve should you start integrating the dumbbell and the high jump exercises. One of the biggest problems I see is trainers who take the dog off the flexi way too soon. Inevitably, the dumbbell bounces to the side, and the dog goes around the jump. If this happens you will have no control without the flexi. Usually trainers wave their arms, start yelling “NO, NO” and run at the dog. I feel that this is the worst thing that you can possibly do. No matter where the dumbbell lands, the dogs should go out, pick it up and angle to the jump. Remember, keep the dog on the flexi and continue to give encouragement every time he comes back to you. Don’t be anxious to remove the flexi, and don’t be anxious to raise the jump. Height is not the most important thing—remember angles! Shih Tzu are little dogs, and it is a big world out there to them. Give them plenty of time to learn the concept of the exercise before you start raising the jumps.
THE BROAD JUMP
The broad jump is another exciting jumping exercise. Although it looks easy, it can lead to two problems if not introduced correctly. Most Shih Tzu will jump two boards set at 24 inches apart. Start with one board and a flexi attached to your dog’s collar. You may begin jumping over the board with your dog in the same manner as you did in the high jump, making sure your dog feels safe but is still having fun. Next, you can introduce the other board, but keep them fairly close together for awhile. Put chicken wire in the form of an upside down V shape between the two broad jumps to prevent the dog from walking over the broad jumps. Walking over the broad jump is a bad habit, and the chicken wire will not only prevent the walk but will produce a nice-looking jump. Another problem to avoid with the broad jump is dogs cutting corners. Set up baby gates along the side of the broad jump, and then extend the gate 4 feet beyond the front of the broad jumps. With the flexi still attached, you can run along with your dog, letting him jump. After the jump he will be forced to run straight until you are ready to guide him around the baby gate. Do not allow any short cuts, or he could develop a bad habit. Later the baby gate can be removed, and you can set out cones to guide your dog straight before making the turn to come to you. Slowly start separating the broad jumps to their appropriate distance (for your dog) and continue to practice with the flexi, cones, and chicken wire for a very long time.