There is No Wrong Choice When You Choose What Your Dog Does Best!
Choice can be a double-edged sword. Being able to pick what you show the judge is empowering, but fear of making the wrong decision and not earning full points can be paralyzing. Choosing your pup’s favorite behaviors isn’t supposed to be a trick (pardon the pun). Here are a few things to consider when planning your next run:
- Do Your Homework. What is a Free Choice? It’s any behavior you choose, as long as it’s safe. Free Choice behaviors are scored the same as other signs with 10 possible points for the dog’s responsiveness to cues, precision and execution. But because the judge doesn’t know what behavior you’re attempting, everything they see and hear, such as verbal cues and handler’s reactions, can affect scoring. Teams can also earn up to 5 additional points on each Free Choice station for creativity and/or difficulty according to the following guide:1 point: Simple single behavior such as sit or down
2 points: Novice class behavior or other novel or creative behavior with equivalent difficulty
3 points: Intermediate class behavior or other novel or creative behavior with equivalent difficulty
4 points: Advanced class behavior or other novel or creative behavior with equivalent difficulty
5 points: Behavior that is beyond the training level of the Advanced class behaviors or other highly, creative or difficult behavior
- Keep it Simple. While it’s tempting to try to add difficulty by chaining multiple behaviors together, more cues mean more opportunities for something to go wrong. Choose Free Choice behaviors that you’ll remember and that your dog will do well. You’ll earn more points for well-executed, less challenging tricks than poorly-executed, difficult ones.
- Mind Your Time. Additional time taken at Free Choice stations performing elaborate sequences with transitions into and out of multiple behaviors could put you over the 4 minute time limit risking disqualification.
- Stick to What You Know. Use what you’ve been working on. If you’ve been training a freestyle routine or doing agility, use a move your dog enjoys and reliably executes well. Don’t feel pressured to think of something brand new or to blow the dust off something fancy that you haven’t practiced in months. This just increases the likelihood of something going wrong.
- Pick A Side. Start and end positions matter for Free Choice just like they do for other signs, so consult your course map to determine which side your dog will be on approaching the Free Choice sign. If your dog only sits pretty on your left, plan accordingly. Also note that teams are allowed to leave the line of travel when performing a moving free choice behavior without being off-course. But the behavior must be completed and dog and handler must return to the line of travel in their original position before continuing on.
- Double Down. If your pup has a signature move that always wows, repeat it. You can do the same free choice more than one time on a course. Using these favorite behaviors is also reinforcing to your dog, so strategically placing them toward the end of the course can help you finish strong!
If you’ve been wanting to learn more about shaping behaviors, check out Julie’s upcoming webinar “Smart Dogs, Clever Trainers: Shape the Environment, Shape the Dog” on Wednesday, August 4, and find out how structured shaping and antecedent arrangements can prevent frustration, provide meaningful information to your dog and create more effective and efficient training sessions!