Foundation skills

I have learned not to be awestruck when someone shows me what they can do with their young dog. You have seen them…those young puppies doing amazing things, working on advanced behaviors or competing at 6 months old. Look at your puppy as an individual, the same as a 2-legged child. Everyone learns at their own pace and may need something explained to them in a different way to help it make sense. If something doesn’t work today, put it away and try it again in a couple of days. Instead of looking at a complex behavior, look at speed and attitude. Build drive and desire. Teach the puppy how to think and problem solve. In the long run, you will be better off.

I’m always amazed by people who skip the foundation (building block) work and then wonder why everything falls apart later. Actually, the “foundation” needs constant work…forever. Teach these foundation skills with energy, and require speed and effort from your puppy. Use a combination of rewards for your puppy, including food, praise and play. If he appears tired or he’s too distracted, put him away and try again later.

What things do I consider “foundation” exercises:

  1. Voluntary attention (HUGE!!) – yes, I reward the puppy just for standing there and staring at me.
  2. Get it (young puppy) and Hold (older puppy)
  3. Marking
  4. Hand touch & hand push
  5. Targeting (I use a plastic lid)
  6. Motivational pop to food or toy
  7. Pop up release (to food for puppy, later a hand touch)
  8. Rear end awareness exercises
  9. Find heel position
  10. Move with me & stay with me (even when released)
  11. Bounce, spin, twist, backup
  12. Position changes
  13. Find front
  14. Come
  15. Spin back after picking something up
  16. Getting on a platform & send away to a platform
  17. Dumbbell games
  18. How to use their nose (beginning scent work)
  19. Send to a mat or crate
  20. How to come out of a crate
  21. How to play with me WITHOUT a toy or a cookie
  22. Chasing a cookie or toy
  23. Marker words
  24. Muscle memory for head position
  25. Responding to their name
  26. Collar grabs
  27. Switching back and forth between food and play
  28. Responding to cue words that I can take into the ring, i.e. “Ready”
  29. How to bring the toy BACK to me – this is a hard one for Kazee!
  30. Speed – I don’t want you trotting to me, I want you RUNNING to me.
  31. Jump up on me – to deliver toys or objects, i.e. dumbbell or article (I don’t put fronts into exercises until much later. Fronts slow a dog down, so I work on fronts separately.)
  32. and (most important) learning that training with me is the best thing in the world!!

Spend the time training these things to your puppy or young competition dog and it will pay off in the end!

If you have another foundation skill, please list it in the comment section. I’m sure I have missed some!

Train hard. Play harder.

3 thoughts on “Foundation skills

  1. Mary K. Stercay

    Shannon, do you have a video of the motivational pop? I am working with a 92# male Dobe. If I’m understanding the MP correctly I’m not quite sure if I can do this with my dog. Any info would be helpful. Your blogs and training video’s are very helpful.


    1. I don’t know that I have this on video, at least not one specifically on the MP. It can be difficult to do with the larger dogs, but not impossible. I normally start with my dog on my left side, left hand in the collar below their right ear (palm up), treat or toy in my right hand. I tell the dog to “get it” and give them a pop upwards on the collar with the left hand at the same time, letting go of their collar as they come up. I talk to him the entire time I’m holding him, revving him up. Ideally, I want to have to hold my dog back from getting the toy/cookie.


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