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Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Competition Obedience Q&A

Competition Obedience Q&A

Competition Obedience Q&A

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dog training

I try and answer every question I receive on dog training. I may often come across as a little on the blunt side, (some may call it brash). That is because I consider myself an advocate for dogs and not dog handlers. I am an advocate for common sense dog training and not the latest fad that appears on the horizon. Good dog training is not rocket science. It's common sense.

  1. Can you tell me how long I should train my dog in obedience when I take him out for training and how to organize the sessions?

  2. Do you like to use a Tug or a ball for a reward in obedience?

  3. Can I add drive to my dog?

  4. I am having a problem getting my dog to sit straight in front of me after he returns with the dumb bell. What can I do?

  5. My 8 month old Mal really slams into me when we are working on recalls. He has knocked me down and hurt me a couple of times. What can I do to slow him down?

  6. Could you please me some in-sight on the term HDD(handler dependent dog).

  7. My dog is not very toy motivated, and I've been trying to teach him to fetch as a game to get him some more exercise. Do you have any suggestions?

  8. I have been doing everything in my power to desensitize\socialize my dog and it doesn't seem to be going well. What else can I do? With a dog like this, would I ever be able to compete?

  9. My dog is so distracted away from home that I can't get him to perform with energy and drive, what can I do?

  10. My dog is being trained for competition obedience. In training she does beautifully. Once we step in the ring and the leash comes off, she acts like she's never heeled in her life. She whines and won't pay attention in the ring, do you have any suggestions?

  11. I've been working my 17 week old GSD pup on eye contact while heeling but he's not doing it all the time especially when we are moving. What should I do different?

  12. I've watched the "Focused Heeling" DVD and am incredibly impressed. I have a question on the leash pressure section. I show my Rottweilers in sieger shows and am unsure I really want to train the leash pressure because I need them to lean into the leash while stacking them. I use the pressure to change footing to get the best stack. Is the rest of the training in the DVD possible without using the leash pressure?

  13. My dog has his CDX title and when I take him in the trial ring, he loses all focus. He’s great in training. Do you have any ideas?

  14. What is the best sequence to train using the Michael Ellis DVD's?


Can you tell me how long I should train my dog in obedience when I take him out for training and how to organize the sessions?


There are different opinions on this but I feel that 3 minutes should be the maximum amount of time for most obedience sessions. The average Schutzhund obedience routine is 10 minutes long. This means that the goal of our training program is to end up with a dog that can give full focus and controlled drive for 10 minutes.

Organizing a training session will vary by every dog and it's needs. So there is no set formula.

A good way in general is to divide up a training program, to have three different segments. New training sessions would focus on one segment of training. Every segment should end with a Send Away (because when done properly the Send Away is a fun DRIVE exercise for the dog, but this is a topic of it's own training article).

The segments are:

The Heeling Training
The SIT, Down, and Stay training
The three jump exercises.
The most important thing to remember about organizing your training program is NEVER DO A ROUTINE during training. The problem with routines is the dogs that have been force retrieved will know the retrieves are coming in the routine and will start to slow down in their recall work.

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Do you like to use a Tug or a ball for a reward in obedience?


There is not an issue of only using one toy for every dog. The correct answer is to figure out what toy motivates your dog the most. There are a couple of ways to determine this:

1- Put the dog in a sit-stay right in front of you, (in the recall position). Take a ball on a string in one hand and a tug in the other. Hold them straight out from your body and see which one the dog looks at. Then slowly transfer the ball and tug to opposite hands and hold them out away from your body again. See which one the dog follows with his eyes.

2- Put the dog in a sit-stay and put the various toys on the ground - spaced about 10 feet apart in front of the dog. Give the dog a release command and see which toy the dog goes to first.

I like a dog that prefers a ball on a cord over a tug or Frisbee.

The key to using toys as rewards for a competition dog is to build the training to the point where the dog never knows when he is going to get the reward. This can only happen if the toy can be hidden from the dog. Balls on a string can be hidden under the arm, in a pocket or under a jacket much easier than a tug. If a trainer wears a string around his neck with a clothes pin attached, he can clip the ball on a string to this clothes pin and hide the ball in his jacket with only an inch or so of the string sticking out. This allows very very quick access to grab the string and flip the ball out.

There are some dogs that are not motivated in prey drive with toys. These dogs will have to be worked with food. There are also dogs that have such high prey drive for a toy that the toy becomes a distraction to the dog. This only happens with inexperienced handlers but it happens. These handlers are also going to have to use food in those exercises where the toy is a distraction and they cannot control their dogs.

Then there are also dogs that are not motivated by toys or food, these dogs should be sold as pets.

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Can I add drive to my dog?


Every dog genetically has a certain level of drive. Let's say that the highest drive possible is "Level 10" and the lowest drive is "Level 1." Some dogs genetically can go no higher than "Level 7 or Level 8," each dog is different. Some dogs can be genetically "Level 3" dogs. This means that no matter what we do to a "Level 3" dog he cannot show more than "Level 3" drive (please do not send me email asking how to determine what level your dog is. This cannot be determined through e-mails).

What is often seen is a dog that is not working up to his genetic potential. In other words we could have a dog with a genetic potential for "Level 8" drive only working at "Level 3" drive. This can happen because the dog’s drive may not have ever been properly worked - so the drive is in effect sleeping in the dog. A "Level 8" dog that was never worked with a ball as a puppy could show no drive for a ball because it does not recognize the ball as a prey item. This dog can be worked with to bring the drive level up to it's genetic potential. The key is to identify the items that the dog likes and then work with these items in training to increase the drive. Through play, frustration and training the drive will increase in a dog like this.

Another situation can be that a dog has been worked by a handler who does not understand the principles of motivational training (see my article on this subject) and compulsion. If a trainer is what I call a "YANK AND CRANK" force trainer it is going to be very difficult to bring a "Level 8" dog up to it genetic potential.

Conversely, no amount of work is going to bring a "Level 3" dog up to a "Level 8" drive level. You cannot put something into a dog that is not genetically there. The perfect example of this is seen every day in show (confirmation) dogs. The reason we never see German show dogs do well in sport work is that their genetic potential is Level 3 - 4 or 5. The American show dogs have "Level 1" and maybe "Level 2," never any more than this. This is why you cannot make a show dog into a police dog. It simply will not work.

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I am having a problem getting my dog to sit straight in front of me after he returns with the dumb bell. What can I do?


I assume that this question is dealing with the learning phase of training and not the proofing or conflict phase of training.

There are many solutions to this problem, but the very first thing to look at (and the only one I will address in this answer) is to see what way a dog turns when it goes to pick up the dumb bell. This is done during normal play with a dog. When I stand with my dog and throw a ball in front of me I will always watch to see if the dog runs and turns to the right or the left. Most dogs will turn the same direction 9 times out of 10. It's almost like being right or left handed.

When I know which way the dog will turn I can then toss the dumb bell to the left or right so when the dog turns it is coming back to me on a straight line. This makes it much easier to get a straight sit in front of the handler. Once the handler can determine exactly where to toss the dumb bell to get a straight line, the other problems often correct themselves.

This work is not to be confused with the use of "conflict training" at the end of the retrieve work. This is where the handler will toss the dumb bell way to the side (90 degrees to the direction he is standing) and expect the dog to return to the front with it. There are a complete set of tricks to use in this part of training to get a straight sit.

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I have several of your tapes - they are excellent and I have learned a lot through watching them. I would recommend them to anyone.

My question is on the recall. I have read your training articles on the recall and no one has quite the same problem as I have with my 8 month old male 27 kg Malinois.

My problem is when I call him or even if he just sees me in the distance he will come at 100 miles per hour as fast - as he can and then doesn't stop in time and slams himself into me.

The obvious answer is of course to obedience train the dog, which I did. Then if I saw him coming in too fast I would run backwards, saying “sit,” then he has the time to slow down and will sit in front. Unfortunately for me sometimes I would not see him coming until it was too late and he has knocked me right off my feet and hurt me quite badly a couple of times.

I am hoping you can suggest a way I could correct a young dog and really get the point across to him that I don't want to be used as a target or knocked down, but a correction or method that would not dampen the dog’s drives or make the dog slow or hesitant coming in when called.

Here's to hoping my question doesn't end up in the dumb or dumber section!

Thank you for your help.


This is not a dumb or dumber question.

I think you need to have two different recall commands. One is only used on the training field and encompasses the formal sit in front of you. The second is a recall to just get the dog to come near you so you can grab him and hook him up. Use two different words for each command.

The formal recall is not something that you will use a lot right now. Keep the distances short and focus training on the dog coming square in front of you and working on the finish. Teach the dog to focus on a sit, to look into your face, and then toss the ball. Part of the time when he does the recall he gets the ball before the swing – then sometimes he gets the ball after the swing – so he does not anticipate the command.

As training distances on the formal recall increase to 50 yards – this can take 4 to 6 months, you can get verbal with him in corrections when he smashes into you. You have to be a little careful but I think you can let him know that this is not acceptable.

The second command allows you to turn and walk away from him as he bears down on you. This will force him to circle and you can get a hand on him.

I hope this helps.

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Could you please me some in-sight on the term HDD(handler dependent dog) My trainer in agility is throwing this term around and I believe she has the wrong idea on what in really means. I believe a team needs to build confidence in each others and in return that helps a dog not be so dependent on our every move. But she thinks it means that a dog should be able to work with any one and wants us to let some one else take our dog through the course. I'm not so ready to turn my leash over to anyone else. Any information that you can give me is great. FYI: I'm working with a Boston Terrier, who next month goes for her CGC and next spring her CD. she is a great working little dog. Thank you again.


It’s your dog and if you don’t want to let anyone else take your dog, then that’s your prerogative. I feel the same way. At the facility where I train for agility, it’s not unusual for the instructors to let others take their dogs on runs but I don’t agree with it. It’s a personal thing and when people are running other dogs I just watch and keep my dog with me.

I WANT my dog being in tune with me, focused and dependant on me during an agility run, in my opinion it’s the core of the whole sport. The relationship between dog and handler is what makes agility so much fun!

Everyone has their own ideas and philosophy, and you need to do what feels right for you and your dog.

I hope this helps.



I thank you so much for your reply. And for your support, in what I knew was right but needed someone with knowledge to support me. I'm new to both agility and to this group so I didn't want to be oust because I didn't go along with their views, BUT I will never let my dog down.
Again Thank you so much.


Hi, Ed and Cindy!

I've been enjoying your newsletter for a while, and I've got a pretty minor training issue I'm hoping you might be able to help with. My dog (papillon, 2 years) is not very toy motivated, and I've been trying to teach him to fetch as a game to get him some more exercise. He will chase a toy and pick it up, but the second I say his name to get his attention to call him back, he will drop the toy and run back to me, because he would much rather be with me than play with a toy. We get a great game of chase going, but I can't seem to get him to understand he is supposed to bring toy to me. He is very well trained. I can get him to "come" or "down" no matter what he's doing or what the distraction is. I just can't seem to communicate the concept of bringing the toy to me, since the moment I try to get his attention, he drops it and runs to me. I know if I can let him know what I want him to do and associate it with a command, he will do it.

Thanks for any ideas you might have!



Hi Kris,

Have you done any marker training with him?

I am actually training the retrieve to one of my own dogs right now, and I start by teaching him to hold the item first. Once he will hold it, then I ask him to walk with me holding it, then come front while holding it. Whenever he does as I ask, then he gets a YES (or click if you are using a clicker) and then gets some really great food like chicken or steak.

Once he will hold and come front with a variety of items (I use remote from the TV, can opener, pvc pipe, shoes, etc..) then start placing it on the ground and have him pick it up. Try starting close (like a foot away) and have him come straight to you with the item. I think the whole “throw, run, pick up, turn around and return” is an advanced skill that needs to be worked up to.

I hope this makes sense! I’m working through this also, so let me know how you are doing. :-)



Cindy, sorry this is so long, I just felt a background is in order.

I am very new to training\dog sports (11 months, first dog ever) and now I have to face the facts and gather your opinions. I have a very shy female GSD (20 months old, we got her at 8 months old from a local breeder) I have found out through time this dog was never socialized in the first 8 months of life, all she knew was the breeder, his wife and the other dogs. 

I have been doing everything in my power to desensitize\socialize her for example: sit on bench in front of Target, walks in different parks (lots of people-no people), bring her to work 3-4 times a week, obedience classes (they are stupid but it helps, I will do anything to help her), using advice from a post I did last May, and have been following advice from Cindy, etc.  It is all working, she is a totally different dog than 11 months ago, but still very shy if people acknowledge her and\or try to approach her. She does fine otherwise. We TRY to tell people not to look at her and ignore her completely, but you all know how people listen, they hear what you said but 2 seconds later they forgot what you said!

My definition of shy is - if someone approaches her she puts her ears back, backs up looking at the person, then turns and runs 10-15 ft, 50% of the time she will approach the person again and either repeats or becomes comfortable and stands there looking at them, probably waiting for a treat (one method we have been using to build her confidence).  She has never displayed aggression towards people.

I have been doing all the training myself with the help of my wife, Leerburg DVD's and the forum. We have gone through Est. Pack Structure, using Basic OB, using marker training, using Drive & Focus, starting Preparing Your Dog for the Helper, just purchased competition tracking and many hours reading the forum.

I will never compete with this dog in Schutzhund, however, I am kind of training her in Schutzhund to learn from my numerous mistakes and have fun (I say kind of because all I know is what I read and see in videos, there is not a club anywhere close to where we live, so we are on our own, but learning a lot and having a lot of fun).

I have pretty much devoted my life to training this dog and loving every second of it, lately I have been thinking about weather or not I could compete in competition OB with this dog (AKC, due to the fact I do not belong to a Sch Club to get a BH and I could have the opportunity to do the AKC).  At least I think this is true.

She does very well with all the training I have done with her so far and enjoys the training. She does get a little uncomfortable; for example, at OB class, if I build drive she is not as intense, but is getting better, its just a little overwhelming with all the dogs and people around her (the only reason I go to OB class is to introduce a new environment\distractions).

Finally my question, with a dog like this, would I ever be able to compete? I just don’t think I could ever pass the temperament test, having a stranger touch my dog. It is what it is and I understand that but I just wanted to get any input from you. I want to bring this dog to her maximum potential.  Please feel free to give your honest opinions. If you have any more advice on overcoming the shyness please let me know. Maybe I just keep doing what I am doing and see what happens?

PS: I have been bit by the bug and my wife and I are starting the process of getting another GSD hopefully spring \summer of 2010, doing a lot more research this time.

Thank you so much for your time and all the resources Leerburg has put together.

Bemidji, MN


I’m afraid I can’t really answer your question with any certainty. A lot is going to depend on how much more she can progress. There are so many variables to this problem.

The first thing is to be more assertive with people who are around your dog.  I’m sure the people in my town think I’m a horrible person because I have no problem being rude to get my point across. My dog’s confidence and well being are more important to me than a stranger’s feelings. Just yesterday I was doing obedience in a parking lot near a playground and a girl came sprinting up right into my space as I was heeling my dog. To her credit she did ask before touching my dog, but when she said “Can I pet your dog?” I said in a very firm voice, “NO! He’s working right now.” I didn’t have time to worry about hurting her feelings, I wanted my dog to come out of the experience with success.

For a dog like yours, I’d use markers to teach her that whenever she feels uncomfortable to look at you and she’ll get a really great food reward. If you do this religiously and control all the interactions between your dog and others then I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she can be left in a stand stay and focus on your completely while a person does a quick exam. I wouldn’t use any corrections, and I would break this down into such tiny increments that she will always come out feeling great about herself.  Don’t ask other people to feed her, your goal is neutrality for a dog like this. All the treats come from you for paying attention to you and ignoring the distractions. By asking other people to feed her you may actually be causing more conflict within her. She wants the treat but is nervous about the people, she gets up to the person, takes the treat and then finds herself in a very uncomfortable position so she retreats. This is not behavior to rehearse.

Right now I’d keep people away, let her know you are her protector and before you know it she’ll relax more and more. If you take the pressure off of her by not allowing people to approach you may actually find she becomes more curious about strangers. No matter what, make sure that any people you have her around will follow your instructions. If they can’t or won’t do this remove yourself from their influence. No touching, petting, talking, smiling or looking at her from strangers right now. Tell people to pretend she’s not even there. 

I hope this helps.


Thank You:

Thank you for the fast response! I guess I didn't realize I could be creating more conflict by having people give her treats, but now that I think about what you said I can see it. I will follow your recommendations. 

Thanks again,



I have written you several times about my GSD, and my distraction problem with him away from home, when we try to work and I am working on this. He will do some very low key obedience away from home but with none of the energy or drive he shows at home. We were doing a little obedience work this morning in a pet store and he was his usual distracted self. I tried something just to see how he would react, here's how it went. At home I have done a lot of scent work with him, not tracking,but scenting articles. Just to see if he would be distracted doing this work, like he does obedience, I had him sniff an article and then the store owner hide it. I told him to "find" and he went into overdrive scenting the store until he found it. He was not distracted at all, I was surprised and don't understand what the difference is?

At home he will go into strong drive doing obedience or agility BUT I can't get him in drive away from home, wonder why? How can I accomplish it?

There could be a whole DVD on working through the distraction phase, I certainly would buy it. Thanks for you help.


Since you know he CAN focus in a distracting environment, this means you aren’t using a valuable enough reward to hold his interest.  It’s up to you to find out what kind of reward it takes.  I can’t do that for you via email. Maybe you hide something for him, ask him for focus and when he complies send him to search as his reward. Extend the period of time you ask for attention before you send him.  I had a dog years ago that I struggled with the retrieve.  She loved to swim so I would throw her water toy out in the lake and let it float there, we would then work on retrieves and when she realized the way to get to the swimming was to retrieve then my training accelerated quickly.  Being a dog trainer means being a problem solver too, if what you have been doing isn’t working then you need to try something else.   There is no way we could possibly produce a dvd with all the possibilities.  The difference between a good dog trainer and a great dog trainer is their ability to think outside the box.



I have a 3 year all black german shepherd that I am training for competition obedience.  We have a CD and am working on her CDX.  However, I am having problems with her and hope you can give me some insight. I have always trained with food and toys. She has high drive but is very soft and she is a whiner. When we are training, we have no problems. It's when we step into the ring, and the leash comes off.  When we are training and does not have a leash on she heals beautiful.  But once we cross over into that ring she acts is if she never healed in her life,  constantly whines and has never "heard" the attention word.  (We do practice in ring situations to.) I just cannot get that crossover from training to into the ring.  Can you please help me. She is really a beautiful dog and has great drive and great potential and she enjoys working. Is there any help?
Thank You


This is a problem with engagement. Your dog should stay engaged with you in all environments and if she isn't staying with you in the ring that means you need to back up and work foundation engagement more thoroughly. 

I'd recommend The Power of Training Dogs with Markers, The Power of Training Dogs with Food, and The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog. You will learn how to use the food and toy to promote the dog's attention and engagement. (These 3 DVD's can also be purchased as a box set, which saves $10 and has free shipping).

Take her out of competition for now, and take some steps back in training. Don't put her back in a real trial now, because if you do, you are just letting her practice the behavior you DON'T want. So many people keep putting the dog back in the ring and effectively teach the dog that trial day means "check out."

Check out the streaming video we have with Michael Ellis.

I think if you aren't afraid to go back to basics for a while and really work engagement, you can fix this.  If you don't have engagement in ALL environments, then your dog is not ready to trial.

I hope this helps. Cindy



I and my 17 week old GSD pup are in obedience class. I have been working with him in healing as well as trying to get him to keep his eyes on me. I have been using bits of hotdog and dropping them from my mouth when he looks up at me, as well as saying "watch me." He does this more when not moving, but not all the time on a heel. What do I need to do different? Or do I need to continue this as I have been doing.



I see that you have the focused heeling video, but at 17 weeks very few puppies have the level of engagement or coordination to do a lot of heeling.

Did you do the muscle memory heeling work first. At 17 weeks, I would not worry about a focal point yet, I would just teach the pup to walk with his head up for rewards.

I'd also recommend getting the foundation video The Power of Training Dogs with Food and do this work before you spend a lot of time teaching him incorrect heeling. Back up your training to more foundation and focus your work on engagement. Most puppies are not ready to do real focused heeling until they are done teething and you have done leash pressure work (typically not until about 7 months old at the earliest).



Hello Cindy,

I've watched the "Focused Heeling" DVD and am incredibly impressed. I've fixed a problem that I had been having for months in about 20 minutes! I have a question though on the leash pressure section. I show my Rottweilers (one 3 1/2yrs old and one 10 months old) in sieger shows and am unsure I really want to train the leash pressure because I need them to lean into the leash while stacking them. I use the pressure to change footing to get the best stack. I was wondering if the rest of the training in the DVD are possible without using the leash pressure. I know it is used for forging and also for the left turns but I need to know if these pieces of heeling can be done without leash pressure. Thanks in advance for your help.


I would think using the leash pressure technique (with a prong high up under the jaw) would not interfere with the german style of showing conformation (pulling into a fur saver or other collar down low on the dog’s neck) My dogs know the difference in equipment, and behave differently in obedience mode than in some other mode.

If you don’t want to do the leash pressure then you can certainly try it without, but in my opinion and knowledge of dogs they can tell the difference, especially if you have a verbal cue when you want them to pull into the lead and you are using a flat collar down low on the neck.



Hi guys,

Love all your DVD's and especially Michael Ellis, hope you can help with a huge problem that has emerged with my almost 3 year old  male (neutered) German Shorthaired Pointer.

He has his CDX title, (not sure how that equates in the USA) exercises are heel free,stand for exam, drop on recall, retrieve on flat, retrieve over the high jump and distance control (change of positions). Because it will be a while before we are ready for the Utility Class and I love competing, I was continuing to enter the Open class, however the last three trials we have entered have been a disaster!!!

He trains beautifully, but as soon as we enter the ring it is like a switch goes on and he is "off with the pixies"!!! He looses all focus, it is not fear or worry, he just switches off me and looks around at whats going on everywhere else. At the last trial he hit the jump and I am sure it was because he was just not concentrating. I think he has become very "ring wise." I try to go to different parks and grounds to train and also to just have fun with me and to get him to engage with me, and while we are playing or their is food he is fine.  It is also very difficult to correct him, he is about 38kgs and quite insensitive.

I guess the obvious is to stop trialling for a while, which I am willing to do, but I would like any other advice you may have. I have your Focused Heeling DVD but in our training he is great. Having watched some of your other DVD's I do realize I probably didn't "neutralize" him enough to other dogs, people etc.when he was a pup.

Hope you have some ideas that might help.



I would stop trialing him for now, maybe for a long while. 

The issue with this is always that the dog has been shown that training and trials are two different things.  Most people don’t behave the same way in a trial situation as they do in training, in ways that are obvious to the dog.

The more repetitions he gets of the “off with the pixies” behavior, the harder it will be to correct.

Do you have access to correction matches in your area?  I used to compete in obedience and our club hosted matches that were set up exactly like trials, only you could stop when necessary and either correct or reward your dog. Also, in training make sure you are behaving like you plan on behaving in a trial. Be formal, use the same body language, try to make yourself “nervous” so your dog gets used to this ahead of time.  Most people don’t do this and it’s very clear to the dog that a trial is something much different.

I hope this helps.

Cindy Rhodes


Dear Mr. Frawley,

I’ve been studying the DVDs you’ve made with Mr. Ellis, I’m missing the two last one’s that I’ll be ordering by the end of this month, but I’m a bit stuck.

Can you direct me to a training schedule, or better said a training sequence, to work with the dogs from scratch? I know that there cannot be a rigid sequence and that all must be adapted to the animal itself, but thinking about a perfect world what would it be the best sequence to train a dog.

I train my dogs in obedience and for the RCI sport.

Thank you very much and very best regards,


The training sequence should loosely follow the order of the M. Ellis videos. You can (of course) train heeling, retrieve, jumping and send aways simultaneously.

Before beginning any of that the dog must have a clear understanding of the foundation work, which is covered in the food and tug DVD's.

I hope this helps.

Cindy Rhodes

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