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Command Discrimination: Goals and Techniques
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I’ve just returned from the AKC Obedience Classic in Orlando, Florida. At lunch on Sunday, there was a demonstration of the Command Discrimination exercise that will become effective on May 1st. Scoring of the new exercise was not part of the discussion.


I created the following chart to help make the goal of teaching the new Command Discrimination exercise clear for you. This chart depicts the change of position sequences that will be performed in the ring. Our goal is to master these sequences. [Print & Save this Chart]


Our biggest challenge will be increasing the distance that we stand from our dog while giving commands. We do not want our dogs to be penalized for what the rule refers to as "walking forward." Our goal should be to teach our dogs to perform the change of positions with minimal or no forward movement.

A word of caution:

  • STAY CLOSE as you begin working on these skills.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. 
  • Teach each change of position carefully before adding distance.
  • Work on one position change at a time. 
For example, stand in front of your dog and casually point to the ground and say down, step back and give a stand signal. Praise and reward. Isolating the skill, “standing up from a down” followed by praise and a reward will make the skill clearer for your dog. You will be tempted to practice the down followed by the stand repeatedly (down/stand; down/stand; down/stand) but the skill you are teaching will not be as clear and the repetition will become tedious for your dog.

I created the following chart breaking down the positions that we need to teach of dogs. This chart also reflects the distance at which the positions will need to be performed.

Sit to Stand: The goal should be for your dog to stand in heel position, with little to no movement forward. Creating a habit of the dog not stepping forward when he stands will be the most conservative approach because that skill will create the likelihood that the dog will not walk forward when he performs this change of position at 30 feet. If you have not watched the video linked to my earlier message, watch it now.

Sit to Down: When a dog lies down in heel position, he will naturally walk his feet forward. This could result in him moving out of heel position. The general consensus of the judges I’ve spoken to about this “natural movement” is that it will not result in a points deduction but this is an issue that will require some clarification.

Once again, our goal should be to teach this change of position with minimal forward movement. Watch the video as I signal down on the left side of my dog's head. If you point straight down, you may be surprised to find out that your dog moves forward very little, and does not roll over on his hip. I would prefer he stay in a sphinx like down because it will be easier for him to move into a sit or stand. Again, watch the video to see this demonstrated.

Stand to Sit: I am going to use a verbal command for the stand to sit. If you want to use two syllables, try “you, Sit!” I believe most of our dogs will sit similarly to how they sit on the go-out exercise.

Stand to Down & Down to Sit: The technique I use to teach these changes of position are demonstrated in the second video in the tab titled Stand on a Platform in the Digital Obedience Guide Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises.

Placing a dog’s front feet on a platform shows him how to lie down without creeping forward. Additionally, it encourages him to back his front feet up into a sit. This is important to me because dogs that bring their rear end forward on the sit command sometimes start scooting forward.

I will not ask my dogs to stand from a sit when they are sitting behind the platform because it would encourage the dog to step forward onto the platform, and that forward movement could become walking when distance is increased and the platform is removed.

Down to Stand: The technique I use for the down to stand involves a platform. It also is demonstrated in the Stand on a Platform video. If I’m working with a dog that will lie down, keeping his feet on the platform, I believe he will stand up with his feet on the platform.

The Command Discrimination exercise was demonstrated at the AKC Obedience Classic. This video includes excerpts from the demonstration together with my explanation of the exercise as it was being demonstrated.

If you have questions or reactions to this message, do not hesitate to email them to me.