Menu ≡
Teaching the New Command Discrimination Exercise
Must Read
< Back

It’s final - the rule changes have been approved and it is time to start training. The most significant change is replacement of the Open Stay exercise with a new Command Discrimination exercise. Just like any other exercise you’ve taught your dog, the place to start is by understanding what skills your dog will need to learn. 

I moved to Greenville, South Carolina, thirty-one years ago to train service dogs for the physically handicapped. There were no manuals or instructions. I taught dogs to perform tasks such as opening and closing doors, turning light switches on and off, and pulling wheelchairs by breaking complicated tasks into smaller pieces. Once again, we are faced with a similar situation. 

None of us know the best way to teach this new exercise, but let’s embrace the challenge and start training. 

Your dog will need to master the following skills for the new Command Discrimination exercise: 

From Heel Position 

Sit to Stand: Without “walking” forward. 

Sit to Down: Without rolling on to side, preferably.

From the Front 

Stand to Down: If your dog does not know this, he will need to know it for Utility anyway. 

Stand to Sit: This should not be too difficult. I want my dog to know that if I give a signal to my dog while he is standing, he should assume it is to go down (Utility, here I come!). It will be less confusing for our dogs if we use a verbal “Sit” command when asking our dogs to go from a stand to a sit. 

Sit to Down: Dogs do this naturally. I will use a signal rather than a verbal command. 

Sit to Stand: This will be new for most obedience dogs. 

Down to Sit: Utility dogs already know this skill. 

Down to Stand: This will be new for most obedience dogs.

Before you become overwhelmed, check off the skills your dog already knows. I bet you will discover that the list of what your dog needs to learn is not that long. 


STAY CLOSE as you begin working on these skills. 

Don't be in a hurry. We will teach each piece carefully. 

We have until May! 


I've never taught my dogs a “kick back stand,” and since the rule states that “a minor or substantial deduction must be made for a dog that walks forward,” the time has come. I assume that when I command and/or signal my dog to stand, I cannot move my feet. I don’t want my dog to end up out of heel position. So, I’m going to teach my dogs to stand up without moving their front feet forward.

I have three ideas in mind: 

  1. I may have to start by placing a treat directly in front of my dog's nose, and physically lifting his rear end, showing him how to stand without moving forward. 

  2. I may start with a barrier in front of my dog so that he can’t walk forward without stepping on it; and/or 

  3. I may loop a leash under his body and show him how to lift his back end directly into a standing position. 

Think about what your dog may already know that you can use to help him learn this new skill. I often tell my students that what has already been written on the chalkboard of their dog’s mind might be useful in a new situation. For example, I have done plenty of stand signals with a treat in my signal hand, so I may find that simply giving the signal to stand and stepping back on my left foot (as opposed to forward on my right foot), is enough for my dog to recognize the similarity and begin standing behind my signaling hand. 


Once I teach my dog a “kick back stand” while in heel position, I believe I can gradually achieve the same results when facing him from a distance. 


Once the dog learns to move from a Sit to a Stand, the same signal can be used to teach him to Stand from a Down position.

Let’s make it our goal to teach our dogs the new Command Discrimination exercise by the end of January so we will have plenty of time to practice it in a variety of locations and in the presence of distractions before the new rule takes effect. I’m going to work on some videos for you. In the meantime, send me your questions about the new rules.

If you have a dog that does not know the signal exercise, log in to Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises and review the trick “Stand on a Platform.”