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Barrel training teaches a dog that when it's motionless while obeying "Whoa", its world doesn't rock.
My "Whoa" table is simply a 12-foot-long, 12-inch-wide plank. The plank can be nailed to sawhorses to raise it to approximately waist height. I then place the dog on the plank. The plank is narrow, so the dog will not move its feet. As when the dog is on the barrel, I stroke its tail up, prevent its head from moving and soothingly repeat "Whoa." My objective is to teach the dog to stand tall, with head erect and tail high.

Everything I have done to this point has taught the stationary dog to stay put and be comfortable with the word "Whoa." I have not yet taught the moving dog to stop on the command. I only begin this next step after the dog is comfortable remaining still on the table and barrel. To teach a moving dog to "Whoa," I use a "suitcase handle," which is made by tying a snap on both ends of a 36- to 40-inch piece of check cord. I run one end of the cord around the dog’s flank and through the snap. I run the other end around the dog’s neck and through that end’s snap. The result is a slip lead around the dog’s abdomen and another around its neck. This way I can pick the dog up off the ground with my "suitcase handle."

While walking the dog along I give the command "Whoa"--one time. Naturally, the dog will not respond the first few times, so I will pick it up with the suitcase handle and return it to the spot where it was when I gave the command. Once the dog stops immediately upon hearing "Whoa," I walk away from the dog after it has halted. If the dog moves, I do not give the command again. I simply pick the dog up with the rope and return it to the original spot.

It is important to not repeat the command "Whoa." If I command "Whoa" at point A and the dog moves to point B and I say "Whoa" again and the dog stops, I have dug myself a hole. Now when I move the dog from point B back to point A, I will be confusing it and sending the message that I really did not want it to stop when I said "Whoa" the second time. If I do not correct the dog, I will be teaching it that it doesn’t have to stop when the command is given the first time. Now I have a dog that understands I want it to stop and stay stopped when I command "Whoa". Of course, this does not mean the dog will respond every time. It simply means that the dog understands what it is supposed to do.

To take this to the next step and train for excellence, I use a low-level-stimulation collar. It is very important that the dog has already been collar-conditioned. I place the collar on the dog’s belly, just behind the rib cage, and put the dog on a 20- to 30-foot check cord. The reason I place the collar here is that when the dog was collar-conditioned the collar was around its neck. The first way the dog learned to turn stimulation off was by heading away. By placing the collar around the abdomen, the dog will not tend to move away when it feels stimulation. Also, with the stimulation coming from its rear, the dog will be less likely to associate it with anything in front of it, namely me-and, later on, a bird. I now say "Whoa" while the dog isn’t near me. If it does not stop, I turn on the low-level stimulation and leave it on until I return the dog to where it was when I commanded "Whoa." Once the dog excels with a check cord, I repeat the drill without a check cord until I can stop the dog anywhere with one "Whoa." By stopping immediately, the dog avoids stimulation.

Now I walk the dog on the "Whoa" board and say "Whoa" once. If at any time before I release the dog it comes off the board, I use stimulation and place the dog back on the board-although by now, if the dog comes off the board and feels stimulation, it will probably know to step back onto the board to turn off the stimulation. At this point I am ready to move on to teaching holding point, backing and steadiness to wing & shot.

People often want to know at what age I teach a particular command. I never teach holding point before a dog is at least a year old-and more often later than that. I let the dog chase birds for at least a year. But as a general guide, teaching "Whoa" on the barrel and bench when the dog is from eight to 12 months, followed by collar work, is fairly standard. The important thing to remember is that every dog is different and reacts differently. Take your time, do things right and only move ahead when you and your dog are ready. You both will be happier in the long run.
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