by Barbara Miller
Every breed of dog presents its devotees with its own particular set of challengers. Those of us addicted to Cardigan Welsh Corgis are faced with the daunting task of keeping up with a play ethic that just won't quit. Fortunately, the AKC has opened its doors to a number of performance events that Cardigans naturally excel in. Unfortunately, the length of the average day is still 24 hours and there are still only seven of them in a week. The challenge of cross-training, training a dog in two or more areas, is trying to find time for training and showing and still get enough work-time in to pay for entries and dog food.
You can save time and energy cross-training the performance dog by keeping as much as your training as possible consistent in all areas. On the surface the different sports seem to have very different objectives; close attention for obedience; pull out and sniff for tracking; watch the sheep for herding; run full tilt for agility; gait at a trot for conformation. Break these objectives down into their component pieces, though, and you will find behaviors that are the same for each sport.
"Stand" means "stand" whether it's behind the sheep at 1000 feet, at the start line, in heel position or in front of the judge. "Come" means "stop whatever you're doing and come directly to me". "Down" means "drop wherever you are as fast as you can". These behaviors can be as refined as you care to make them. Specific behaviors should be defined in your mind before you attempt to teach them to your dog or apply them to a specific sport. I would never try to "down" my dog behind moving sheep if she couldn't "down" in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, training center, sidewalk or beside the sheep pen. On the other hand, once she could (would) drop at the top of an out-run, the drop-on-recall was a piece of cake.
Some behaviors are more difficult to define than others. I define "Get Out", which I use in agility and herding to mean "move laterally away from the center of focus (either me or the sheep)" but it wasn't until I wrote it out and drew little pictures that I really understood it. Keep your vocabulary simple and signals/body language consistent. Transferring a behavior from once context to another will be easier on your and your dog.
The foundation of cross-training is building a vocabulary of behaviors that can be applied in different contexts. Of course with a Cardigan your training methods have to be highly motivation no matter what performance area you're working in. It takes a little ingenuity to make an obedience finish as exciting as running through a tunnel or chasing a bunch of sheep. Keep in mind that you're dealing with a great play ethic in the breed. Do you get more excited when your dog brings you the tracking glove than when he brings you the dumbbell? D o you use food in the breed ring but never in obedience? Make all of your training as stimulating as possible. Those activities which are intrinsically motivating will need less motivation from you. For other activities you had better bring a full bag of tricks and use them all.
The number of performance events you choose to tackle depends on what is available in your area, the age and condition of your dog, what you feel like doing and, of course, that seven-days-in-a-week constraint. I tend to train in three to four areas at a time but show in only one or two. Some sports are rather season specific in this area. While I'm competing in on area I'll narrow my focus and make sure my dog finds that sport the most exciting thing in the world at that time.
It's easy to get overwhelmed when you see a herding clinic, tracking test and agility trial all on the same weekend. Keep your goals in mind and don't get so scattered that nothing gets finished. Above all, remember that we're doing this for fun! Be flexible, be willing to try new things and keep laughing when you land in sheep manure while your obedience champion runs totally amuck!