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Ditch the Platform and Teach Fancy Front Pivots

There's just one of them in novice but 6 by the time you get to utility obedience. Fronts are what define the ribbon holders of the upper levels at dog shows!

For the rest of the class, having a consistent front seems like a mirage we just can't grasp onto. Some dogs are windshield wipers swishing back and forth until they hear the marker cue! Other dogs seem always to be leaning off of to the side where the cookies are held, or in expectation of that finish into heel.

A cat sitting on a platform with pool noodle rails on the side to form a chute
Student Minnie sitting in her platform with rails!

Unlike finding heel, fronts have 2 directions the dog needs to pick from to know which way to rotate. And there isn't a clear line to aim for. Although I have seen competitors back in the day use giant belt buckles as a target!

Are Platforms the answer?

Platforms are the tool of choice for many trainers as an introduction to front. I love that it can show dogs the formal front picture and get in a reinforcement history for that position!

With a platform that is fitted for your dog, it does all the work for you. If 4 feet are on it, then the dog has to be straight and sitting!

However most students struggle to get rid of the platform and still have a straight front. The dog seems to have no idea that front is more than just sitting relatively close to their handler.

Fading the platform successfully is not my strength either!!!

Instead, I focus on teaching people how to train front pivots.

Wren as a puppy on a perch in front of me with hands at my side

With a pivot in front, the prop is there to remind the dog this is about moving their rear end. But unlike a platform, the dog has to pay attention to where that line is!

And it's tough!!!

Introducing Clockwise Pivots

Most of our dogs are great at pivoting counterclockwise. They've perfected that direction from all our hours spent training heelwork!

Learning to pivot counterclockwise is new to most of them! This is your first prerequisite before we jump into official front pivots.

Freya is at this step and because she needs a lot of help, I'm standing further away so that I'm not directly moving into her feet. Instead, I'm trying to go behind her rear to apply pressure without touching her.

My goal at this first stage is not official fronts, just the introduction to moving that direction with as least pressure as possible in their space.

Starting Front Pivots!

When they're rotating well in both directions, we can start to focus on an actual front position.

My main goal at this stage is to build value for being still in front of me. No windshield wipers!

Focus on position over motion!

When the dog is being relatively still, see if you can start getting your hands to your side between rewards to show that formal picture.

Here with Wren, I demonstrate how frequently I want you to feed in front!!!! Note that her position isn't perfect and that's ok. In this video, we're starting to get to the step where I could feed, take my hands back to my side, and then quickly feed again!!!

And here Arlo is working on this skill and you can see how much I have to "catch" him in front before he over rotates! But I love that he lets me get my hands to my side and offers nice stillness between treats!

Catch Up Fronts

A skill that is often missed when working on front pivots is the dog's ability to "find front" with us moving. When we're pivoting the dog can use our motion to help them know which way to move and move with us until we stop moving.

Without that motion from us, many dogs will under-rotate and not quite know where to line up!

Before I work on adding distance and speed to finding front, I start with the dog already on the perch and learning to "catch up" to front after I stop moving. I have the dog nibble on a cookie as I rotate to keep them in place, then release the treat once I'm still so they can catch up to front position once they are done eating.

With Freya, I'm not bothering to put my hands to my side, but make sure you emphasize that with your dogs!

If the dog is pretty close to straight, I'll mark and move myself to be straight as I feed them!

If the dog under rotates still, I can try and pivot away from them right before they stop moving. And if they are prone to over rotating, I can try having my zen hand out to stop them from going too far.

Arlo makes both errors in this video!

Finding Front!

Now you can finally add a tiny bit of distance to your front work! Start with short cookie tosses.

Even though finding front from an angle is harder, I always start with angled approaches to make sure the dog is still thinking pivoting thoughts. This emphasizes the skill of rotating their rear to be straight!

If you find your dog is consistently short rotating in one direction, or both, be proactive!  Move away from them just as they step onto the target so they start to expect to have to rotate further.  This will increase their success rate and, hopefully, your test reps where you don't move will be more successful! 

Arlo shows both under-rotating when going counterclockwise, and over-rotating when going clockwise!  I use 2 techniques to work through this. When he's going CCW and prone to over-rotating I have my zen hand out in that direction.  This applies a small amount of pressure as he's trained it means to look at me and not move to the cookie!  When he's going CW and under-rotating, I apply the technique of rotating away from him as soon as he steps on:

You can see how this emphasis on rotating the rear end teaches the dog that front position is more than just sitting close to us!

I don't add that sit in front until the dog can do their front pivots without that perch!

Fading the Perch

Because the perch doesn't structure the dog to be correct, they were learning what it means to line up their body with us. This makes getting rid of the perch a pretty easy step for most dogs!

But before you jump into doing full distance recalls, make sure the dog can do their front pivots without the help of a perch!

With some dogs, I need to go to a flat target and then "explode!" that target so we can both stand on it.

Here Arlo isn't 100% ready for this step as he still shows some signs of needing help on our catch-up fronts. But I jumped ahead to show this stage! It starts out great and then he loses his confidence. You may need to alternate perch and no perch!

Ginny is more advanced and is working on doing her catch up fronts without help. I'll move away from her as needed to help her rotate further and occasionally use hand help. You'll also see I mix in a few cycles of rewarding stillness in front of me with my hands at my side.

Front Doodles

My last step of training before doing longer recalls is teaching front "doodles." This teaches the dog that front is a position to maintain as we move together in different directions!

Here Ginny is ready for this! She still needs help at times but generally is moving with me left and right pretty well!

And Grace is showing off my final goal of front doodles!

I hope these steps give you a great start to teaching your dog how to front and to fade the props!

If you need more help on training fronts, I talk about them in a few of my classes at FDSA.

February 1st my Novice prep class will be running and will discuss all these steps with even more example videos! Keep an eye out for my TEAM 2 class as well.

Thanks for reading all the way!

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