Dog drill teams: How to successfully start one

Drill teams are great for promoting 4-H, teaching dogs and their handlers better training techniques through fun, and to get the kids working harder to achieve the training results they crave.

A dog drill team is a fun activity for dog project kids to participate in. Drill teams are great for promoting 4-H, teaching dogs and their handlers better training techniques through fun and a great way to get the kids working harder to achieve the training results they crave without realizing how much they are working.

Drill teams engage in organized parade drills as well as choreographed routines that could be viewed by an audience in the stands. They are great for additions to community events, parades, festivals and any other spectator attended functions where people would like to see youth and their dogs engaging in a fun and entertaining activity.

For the most success handlers and dogs should have at least one year of obedience experience. This will allow for the team to concentrate on perfecting the drills rather than taking out time to teach the basics to new members. The leader of the group should also write up the expectations of the group and have all the participants sign it. For example, they are only allowed to miss so many practices with an explanation of what is an excused absence. You may want to have team try-outs to get started and then try-outs throughout the year to see what youth will be in which positions. A drill team is a lot like a competitive cheer team or marching band in the sense that you have to know the routines and be able to perform them on time for the group to be successful. The success of each one ensures success for all.

The following is a list of commands that a drill team may use.

Drill Team Call Commands

Turn in
Turn in to each other walking down the center of the lines in opposite direction.

Turn out
Walk to an imaginary marker and turn out toward the crowd walking back beside the line in the opposite direction.

Rights cross in front of lefts and lefts go behind rights. Cross in the center and continue to form two lines again. You will now be on the opposite side.

Line up in the center with rights over lefts and keep walking.

This is just a plain ordinary halt

Halt out
This is when you halt facing the crowd. You always face the crowd closest to you. If you are in a line then always face the crowd in the direction you came into the line from. For example if you came into the line from the right side then face the right crowd.

Halt in
This is when you are in two lines and you halt in facing each other. But make sure you are staggered.

Sequence 1 (from a line)
Halt out, leave your dogs, call your dogs, finish your dogs, go forward to opposite side and turn forward and keep walking in the two-line formation.

Sequence 2 (from two lines)
Halt in, leave your dogs, call your dogs, finish your dogs, turn front and walk in a single line.

Call for the bow and all dogs and handlers should bow.

To teach this you bow with a dramatic right arm flowing from the high position down to the ground as you bow. This is the signal to the dog to bow as well. You will want to have a treat in your hand to get the dog to put his/her nose down to the ground. During training you may have to put the treat back through their legs so they drop the front down. Once you have trained them you then will just make the dramatic bow movement and tell the dog to bow to get the proper effect.

Roll over (from one line)
Halt out
Down your dogs
The last dog in the line rolls over and comes to a sit, followed by the next dog etc.
Call your dogs
Turn to walk forward in the parade and heal dog. (no finish)

Switch jump
As the team is performing the switch the dogs on the left will jump or go under the dogs on the right. It is important to consider sizes and attitude when forming your lines if you plan to use this drill. Only advanced teams should do this with well-rehearsed dogs.

Weave back (from one line)
First hander/dog does an about turn and begins to weave through the team.

Once the first handler/dog gets to the second member the next member begins to weave. This continues until all members have weaved through the line. Members should walk briskly but not run, other members should allow more space between other members so there is room for weaving.

Walk in and back out: (from two lines)
Forward In
Turn towards each other walk into meet each other.
Back out with dog backing up to two lines
Pivot so that you are facing forward again
Keep moving, never stop. (to teach this start with a comefor and then change to backing.) Teach dogs to back by using a stick or pole to put on their chest and encourage them to back up while saying back.

There are some basic rules that you will always want to keep in mind while teaching or performing. Members should always watch their spacing. Good spacing can make even the worst performances not look as bad. However, bad spacing can ruin even the best routines. Spacing is also important for safety. Dogs need their personal space and crowding could cause dogs to become aggressive.

Members need to be sure to stay in nice straight lines at all times. They also always cross rights over lefts when crossing or lining up (or vice versa, but be consistent so the members always know what to do). While performing, members should always keep moving and never give corrections while performing. Corrections are for practices unless it is a safety issue. If the member loses his or her place, he or she should just skip a step or two to catch up. Members should always count to three before doing any move unless it is a sequence in which everything is done on one.

Lastly, members and dogs should always be having fun and thinking up new drills to keep things interesting. If the dogs or bored or the members are not having fun then you need to take some time to evaluate the team and see what is missing. Have fun!

For more information on basic obedience commands see my article on how to put together an eight week obedience class.

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