How do you speed up giant breeds??


New Member
Hi guys,

I do Canine Freestyle with my Great Dane, Honey. Of course, being a giant breed, I know I can't expect the same speed and agility from her as from a Border Collie, for example, but is there any way I can speed her up??

I've tried only clicking for the faster twists, bows, backing ups, etc...but it doesn't seem to make a difference. If I withhold the click a few times because she is too slow, she just stops offering the behaviour and gives up and goes to have a nap! :dogtongue2:

And it's not like she can't do it faster - I've seen her move bloody fast when she wants to (usually when she gets really excited - which is very rare). I know it is probably my fault as a trainer and I just have to motivate her more, to get more excitement and energy from her, but it's awfully hard! She is a really placid, mellow dog and even when she gets excited, only stays in that state for about all of 2 seconds!! :dogrolleyes:

By the way, in case anyone is wondering - she DOES love her training sessions and is very focused and gets excited when she sees the clicker or treats and will often start offering tricks by herself (even though she might not look like it in the videos - this is more excited than her normal state. She never does the manic tail wagging like the BC's do) - so it's not like I'm forcing her to do somethign she doesn't want to do - but just that even when she is into it, she seems to do everything at a plodding, snail's pace...

Is this just something I have to accept given her breed?

Also - the other thing I noticed is that she is a lot faster and more energetic when we're just practising the tricks by themselves (even if I'm running several moves together from the routine) but the minute I put the music on and try to do the routine "properly" - she seems to go into this slow, dopey's really frustrating! Why does she slow down with the music? Is it me and the cues I'm giving - am I different when the music is on?


If you watch the video, you will see that during "normal" practice, she will do the Bow very quickly but with the music, she really slows down... (I will have to ask Jean to post the video for me as I haven't done 10 posts yet!)
(sorry - this video was made for Honey's blog so has little extra captions and is not a "serious" training video like yours!)

We have our 1st performance of this new routine coming up this Sat so any tips would be appreciated! :)



Experienced Member
One of the posters here recommended not training full routines to speed up and do better presentations of tasks. If you do a routine over and over the dog starts to anticipate ending and does short cuts or eliminates things they less like to do.

I left off the weave poles for a while and now my 4yo is a weaving demon. The latest research indicates that training less often on some tasks like 1 a week can make them more solid rather than training every day. This seems to hold true for me.

Check out Szecsuani's videos, I just loved the Christmas video. [media][/media]

collieman also has some awesome videos with his Emma and trains the same way I believe-by not repeating every day. [media][/media]

Another trainer these two both like and several other posters on this site

There are some other people here that post some awesome videos---not to leave anyone off but those two I recall saying something about not doing an entire routine in practice.

I also speed up by luring a bit - but not for long maybe a day or so and click treating for only fast execution. Keep sessions short.

In agility so speed up a sphinx down we would lure it down and have a leap back up into the air to GET IT (a treat) and repeat very fast with high rate of very fast reinforcement.


New Member
Hi Snooks,

Thanks for your reply!

I will try what you suggested - although the reason I was training every day in the past few weeks is that Honey has a very short attention/concentration span and tires easily - I found that when I was joining in with the Canine Freestyle classes (full of collies and other small breeds), they could work and train for the whole hour (albeit with breaks and different exercises) whereas Honey was only really good for 10mins (even with breaks!). So I changed the way I train to shorter sessions more frequently.

Also, I found with other things (eg. general obedience) that she is generally better with short sessions (5mins) several times a day rather than a longer session once or twice a week. She tends to "forget" then and doesn't retain as well.

With the routine - we DO spend most of our time just practising individual moves and/or linking them together - not the whole routine. But if you're planning to perform live in public, you DO need to eventually start doing the whole routine a few times - you can't just rely on turning up on the day and hoping that everything will fit together OK! :dogtongue2: Also, you need to know that you're in time to the music, etc - it's easy to do the moves on their own - the real challenge is doing it in time to the music. A lot of people do Freestyle by just having music in the background while they run through their tricks - whereas I actually really care about the choreography and making sure that each move changes with changes in the music, otherwise I think it doesn't look like a "dance" - just a series of tricks with music in the timing is really important.

I only do the routine once a day, sometimes once every 2 days and I have only started doing it 2 weeks ago so it's not been going on for a long time...

Thanks - those videos are amazing and so inspirational. The only thing is - I have seen lots of amazing, wonderful videos of dogs doing Freestyle but they always feature working breeds or smaller breeds. It's not like I don't admire them but I find it hard to copy and learn from them, as their methods often don't seem to work with Honey! A lot of the advice and expectations which apply to those dogs just don't seem to work for giant breeds...



New Member
Wow - thanks so much again, Snooks, for your great reply and patience with my questions!

I'm in a bit of a dilemma as I really want to try what you suggested now about training less frequently - but with our performance coming up on Sat, I'm worried about the need to guarantee that I can deliver at least some kind of routine, even if it's a slow one!
(I guess the lesson to learn from this is to not try to perfect a routine for a public performance in 4 weeks!!!)

I will definitely start doing what you suggested after Sat...just what should I do this week??

I have tried using alternative rewards such as tug toys or her favourite (tennis ball) and although I find that it does excite her more, it tends to over-rev her up, especially the ball. In that she only fixates on the ball and keeps bouncing around, thinking i'm going to throw it - and even if I ask her for a trick and then click and throw the ball - she still seems to just get over-excited and not focused at I gave up on that one.

As for how I train, it's a bit of everything, I guess! :) I don't formally decide on one thing or another - just whatever is easiest and works, especially given her size. Some tricks (eg. Bow) is easiest to train using a food lure so I use those. Others (like the crab walk, in front) are better done by clicking for 1 small side step first, then for 2 steps, then eventually for a whole series of steps side-ways. Is that shaping? Similarly when I teach "Back" - I do hold a food treat up to get her nose in the right position but then I don't use the food treat to push her back - I just walk back a bit and the shift in my position usually gets her to take a step back - so I click for that. Then for 2 steps, more steps, etc - until she is backing up smoothly several steps. This is one of the moves that she will do really well when we're just practising without music and then literally 2 minutes later, when I turn the music on, she will back up REALLY slowly - it's so frustrating! Some other moves I just "capture" with the clicker during free-shaping sessions or in daily activities - that was how I taught the "shimmy" move where she has to shake her head & body when I shimmy my shoulders (still working on this!). I just clicked everytime she shook when she got wet or after she had a drink or a groom - anytime I knew she would be likely to shake herself off. It took her a couple of months to cotton on but she has got it now. (Problem is, she keeps offering it over any other trick because it is her latest trick! :dogtongue2:)

I try to put a verbal command on everything trick/move but I find that Honey seems to be responding to the physical/body cues more - in that, often if I move my body/arms/legs in a certain way, she will go into that move/trick without being asked verbally. This is of course very handy when dancing where you don't want to be seen to be constantly commanding your dog but rather that she is just moving with you. I think I should probably work on putting more hand signals with I don't have a hand signal for "Back". The problem is, I have to move my arms differently in different dances so I don't want to be tied to one action everytime I want her to move a certain way.

Those "spontaneous" competitions sound fantastic - what a wonderful idea! Thanks for telling me - I may try that with Honey after our performance - just put on some music and try to make up moves as we go... ( have to say - I tried that once and Honey just stood there and looked at me stupidly!! :doglaugh:)


Honored Member
Staff member
Snooks has some wonderful advice.

Like she said, you will only be able to do so much to get her excited. But find something that reeeeaaally gets her going. Find a favorite toy or something, and maybe play with it a whole lot to build up her excitement, but don't give it to her until she's super excited. Ask for a trick and if her excitement makes her do something quickly, then YAY! Be extremely excited yourself and give her the toy. You can't expect her to be excited if you're not. Look like a fool if you have to--be annoyingly excited, unless it does nothing for her. Withhold her favorite things just long enough to get her revved up, then ask for a command and give it to her. It sounds cruel to tease her, but it will get her excited and as long as you don't lose her, you may get more speed out of her. Run away from her if you have to, entice her to chase you. Do anything you can to get her excited.

But again....elephants aren't made for horse races. Semi-trucks don't race at Nascar. Your Dane can only go so fast. ^^ She'll probably try her best though!! :) Try having the music on reeeaaaalllly low volume while you're working with her. You don't even have to be doing your routine. Just play around. Do random tricks or just play. You may need to teach her to ignore the music entirely--if you're with the music and cuing her in time, then she'll do just fine without paying any attention to the music at all.

Hope this helps. :)


Experienced Member
Oh I wouldn't change anything just before a competition....because you're doing beautifully and Honey will read your uncertainty. So for the short term stick with what you know. Introduce different things when you have some time to comfortably experiment. I tend to be a little more like you than Szecsuani. I want that timing and every move down/fluid because I used to be a geophysicist and I have an endless need for symmetry/balance/timing. :dogtongue2: I wish I had her comfortable spontaneity, so I'm working on it. The thing I had to realize is that my dog has no such tethers on her soul. So my hang-ups and frustrations don't do much but make her go a little slower and look away or avoid a little more.

Once I retired and I was in it really just to relax and have fun and devil care about the detail, then suddenly my dog did care more. I think backing off that certainty that perfection is achieved by regimented control and practice as I was certain it was makes a difference. When you trust your dog to do the things instead of worrying that they may not something changes.

I mentioned another poster Jackienmutts before. She was going through CGC certification with her GSD who has some brain damage from a car accident before she adopted him. So she was worried that he wouldn't pass and wouldn't remember all he learned because he can forget from day to day and he used to be quite reactive. But she had a little revelation and we both realized at the same time that when we let go and trust our dogs don't let us down nearly as often as we fear and usually less often than when we worry about it. This was a reach for me since it's the opposite of what I want to do by nature. :doghappy:

That ability to relax and let go is probably what gives many people the edge in the improv that looks very seamless to us. The reason I gave u Lexi's site is that she's doing the best example I've seen on video of very differentiated hand and verbal cues which several behaviorists and trainers have described to me. And it does work nicely with my dogs. Shakti dog knows both cues and Lexi is being very careful to be very still when using verbal cues so that no other body language is cueing the dog. You would practice by being a statue and saying ur verbal cue. Many people don't realize they are doing something very small like a head tilt or leaning slightly that the dog is preferentially cueing off of.

Dogs prefer visual cues to verbal cues because of their nature. I demonstrated this to a friend once. I knew it was true because a trainer pointed it out to me, I was doing it wrong and when I changed both dogs improved. I said settle to my puppy who started to settle then I gave her the sit hand cue. She sat. I released her and said sit and gave her the settle hand signal and she settled. Doing this backward when I gave a hand signal first no matter what verbal I used I most often got my hand signal cue behavior unless the pause between was long enough. Dogs will usually do the first behavior you cue and ignore all following cues, AND they will discard a verbal cue in favor of a hand signal no matter what the order if they are closely spaced. To get to what it sounds like you want you need both cues solid (v&h) and decide when to use each to best effect. The behaviorist I go to tells me that dogs learn these signals best if you teach verbal and hand cue sessions separately. Don't mix them.

In teaching a new cue you cue the known cue and just before the dog physically does the behavior give the new cue. So cue a hand signal sit and just before the dog starts to bend her legs to sit give your verbal sit cue. When her rear hits the ground click and treat. Work on fading the hand signal after a few repetitions and give her a little time at first to think. If you're shaping this you can move or reset and re-cue two times. I tend to shape for more complex things but learning to shape simple things while they may take longer may be very helpful in engaging Honey and encouraging her to think for herself. My dogs know sit and a hand signal to sit but shaping them to sit was difficult, different, and enlightening. Breaking things up into smaller pieces and using a very high rate of reinforcement can make a big difference. Then chain things together, advance and add as she gets it right.

I realized my dog was reading my subtle hand and body movements far better than I dreamed she could when she would break out of the weave poles at 10 or 11 instead of finishing b/c I changed my body to move to the next obstacle while she was still weaving. Even at a full run directly away from me surrounded by barking dogs with me 30+ feet away she saw me do that subtle shift or move my hand to signal too soon and stop myself. This was enough to break her concentration.

I have the same frustrating problem with lures/toys etc. If have them in my hand the dog brain goes away. SO I let them know I have it but then I put it away...on a belt clip, in a treat bag, belt clip, in my shirt or pocket etc. Somewhere she knows-I don't get it until I do something. That something may be 4 obstacles or 5 tricks. But then she does get the ball and we have a blast and really have fun. This is something you would work into your routine and maybe not do the routine up until a couple of weeks before the date. Then test your theory. Like a marathon runner in training, they do long runs, speed work, and short runs before the big day. The last 3-4 weeks they do only short runs and rest and refresh before the demanding day. No marathon runners run 26 miles the few days or weeks before the race unless they are asuper-ultra elite athlete. Most successful winning runners are doing 3-5 mile runs the week of the race.

So you would have worked out the timing months before and practiced little bits, worked out ways to get back on mark. Then as your experiment don't put it all together with your dog until the big day. Do it months before when you are working out the routine and do it every day by yourself as a walkthrough. You might pick a simulated show date to work toward the first time so you'll be relaxed. Pick a date and work toward it and on that date you might do your entire routine for the first time in weeks. See what happens. If it doesn't work was it because you didn't cue right, were stressed, had not physically WITHOUT your dog practiced this hundreds of times?

Also video yourself. I pick up dozens of really bad things I do on video that I had no IDEA :dogohmy::dognowink::dogbiggrin: I repeat a little, give off physical cues, look frustrated like geeeez so I change and don't notice at the time. When you do all this shaping and you get a good result-then turn on the music something changes? What is it? I'm betting you get a different body language, more stiff/precise, body posture changes from more casual to more that of a dancer. When I do dance my hands are different, head and neck more graceful, expression serene and smiling. When I'm just training dogs I'm usually looking at them and smiling big and maybe silly, talking more, saying good. See if anything subtle pops out and have someone else watch you.

Someone else on another forum who is a great trainer also mentioned she is teaching her dog a hand signal for yess or GOOD in the event the dog goes deaf with age or is out of hearing range, or there is a loud noise. This makes so much sense to me that I want to try it. Maybe you could incorporate this as your GOOOOD girl in part of the dance or after so that in the absence of your verbal praise she knows that right then she's doing good. When dogs know they are right and succeed they tend to try harder and be more confident. That's why when using a clicker research shows delivering a treat within 3-5 seconds gives a clear GOOD/RIGHT message. Delaying the treat is confusing and many dogs start offering or guessing at other behavior, quit offering, or get frustrated and leave.

Is this long winded -- sorry but I find this whole topic very fun. Anyway try a different approach. Break things up more in smaller pieces, reward/praise more often, do your speed and distance work early. Let go and trust. Even if you totally flub the routine you know enough to make things work. You could go out there and do half of it wrong and the crowd would love you and never know. 99% of these people are looking at the dog and never look at you.

I often do relaxation therapy with both my dogs at the behaviorist's suggestion so that both know how and we all three practice how to relax and self calm. The purpose for all of this is they succeed in some way in their mind. If you start from there you may find that things start clicking. Do your work with the ball and do short stints, stop play, more work, stop play. When you do the whole routine then finally she won't be anticipating or predicting and end after a long routine. She'll be thinking NOW??W?W? NOWWW?!?!!? NOW?!??!!? and acting more like extinction burst behavior than rehearsal behavior.

Last idea train with the music on...maybe not THE song but a similar one so that the music won't get associated with your changes or stress.

Just sort of thinking out loud. Not everything works for every dog but you never know until u open your mind and try. Too bad we are not as open minded as our furry friends. :dogwin Keep up the good work. We need more people out there showing the world that big dogs, women, small dogs, children, anybody can do anything.


Experienced Member
love the shimmy

I was going to ask you about the shimmy. We ought to do that as a challenge. I think I'll suggest it. Do you have any video of Honey doing it???


Experienced Member
I have one bit of advice for you...

I don't have a giant breed, but I do have a mellow dog.

I have worked mostly on speeding up River around turns while heeling or for fast pace in obedience/ rally.

When River is going extra slowly. I hold a treat out where I want him to be an say 3..2..1..
If he hs not gotten to the treat by the time I say 1 he losses his chance to get the treat.

This has really helped speed up my mellow Golden Retriever.
Over time I have speed up how fast I say 3,2,1...took out the lure and made it just a target and now he will respond with a boost of speed when ever I say it.
I think when I started I began with a slow count down from 10.

I hope this tip is some what helpful to you. Maybe you can try it with your dog and work it in to get a faster response to various tricks as well.

Jean Cote

Staff member
A trainer of mine used to do agility with a Great Dane. He wasn't a fast dog, but he loved what he did, and I think that is what really matters.