Can you see this TV ad aimed at dog obedience instructors? “Hula hoops! Cheap and easy to use! Available for just a few dollars! Portable! Comes in different sizes and colors! Achieve amazing class control and focus! And if you call now, you can order as many as you want! But wait, there’s more. We will double your order, etc, etc!”
Maybe that fictional ad would be a little over the top if we wanted to describe the many uses of a hula hoop in dog training classes. Or is it? Imagine your first night of obedience class with the dogs. Your hoops are laid in the training area so that each handler will have his own predetermined place. You greet each new student and send them to their spot with “please got to the large yellow and blue hoop” to wait until class starts. You have helped to make sure that their dog is not on top of another dog or handler, and you can be relatively sure that they will stay in that space. With this simple directive you’ve accomplished something major, class control.
You have also helped each new student with something else that is just as important, owner confidence. No one likes to feel at a loss when walking into a new situation. You have given them something to do immediately, and have success doing it. Once they get to “their” space, they can begin to look around with some confidence.
Hula hoops are also a great tool to use to teach circles and figure 8’s. Directionally challenged students (and instructors) can understand the instruction, “dog by the hoop” or “handler by the hoop.” It also helps eliminate the problem of one student overlapping the circle of another handler.
When your class is practicing leaving the dogs on stays, placing the dog inside the hoop helps to focus the owner. By instructing that the dog has to stay in the hoop, the owner actually watches the dog! If the dog does move, the owner will return the dog to the place he was left, rather than allowing the dog to continue to move towards the trainer. You can also practice heeling with the hula hoops. With the hoops laid out in a large circle shape, have each handler stand by a hoop. Then send the group at heel to the next hoop and stop for an automatic sit. Wait for the group to be ready, and then send to the next hoop. Laying out the hoops in a “jellybean” shape allows the instructor to stand at one side.
Hula hoops lend themselves well to playing games. For example, split the class into two teams, set a series of hoops out for each team and see which one can get all the team members through the series first. Maybe you can have them do a sit stay for a count of five, then the second hoop is a down stay for a count of five, the third hoop is for automatic sits, and so on for however many hoops you have. And when you teach tricks, the hoop becomes a jump-through-the-hoop trick! For the lst class, just for the fun of it, see if any students can actually use the hula hoop AS A HULA HOOP!
Sometimes you may have a dog that is worried about the hula hoop. Simply instruct the owner to have the dog stand by the hoop. It is not important that the dog step into the middle of the hoop. If the dog picks up the hoop to play with it, tell them that the hoop is for training not for play. Promise them that they can play with it at the end of the class, but not until then. If a dog continues to have problems with the hoop, have an alternative marker handy. A toilet bowl plunger works well, or an orange cone. Without a fuss, remove the hoop and put it away. Why not start with cones? Normally, dogs will lift their legs faster on cones than hula hoops!
At the end of your class, pack up your hoops (which fit easily in any car) and off you go with your low-cost, but truly versatile training device!