Re: Figure 8, try some bigger 8s. Place your cones about 12-15' apart and work on your footwork first. With the bigger 8s, it's easier to visualize the figure 8 as two straight lines and two small arcs. Walk with your knees together and notice what your upper body language is telling your dog. Many, many people tend to drop their left shoulder and look at their dog on the outside post. This actually tells the dog we're slowing down and they will start to lag. Once you get your footwork/body language correct on the bigger 8, start to decrease the size.
If your dog has some prey drive, you can throw a toy in front after the outside turn causing them to drive forward in anticipation.
You can also practice randomized figure 8s. Just throw a bunch of cones out there and heel in crazy patterns. Remember to mark and treat or mark and play when it's pretty.
A lot of people will use a platform to get straight fronts. I tend to concentrate on my dog's head. If their head is straight, their body typically will be straight. Reward from alternating hands. Reward only on the center line of your body, very, very close to your body. Only reward when your dog is straight.
When you get into Open, you will have several finishes so it's important to let your dog know that auto finishes aren't okay. I only rarely do a finish in combination with the exercise. If I do, I count off five seconds in my head. (That was Helki's lesson for me. She was big on anticipation.)
Mental preparation is a big part of the game. Visualize each part of the exercise - what command you will give and what your body language will look like. Find things that will help you get in a relaxed state - some people listen to music on an iPod, some do breathing exercises, some do mental practice. Just a matter of finding what works for you.
PAM Guardyan's Gavin, VCD2, CDX, RE, AX, AXJ, AXP, AJP, TD
PACH Guardyan's Helki, CDX, PCDX, RA, MXP3, MXPB, MJP3, MJPB, CGCA
Guardyan's Kamikaze BN, CDX, RE, OAP, OJP
Guardyan's Kricket BN, CD, RN, NAP, OJP