This colour indicates behaviours that are mandatory.
This colour indicates behaviours that must be done without food, clicker or other training aid, in a ring or room.
The dog comes from 40’ away with no more than two cues (voice, body language, or hand signal). The dog may be left on a Stay or held by someone else. The dog must come close enough to catch without moving. A “Front” is not necessary.
DISCUSSION: We started in L1 teaching the dog to come to us. Now we’re changing the scene a bit. This might make it more difficult, and it might make it easier. Having a dog held by someone else in racing sports is called a “holdback” and tends to inspire the dog to move faster. On the other hand, with only one person playing the game, it might look less interesting.
EASY BEGINNINGS: If you were playing the Come Game at 20′, start single recalls at 5 or 10′. Remember any time you change ANYTHING about a behaviour, you have to make everything ELSE about that behaviour easier. And don’t use your real cue until you’re sure you have the behaviour the way you want it. So start out just getting the dog to come to you, click and treat. The first few times the dog comes, drop the treat between your feet as you did in L1.
When she’s coming eagerly, put your (treatless) hand out so she has to brush past it to get into position for you to drop the treat with your other hand. This is an important part of the behaviour, so practise it until she’s very good at it. Then start closing your hand on some part of the dog briefly before you click. Don’t push her or pull her, just close your hand on a bit of her. That’s all there is to it.
SHE WANDERS OFF TO SEE SOMETHING ELSE – ah, you went too far too fast – lumping. Start closer to the dog. Cut down your distractions. Make sure she’s hungry before you start practicing. Use great treats. NEVER give her an opportunity to think that you calling her is an opportunity to go visit someone or something else.
AS SOON AS I LET GO OF THE LEASH, SHE RUNS AWAY! Same story – too far too fast. Since the leash has nothing to do with this game, there’s no reason for the dog to focus on the leash as a means of control. If she’s learned that in another life, think what you could do to make the leash unimportant. You could put her on a long line and attach the line to a fence or post. Now the leash has nothing to do with you. Then you could let her drag the leash back and forth, but not attach it to the fence. And finally, you could start cutting the length of it down a little bit each time you play.
Or you could play in a room or training area where there’s nothing of interest to attract her. Or you could let her interact with the area first and then call her (this MUST be a secure area). Or you could reward her for coming by taking her around to visit interesting smells in the area. And go back to doing a billion recalls where there are no distractions, then add one distraction at a time, not getting any more complicated until she can handle what you’re asking her for.
ADDING A CUE: Remember this is NOT the Come Game. From her point of view, it’s a whole new behaviour, so you didn’t use her name or your real cue when you started it. When she’s coming the distance, fast and eager, ignoring anything on the sidelines, and coming close enough for you to touch, only THEN should you start using your real cue or her name.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Ample opportunity here for variations. You can call her with your back to her. Increase your distance and the number and intensity of distractions. Grab her on different parts of her body when she comes. Put on and take off a collar before she gets the treat. Hold off on the click when she comes and wait for her to look up at you, then cue a Sit.
Dog enters crate with no more than two cues (vocal, body language, or hand signals), remains in crate while handler closes/opens door, no vocalizing or pawing.
DISCUSSION: Here we begin one of the most important things a competition dog will ever learn – and it ain’t chopped liver for a pet, either. A dog that is comfortable in a crate is safe in a car. Safe with the grandchildren around. Calm and relaxed at the vet’s recovering from surgery. Not running around the house getting into trouble. And fresh and ready to go when it’s her turn at a trial.
There is a big problem with Crate training. The crate is the best answer for the problem of the pup running amok in the house when you’re not there – and sometimes when you ARE there. Yet there’s a lot for the pup to learn about the crate, and the more she learns the more comfortable and happy she’ll be in the crate.
As I’ve explained in the Introduction, going up Level by Level is the best way, as there are behaviours in each Level which support the other behaviours at that Level. Still, if you really need to put the pup in the crate (and you probably do, and should), feel free to work the Crate behaviours up through the Levels without working the entire matching Level first!
EASY BEGINNINGS: The first thing we’re going to teach the dog about the crate is how to go in it. Once she”s got that down pat, we’ll move on to STAYING in it. This is a perfect behaviour for shaping. Put the crate somewhere where you can both get at it easily – like in the living room. Take the door off if you can, or prop it open. Click the dog for looking at the crate, walking toward it, putting her nose in it, putting one paw in it, two paws, three, etc. Once she’s that far in, you can toss the treats into the crate for her to get instead of outside as you were doing before she got three paws in. And once she’s in that far, you can start feeding her meals in the crate and giving her a cookie in the crate several times a day.
SHE WON’T GO IN IT! Do NOT try to lure the dog into the crate! Tossing a cookie in and waiting gives her the opportunity to go in the scary place and get a cookie or stay out of the scary place and have a life. Hmmm, tough choice! If you’re having trouble shaping her to go in the crate, take the crate apart so you only have the bottom half to work with. Take the door off. If your crate doesn’t come apart, use a big cardboard box or an open suitcase to start with.
SHE SCREAMS WHEN I CLOSE THE DOOR! Don’t close the door. And don’t push her that extra half-step to get ALL of her into the crate. When she’s entering the crate willingly and eating her meals in it, you can start opening and closing the door while she’s eating. Don’t lock it shut yet, just open and close it repeatedly. When she’s comfortable with that, put her filled dish inside with her (by the way, she enters the crate FIRST, the food dish arrives SECOND), then shut the door and hold it shut with your foot while she’s eating. Just before she’s finished eating, open the door again. Then shut the door and latch it, opening it just before she finishes eating.
When she can handle that, try putting the dish in with her, then shutting the door, latching it, walking to the other side of the room and returning to open the door just before she finishes.
Then walk a little slower, returning just AFTER she finishes eating.
Then start having her go in the crate for a cookie during TV commercials. Let her out when the commercial is over if she’s quiet. If she’s not quiet, you left her too long.
ADDING A CUE: As usual, add your cue after you have the behaviour. I use the same “crate” cue for getting in the car and entering any small spaces where she should snuggle down and wait.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Move the crate to different areas of your house. Put it in your car. Try feeding the dog in the crate and then leaving the room while she’s eating. Get a really good toy to give her ONLY when she’s in the crate. Put the crate beside your bed and have the dog sleep in it all night.
Dog goes around a pole from a distance of 2’ with no more than two cues.
DISCUSSION: The first time I thought about distance behaviours was one day when I was riding my bicycle. My Giant Schnauzer went one way around a lamp post. I went the other. As I was lying on the ground waiting to see if I’d get up again, I thought “Gosh it would be useful to be able to tell the dog whether she should go around the pole or not!” Of course, that was a long time before agility and sheepherding, and long before I realized that a retrieve and drop on recall and pulling a dogsled are also distance behaviours. Teaching your dog to work reliably at a distance is necessary to life AND sports – not to mention that a good solid leadout from the start line in agility will knock people’s socks off, especially if you’re a beginning trainer!
EASY BEGINNINGS: Luring is the easy way to go with this behaviour. Stand very close to the pole (or pylon, or stool, or whatever you’re going to start with), with the pole in front of you on your right. Maneuver the dog so she’s in front of you on your left. Rapid-Fire five treats into her mouth, then turn just a smidge so you’re handing them to her AROUND the pole. Whereas before you were putting each treat right into her mouth, now you’re stopping each treat just SHORT of her mouth, so she has to walk around the pole one small step at a time to get it. When she’s around the pole, Rapid-Fire another five.
Start again. This time, Rapid-Fire three, then turn and make her come a step or two around the pole to get the next one. Help her around the pole ten times, then start her out, turn, and wait to see if she goes around the pole by herself. If she does, Rapid-Fire another five treats. If she doesn’t, go back to scratch and explain it a few more times.
Once she understands that she has to go around the pole, you can very gradually step back from it. The distance required at this level shouldn’t present a problem.
A combination approach is good for this behaviour as well. You could shape her to go near the pole – click for being near it, for looking at it, for walking toward it, etc – AND lure by tossing each treat further along the path you want her to take.
PROBLEM SOLVING: Actually, I’ve never seen anybody have any problems with this behaviour. If you have a problem, let me know, I’ll write it up!
ADDING A CUE: The easy way to add a cue to this behaviour is, naturally, to wait until she’s going around the pole, then tell her what it’s called (Go Around, for instance). Cut down your body language and the lure as soon as possible. The more difficult way to add a cue is to divide the behaviour into two – go clockwise and go counterclockwise, and give each direction a separate cue. Standard sheepherding cues are “Away” for counterclockwise and “Get by” for clockwise.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Put the pole somewhere that you and the dog can pass it fairly regularly. Randomly tell the dog to go around the pole or stay with you as you pass it. Work it with pole and dog on your right, and with pole and dog on your left. Work it in both directions. Work it around lots of different objects – use bigger objects as the dog gets better. Can she go around a chair? A couch? A car? NOW we’re cooking!
Here’s a little quiz for you to ask your dog. Is it easier for her to figure out going around the SAME pole in a NEW location, or is it easier for her to go around a DIFFERENT object (stool, pylon, basket) in the SAME location?
Dog Downs from Sit on one cue only. The handler may use the dog’s name to get her attention before a voice cue. This behaviour must be done with no treats or clicker anywhere in the room or area.
DISCUSSION: This is a “blue behaviour”: it must be tested with no treats or clicker on you or near you. In fact, not in the same ROOM. Not MUCH different from the L1 Down – unless you’ve spent too much time luring the behaviour! We’re starting early to show the dog that just because there are no treats or clicker doesn’t mean there’s no possibility of her being rewarded for giving you a behaviour.
EASY BEGINNINGS: You already have the dog giving you a Down with two cues. Now you’re going to drop one cue. If you’ve lured the Down, you probably have a good Down signal at this point. In fact, she’s probably not even listening to your Down voice cue. Try it out. Ask for a Down JUST with a hand signal. Pretend you’ve got a treat in your hand and make the luring motion. Click and treat when she goes down.
That’s the easy way out. If you want a single voice cue for Down, you’ll have to work a little harder (see Adding A Cue).
Now, how to get rid of the treats? First, get them off your body. Put them on a counter top or table. Stand near the counter, and ask for the Down. Use everything you’ve got, just as if you DID have the treats on you. When she goes down, say YES!, and get her a treat off the counter. Try it again. See, dear? Even if I don’t have them in my hand, you’re still going to get one! Amazing, isn’t it!
SHE WON’T LIE DOWN IF I DON’T HAVE TREATS: Clicker trainers, especially new converts, are usually quick to want to get rid of the rewards. They envision a lifetime of wearing a pocketful of wieners, of pulling change out of a pocket at the store and getting two dimes, a nickel, and five bits of kibble, and they want to pull the plug on THAT idea as soon as possible. Well, forget it. Do you go to work and get paid every day for 6 months and then for the rest of your life without getting paid?
Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to carry a pocketful of kibble for the rest of your life, but don’t be too fast to tell the dog that!
Put the treats and clicker in your pocket. Make sure the dog sees this happening. Go to the counter, take them out of your pocket and put them on the counter. Rapid-Fire ten treats from the counter to your dog (not quite as rapid as if you had them in your hand all along, but that’s OK. We’re trying to explain to the dog that the treats are available, even if they aren’t on you). Now pretend to pick up another one, ask for the Down, say YES! And get another treat from the counter to give her.
ADDING A CUE: You want to add a single voice cue to your hand signal. There are two ways to add a new cue to a behaviour you already have. One way is to start from scratch. Sit with the clicker and treats, signal a couple of Downs until she’s thinking “Wow, Down is really paying off today!” At that point, after each click, she’ll be offering you another Down. And you know that when she’s offering you a behaviour again and again, knowing it’s going to pay off, you can starting putting a name on it, so simply start saying “Down” WITHOUT giving the hand signal to tell her what her behaviour is called. When you’ve named it a hundred times while she’s offering it, try asking her for a Down when she wasn’t thinking about it. If you get it, fantastic. If you don’t, name it another hundred times and ask again.
The second way to add a new cue to an old behaviour is to use it with the old cue BUT hand signals are very powerful to a dog. If you use a hand signal AND a voice cue at the same time, the dog won’t really notice the voice cue at all. Handler is thinking “Dumb dog, I’ve used this voice cue 800 times and she STILL doesn’t know it!” while the dog is thinking “Why is he blabbing and then getting mad? Where’s my hand signal so I know what to do?” Remember, though, that dogs are superstitious animals. They like one thing to predict another thing. So you can add a new cue by using FIRST the new cue (“Down”), THEN the old cue (hand signal to Down). Do this often enough and the dog will think “Gee, every time he says that word, he gives me a hand signal to Down. I might as well Down when I hear the word!”
CONTINUING EDUCATION: It’s time to start thinking about other forms of payment. What would the dog like? Could you give her a good back-scratch every fifth time? Or dance around a bit and clap your hands (sounds silly, but mine like that)? If you ask the dog for a Down when she wants to go outside, you can reward the Down by opening the door. Ask for a Down when she wants you to throw a ball, and reward the Down by throwing the ball. Think about all the ways you can add these “life rewards” to her training. By asking for a behaviour before you do things for her, you’re forging a better relationship AND building more self-control into the dog.
Your problem for right now, though, is how to move away from those treats. When she knows that she’ll get a reward when the reward is on the counter instead of in your hand or pocket, it’s time to stand further away from the counter. Each time you practise, go one step further away. After you get the behaviour and say YES!, go back to the counter for the treat. Pretty soon you’ll be working in one room, and the treats will be in another room!
Next, change where you put the treats. Put them on the dining room table. Remember, when you change ONE thing, you make everything else easier, so when you put the treats somewhere different, you start RIGHT BACK BESIDE HER and move slowly away from them as you did before. After each dog’s meal, I measure out the next meal and put the dish in a kitchen cupboard. Wherever I am in the house (or yard, eventually), when the dog does something that I want to reward, and there are no available or appropriate life rewards, I’ll say YES! and we both go back to the kitchen to get a kibble. I also keep a little SEALED jar of kibble near the computer so when I see the pup go by carrying something she shouldn’t have, I can call her over and reward her for giving it to me.
Dog Downs and stays while partner walks 20’ away and back. Partner may give extra cues while away. An official “return” is not required. DISCUSSION: Lots of new concepts in Level Two! The DownStay is the first (and easiest) of the duration behaviours. The glory of clicker dogs is that they offer behaviours. This makes it (comparatively) very easy to get new behaviours. The frustrating thing about clicker dogs is that they offer behaviours. This can make it very difficult to get them to understand duration behaviours like Stays, holding a dumbell, and Watch. And how annoying is the instructor chanting “Click for a longer stay!” while your dog is bopping up and down, thinking of 101 things to do with your shoe?
EASY BEGINNINGS: You have the foundation behaviour. Your dog downs when you ask her to. If she is a relatively slow dog, she may Down and remain in position long enough for you to, in fact, click for a longer stay. Click for one second, for two seconds, for three seconds, etc. When you’ve got her up to ten seconds, go back down to two seconds and start gradually moving away from her and back to her. Click when you’re directly beside her, in front of her, one step away, one step to the right, one to the left, have your back to her. Play with it until she’s really solid and you can walk 20′ away and back.
Chances are, though, that if you ask her to lie down and leave her there for one second, she’s going to be up already trying out a Sit or a trick, thinking that if you were indeed asking for a Down, you would have clicked by now! Must be something else! What could it be?
The easiest solution to the volunteer Puppy Pushups problem (aside from putting her down and sitting on her) is a variation of Alex Kurland’s 300 Peck Heeling. Ask her to lie down and click. Give her the treat while she’s still down – yes, you have to be fast. Yes, you have to be ready. Yes, shove each treat right into her mouth before she has a chance to get up, and click the next Down while she’s still swallowing the last treat. X10. The eleventh time, count to ONE before you click. If she didn’t stay down, repeat the 10 Rapid Fire click/treat and then try counting to ONE again. If she stays down for that one second, great. Give her the treat and do another 5 Rapid Fire. Then don’t click for a count of TWO. If she gets up, do another 10 Rapid Fire, then hold for ONE again. If she stays down, do another 5 Rapid Fire.
So far we’ve just been telling her we’re paying for Downs, not for guessing. Now we’re going to start explaining the DownStay. When she’ll hold it for a count of two, start this sequence: Ask her to Down. Count to ONE. Click and give her the treat IN THE DOWN POSITION. If she gets up, start again and be faster next time. If she doesn’t get up, count to TWO, click and give her the treat in the down position. If she doesn’t get up, count to THREE, click and give her the treat in the down position. Then four, then five, and so on. Every time she breaks before you click, ask her to Down and start the count over again from ONE.
What we tend to want to do with Stays is have the dog stay until she breaks, then we fix it and have her stay until she breaks again. This is a pretty extreme form of lumping, and EXTREMELY common. The glory of the method I’ve described to you is that it forces you to reward the dog for doing the job right, and it forces you to very slowly approach her threshold of doing it right. So if she’s able to Stay for 10 seconds, you’ve just rewarded her 10 times in a row for doing it right (1 second, 2 secs, 3 secs, etc up to 10). Then she hits ten seconds and makes a mistake. Instead of having her Stay for another ten seconds and make another mistake, you hove gone back to 1 second, 2 secs, etc and rewarded her for doing it right another 10 times. Maybe the third or fourth time she gets to 10, she’ll have enough rewards under her belt to risk giving you 11 seconds right. EE HAH!
It’s interesting to see what limits different dogs put on their behaviour. There are frequently plateaus in Stays. The dog might need a lot of work at 10 seconds, then sail right through to 48 seconds, spend a couple of sessions working to get through that, then be fine until she hits 2 minutes 15 seconds. Have faith, though. If you’re going back and explaining what you’re paying for back where it’s cheap and easy for her to do it, and if you’re slowly approaching her threshold each time, she will move her threshold further and further along.
SHE STILL BOPS UP TOO FAST! I’VE RAPIDFIRED UNTIL I’M PURPLE! OK, ask for TWO Downs before you click. Down (up) DownClick. Down (up) DownClick. Ailsby’s Principle of Laziness says that the “up” between the Downs will get shallower and shallower until finally she asks you if she could just stay down and wait for the click. Gee, um, yeah, OK… If you ask for two Downs X30 and she’s still too fast for you, go to THREE Downs before you click. Somewhere in here she’s going to get tired of bopping up again.
SHE GETS UP WHEN I CLICK! This, as Bill Gates is reputed to have said, is not a bug, it’s a feature. The click ends the behaviour. When you click, she’s ALREADY done what you’re paying for, so getting up is her option.
Most of the information the dog gets about her behaviour is coming from the clicker. What she’s doing when she hears the click is what she’s getting paid for. A little bit of the information, though, is coming from the food. What she’s doing when she gets the food has a LITTLE bit to do with what she’s getting paid for. This is obvious when you think about retrieving. I can click the dog a hundred times for going out and almost picking up her dumbell, and she’ll keep going out and almost picking up her dumbell. She won’t stay with me and stare at my hand, even though that’s where the food is coming from. At the same time, you KNOW her Front is going to start drifting to my right if I keep delivering the food from my right hand. A LOT of the information is telling her to go get the dumbell. A LITTLE bit of information is telling her to head for my right hand.
Now to the Down. When I’m teaching the dog to lie down, I want to give her lots of opportunity to offer me Downs, so when I click the Down, I toss the treat a bit away from her so she has to get up to get it, thus putting her in a good position to offer me another Down. But now we’re working on the DownSTAY. If she’s a slow-ish dog or has figured out that she might as well stay down, fine, continue with what you were doing. BUT if she’s a faster dog or hasn’t made the connection yet, you want all the help you can get, so you’ll be clicking AND feeding with her still in the down position. Fast, fast, fast, so she doesn’t have time to get up. If she DOES get up after you click, that’s REALLY alright. If she doesn’t do it all the time, you can just ask for the Down again and continue your count from where you left off (she got up when you clicked at 8, so next time you’ll be counting to 9). IF she’s jumping up all the time, try starting back at the one-count every time.
WE’RE UP TO THREE MINUTES AND I’M SO BORED WITH INCREASING ONE SECOND AT A TIME I COULD SCREAM! OK, OK, dogs don’t get bored, but trainers do. Up in this range, you can increase your count by five or ten seconds at a time. If she continues to do well, keep going. If the behaviour starts to fall apart, you went too fast, go back to 1 second increases until she’s doing it right again.
ADDING A CUE: When your DownStay has reached ten seconds, you can start adding a cue. My voice cue is “Stay”. My hand signal is a thumbs-up fist, but a more common one is simply an open palm facing the dog. I don’t know of any sport which requires a single cue for Stay, so you might as well use both.
Some people divide the Stay into “Stay”, meaning stay there until I come back and get you, and “Wait”, meaning I’m going to call you or tell you to start an agility course or something. In my opinion, a more important differentiation to make would be “Stay” meaning stay until I tell you to do something different, whether I’m beside you or halfway across the yard., and “Wait” meaning put your butt down over there and leave It there until I tell you something different. What’s the difference? Stay would be in the same PLACE, in the same POSITION – a DownStay. Wait would be Go To Mat, or table training. In this case, I don’t care what position the dog is in, she can stand up, lie on her back or juggle her dog tags as long as she stays in PLACE. Mull these over, you’ve got some time. My PLACE cues are “Hit the rack”, meaning Go To Mat, whether the mat is a chair or a table or a couch or my jacket, and “Go lie down” which means I don’t care where you go or even if you stay there, but get out of my face.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Try not to hold your breath while practicing Stays. Move in different directions away from the dog. Contrive to be in different positions when it’s time to click. Left of her, right of her, behind a chair, sitting on a chair, squatting down, clapping your hands, singing, spinning, stamping your feet. Trip occasionally as you leave her and return to her. At this level you can just arrive back at her side, but you can start getting her staying while you walk around her as well
GO TO MAT
Dog goes to, gets on a mat, dog bed, hammock, or pause table from 5’ away, 2 cues only – two voice cues, or a voice cue and body language, etc. DISCUSSION: Wow, your dog is well-enough trained that you’re going to start putting some of her learned behaviours together into a chain! And using things she knows already that look sort of like new things you’ll be teaching her! Congratulations!
Go To Mat is a combination of Distance work (she has to go over THERE to the mat, just like she has to go over THERE to go around the pole), Crate (she has to control herself over THERE with you over HERE), and Down (she has to lie down when she gets to the mat). A complicated set of behaviours, but usually an easy one to learn and to teach.
And how important is this behaviour? Picture your dog crated whenever you need a moment without her, no matter where you are, and without you having to cart a crate around. When I teach a class or do a seminar, my demo and Service Dog (Scuba) is always with me, ready when I need her, but she’s never wandering around distracting people or dogs because she’s on a grooming table or a mat. From the comments I’ve had, this seems like a big hairy deal to many people, yet it’s one of the first behaviours I taught her and it’s easy for both of us. Picture going for a walk and finding someone having a seizure. Hop your dog up on a nearby bench and deal with the situation. Sure, you could ask her for a DownStay, but you never know, when you’re not looking, who’s going to be petting her, stepping on her, shooing her. And no matter how good your DownStay gets to be, your Go To Mat could be better. I don’t know why dogs are more secure with something to mark the spot than without, but there it is.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Get a mat. You can start with a dog bed, a towel, a carpet sample, a jacket. Use the same mat for at least the first couple of weeks. Once she understands the behaviour, you can start playing around with different mats. Get your treats, clicker, and mat. Sit down and put your mat on the floor close to you where you think the dog will naturally be when she realizes you have food – probably right in front of you. The dog comes over, stands on the mat, you click (boy, training dogs is hard work). That’s setting yourself up for success, then waiting for the behaviour to happen so you can catch it. Click and toss the treat on the mat X10, then toss the next treat off the mat. Click when the dog returns to the mat and toss the next ten treats on the mat, then another one off the mat.
Move the mat A FEW INCHES away from you. Click when the dog returns to the mat, and the next ten treats on the mat. Then toss one off the mat. Why are you tossing it off the mat? This gets the dog OFF the mat, and gives her a chance to get back ON the mat. There are two parts to this behaviour: a) BE on the mat, and b) GET on the mat. Repeat this sequence another ten times, then move the mat a few more inches away from you. Keep going.
When you finally get the mat far enough away from you that she’s not going to hit it naturally, she might go looking for it (EE HAH), or you might have to switch from waiting to shaping. If she can’t find it, sit with a totally quiet body and LOOK at the mat. When she turns her head toward it, or moves her body closer to it, click and toss the treat on the mat (the art of training is in how you set things up and how you combine waiting, shaping, and luring into an explanation that the dog can understand). Now go to five clicks with treats tossed on the mat, one click with treat off the mat, then five more on and one off. When she’s figured out the game and is finding the mat by herself every time, you can move to one on, one off OR you can move the mat further and further away from you. Remember, when you make ONE thing about a behaviour more difficult, you have to make everything else simpler, so every time you move the mat, go back to clicking X10 and tossing the treat on the mat, then once tossing the treat off. You want the clicker to keep saying “Yes, no matter where the mat is, I’m still talking about the mat!” If you tell her this often enough, you should get to the point where you have to hide the mat to get any other behaviours out of her. If she sees the mat, she should be heading for it.
One more part of the equation. She needs to be ON the mat, not just TOUCHING it. Once she’s eager to head for the mat, you can start shaping the number of paws on it. If she’s consistently putting two paws on, start with that as your base behaviour. Click two paws on X10, tossing the treats away from the mat. Then stop clicking. She runs back to the mat, puts her two paws on, looks expectantly for the treat. Nope, sorry, not good enough. IF she really knows that you’ve been clicking her for being on the mat, you’ll get what I call the “Hey, Stupid!” reaction. She looks at you, she waits for the click, she doesn’t get it, she frowns, and she shouts “Hey, Stupid! I DID stand on the mat! LOOK!” and in that “LOOK”, she does the behaviour again. She moves further on to the mat, just to make sure you don’t miss it THIS time. Click three paws on, and move on from there until you’ve got all four paws on. You need to be very clear about your criteria with this behaviour, or you’ll pretty soon have her standing NEAR the mat wanting a click.
SHE JUST STARES AT ME AND DOESN’T LOOK FOR THE MAT! Just back up, you moved the mat too fast. Or sit back and use the mat as shaping practise for both of you. And do other things with the mat that aren’t in prime training time – for instance, hold her dish and walk casually around the room (she’s following, of course). Walk around until you’ve “accidentally” gotten her on the mat, click, and put the dish down – on the mat.
SHE JUST STANDS ON THE MAT INSTEAD OF LYING DOWN! No big deal, Down isn’t part of the behaviour at this level. Click it if it happens, otherwise don’t worry about it.
ADDING A CUE: You know how to add cues now, right? Don’t say a word until the dog is offering you the behaviour. When she’s running to the mat, over and over again, practically screaming “Look, I’m running to the mat! Look, my paws are on the mat! Aren’t you going to click?!”, It’s time to tell her what the behaviour is called. I call it “Hit the rack”.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: As we’re going to be asking for an automatic Down on the mat in the next Level, you might as well start clicking any indication of sitting or lying down on the mat. Move the mat around the room (start moving it slowly, or else put it in a totally new place and start training it from scratch) – I want to be able to tell the dog to Hit The Rack and have HER do the work of figuring out where the mat is. If you have access to a doggy hammock or pause table, you can transfer your Go To Mat to the that as well (Holy cow, the dog’s first agility behaviour!). One trick I really like (but can’t use as Scuba is a Service Dog. Her main job is picking things up, and her BEST job is picking up her leash – I put her in an obedience fun match once and it took me five minutes to get my leash on the ground behind her. Every time I put it down, she picked it up and handed it back to me!) is using the leash as a Mat. Wherever you are with your dog, you’ve got a leash, right? If I was going to teach this, I’d start with a very long leash, or a couple of leashes snapped together to make a fairly large puddle of leashes, then cut it back to one 4′ leash. Or you could use your purse. Your mitts. Your car keys. A chair. A couch. A bench in a park.
Using the leash as a Mat reminds me of another great trick I saw once, though it has only to do with leashes and not with this behaviour. The handler threw her leash down on the ground yelling “SNAKE, SNAKE!” and the dog leaped into her arms.
Dog allows the handler to handle his ears, tail, and feet. This may be done on a table or on the floor. There must be minimal fussing. DISCUSSION: No matter what else a dog has learned, what amazing behaviours she can perform, a dog that can’t be safely handled in everyday life and minor emergencies is nothing more than a wild animal living in your house. Cleaning ears, cleaning teeth, cutting toenails, expressing anal sacs, trimming, brushing, bathing, checking injuries – husbandry requires being able to handle the animal, never mind daily interaction. When people can handle your dog casually and completely without worry about a reaction, your vet will love you, your groomer will love you, you’ll save a ton of money on grooming, and a ton of worry that the dog will be lashing out at neighbours. Bear in mind, though, that what we’re doing here is training the dog out of MINOR fussing. If your dog is actually trying to bite you or other people, please get help from a competent professional trainer.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Whether or not your dog is good at being handled, treat this as a distinct behaviour that needs to be trained. You may hit a time when he doesn’t want you to touch a sore paw or something and you can fall back on your training.
The dog is comfortable with you petting her somewhere on her body (if you can’t pet her at all, you need a professional trainer to work with you). Touch her there ten times, clicking and feeding for each touch. Don’t touch lightly – you’re not trying to tickle her. Most animals will accept a solid touch (not a slap!) better than a tickly touch. Gradually start moving your touch toward her ears. As you get closer to her ears, work a bit on duration of touch. Click for a one-second touch. Click for a two-second touch. Work up to about 10 seconds. When you get to her ears, fondly them gently, but keep clicking. If she likes being fondled, you didn’t have a problem, but if she doesn’t, you want to keep rewarding her.
Move gradually down her body to her tail. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter if she’s sitting or standing. Run your hand down her tail, hold her tail, pull (lightly) on her tail. Don’t stop clicking, and every click, of course, gets a treat.
Move very slowly down her legs to her paws. Be sure that she’s comfortable and eager for the next click before you go further. When you get to her paw, hold it on the ground if she’s left it there. Hold it off the ground. Play with her toes and her toenails.
While you’re doing all this, pay very close attention to how she feels about it. Don’t go three inches down her leg if she isn’t totally “in the game” at two inches. You’re not trying to see how far you can get today, you’re trying to teach your dog to relax and accept the handling. Pay close attention to the duration of your touch as well. Remember that when you change one thing, you have to make everything else easier, so if she’s good with you touching her for 10 seconds 3 inches down her leg, when you go for 4 inches, cut your duration down to nothing – just a touch – and build back up to 10 seconds before you move on to 5 inches.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE MOVES AWAY FROM MY TOUCH! Instead of YOU touching HER, try getting HER to touch YOU. Remember the Come Game from Level One? Play it again. This time, put one hand out in front of you so she has to brush against it to get the treat from your other hand. Then tell her that you have to pet her ear for a second before she gets the treat.
SHE JERKS HER FEET! Of course she does, dogs hate having their feet fussed with, especially if they’re thinking about toenail cutting while you’re doing it. Go further up her leg to where she’s NOT jerking, and work slowly back down again. Be sure you aren’t pulling on her leg. Think about pushing her leg and foot slightly toward her body rather than pulling them out toward you.
SHE TUCKS HER TAIL UNDER! That’s a natural reaction as well. Go back to the base of the tail, or somewhere along her topline where she isn’t worried about your touch, and work from there. Or wait until she knows the StandStay and then go back to her tail again. It’ll be easier when you can ask her to Stand. If you want to know more about teaching her to Stand so you can bring her tail up, read the article on training the conformation Stack.
ADDING A CUE: I don’t really use a cue for this, other than Stay. Dogs DON’T generalize well, but Stay seems to be a cue they easily generalize. Once she understands Stay for the DownStay, the SitStay, and the StandStay, you’ll notice that she’ll start freezing in whatever position she happens to be when she hears the word.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Ears: look in her ears, poke around in her ears with your finger, lift her ears up, pull them down, fold them over her eyes (“you can tie ’em in a knot, you can tie ’em in a bow…”), clean them gently with a Q-Tip. Tail: lift it up, pull it down, straight out behind, express her anal sacs (do this in the bathtub, don’t say I didn’t warn you), hold it at the base, hold it at the tip, wag it for her. Paws: pull them forward, pull them back, pull them out to the side (gently, remember they’re not SUPPOSED to go in this direction), wash them with a washcloth, dry them with a towel, scissor the hair out between the pads (blunt scissors if you don’t know what you’re doing)(and remember you aren’t trying to cut the hair, you’re trying to train the dog to have the hair cut), and of course, cut the toenails. I can’t begin to tell you how much more you’ll enjoy your dog if you take some time NOW to teach her to have her toenails cut so you don’t have to get in a wrestling match every time they need to be done!
Handler describes, in writing, the four “legs” of operant conditioning, and the definition of “reinforcement” and “punishment”. DISCUSSION: How do you find out these things? Do a search on the internet. Talk about them on internet lists. Read about them in books. Why do you want to find out about these things? Because a little background knowledge (aside from being a dangerous thing) helps you understand what you’re doing. Helps you form training plans. Helps you communicate with your dog in clearer language. Go for it.
LEASH Handler stands in one spot with the dog on a loose leash. The dog keeps the lead loose for 60 seconds with one distraction. Handler may talk to the dog and use any loose leash cues, but may NOT give cues to Watch, Heel, Sit, Down, Stand, or Stay. This behaviour is about testing Loose Leash as a default behaviour. DISCUSSION: Ah, the elusive loose leash! This is probably the most difficult behaviour you will ever teach your dog – for both of you! Loose Leash is the definitive Zen-as-a-way-of-life behaviour. Put extra time and energy into teaching it to a puppy, and you may never have to think of it again. Imagine yourself walking into an agility venue loaded down with your chair, cooler, umbrella, dog dish, folding crate. And while everyone else is either making two trips or getting dragged in, YOUR dog is walking perfectly on a loose leash.
I have to think that people who attend seminars are pretty much the cream of the crop of dog people – people who want to learn more and go out of their way to do so. Yet the one behaviour that these people want most to learn about is Loose Leash.
What’s the difference between Loose Leash and Heeling? Plenty. Heeling is a competition behaviour involving the dog remaining perfectly in position, spine aligned with your own, watching you or watching straight ahead (depending on your criteria), sitting promptly and straight when you stop, not thinking about anything but Heeling. A thing of beauty, indeed, but NOT a behaviour to use casually like getting from the car to the house with an armload of groceries. NOT a behaviour to use on an evening two-mile stroll. Heeling is very hard work for the dog. Think of it as marching in a drill team, constantly thinking about your position in the team. Loose Leash Walking, on the other hand, is like going for a walk lightly holding hands with your favourite person. You stay together, you know he’s there, but you don’t have to be thinking about him every second. You can look at the sky, notice other people, wave to someone, look in store windows as you pass. Loose Leash Walking is a lifestyle behaviour. It’s a behaviour the dog automatically gives you because that’s the way life works. Once she understands it, it’s easy for her, and a pleasant way to live, because dogs who go for walks get to go LOTS more places than dogs who take their owners for drags!
EASY BEGINNINGS: The good news is, Loose Leash is incredibly easy to teach. The bad news is, it’s incredibly difficult to teach because you have to pay attention to the leash ALL THE TIME THE LEASH IS ON. Argh.
If you have a puppy who doesn’t understand about leashes yet, go slowly. Put the collar on, click for not fussing with it. Play a game with the puppy to take her mind off the collar. When she’s comfortable, add a short leash and let her drag it around. Again, click for not fussing and do something to help her forget she’s dragging a snake around from her neck (oh, let me think… how about FEEDING her?). When she’s used to it, sit down and put a TINY bit of pressure on the leash. Not enough to scare her or kick in her freedom reflex, just enough so she knows it’s there. Then call her, make interesting noises, show her a toy, whatever you have to do to show her that she can release the pressure by moving WITH it (towards you). While you’re working on this, remember that this is a counterintuitive response for any mammal – her body KNOWS the way to get away from pressure is to push INTO the pressure, so when the leash tightens, her instinctive reaction is to tighten it more. You have to show her that her body isn’t telling her the truth about leashes.
Once the dog is comfortable with the leash, she’ll start pulling on it to get where she wants to go. Now we run smack up against a point of view problem. YOU see “She’s not going to make ME go faster than I want to go! We’ll go at MY speed” and SHE sees “Man, this human is so slow, I have to pull really hard to get him to go anywhere!” And there’s the key right there. Are you going to tell her that she HAS to pull to get anywhere? Or are you going to tell her that pulling NEVER gets her anywhere, that the ONLY way to get where she wants to go is by giving you a loose leash?
Look on today as the first day of the rest of the dog’s life. From now on, a tight leash will never, NEVER, NEVER go where the dog wants it to go. That single sentence is truly the key to teaching this behaviour. Go early to class. Go home from the dog park if you can’t get to it on a loose leash. Be ready to take your time. If you HAVE to go somewhere and you DON’T have time to get a loose leash, then think of something else: a) give up the idea of getting a loose leash, or b) put the dog on a halter or non-pull harness for times when you can’t wait, or c) put the dog on a harness and let her pull that, or d) carry her, or e) stick hot dogs in her face and let her nibble them all the way or, g) play tug all the way or h) – c’mon, your turn. Set yourself up right NOW for when time is tight. I will drag or be dragged out to the car if my kid has a broken leg, if the dog just swallowed a knife, or if my house is burning down. Otherwise, I’m not going anywhere with the leash tight.
Yes, your attitude is the most important factor in teaching Loose Leash. Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s get started.
No distractions, of course. Empty living room, basement, or back yard. SIX FOOT leash at least half an inch wide for a 40 pound dog, 3⁄4 of an inch for a 70 pound dog, and an inch for anything over that. Put your thumb through the loop, wrap the leash once around your hand (the same one) from thumb to palm to back to thumb to palm, and put both hands together and grab your belt buckle. Except for dropping treats, your hands will stay there all the time you’re talking about loose leashes.
Define a loose leash as a leash with the snap hanging straight down from the collar. If the leash supports the snap in any way, the leash is no longer loose.
Click X 50 for the dog being near you (if these stages take several days, that’s fine). If the dog is near you, the leash is 6′ long, and you’re only holding one hand-wrap of it, the leash is loose. Right? Right.
Then start walking slowly around the room. Click A LOT for the dog being near you. Not for looking at you, not for sitting when you stop, not for being on your left side, just for being near you. And if he’s near you, the leash is loose. Right? Right. Click X 50 for walking near you with a loose leash.
Now it gets tougher. Give the dog a focal point – something she really wants to get to: a door, a large treat, a toy, another person, whatever. Put the focal point at one end of the longest area you have. Start at the other end of your long area, leash properly wrapped. Start walking slowly toward the focal point, clicking rapidly for a loose leash.
If the dog gets all the way to the focal point with the leash loose, she can have it/eat it/go through it/play with it/whatever. Then start again.
If she doesn’t get all the way to it without tightening the leash, you back up. No, don’t turn around, back up. Back up. Back up more. Back up until you’re completely out of the focal point’s “attraction zone”, until the dog is barely remembering it’s there. Click X10 for a loose leash, and start walking forward again.
As long as the leash is loose (remember, that means the snap is hanging straight down), you walk forward toward the focal point. As soon as the leash gets tight (that is, as soon as the snap moves, or as soon as you see the dog ABOUT to make it tight), back up as far as you need to so she loosens the leash and stops trying to get where she wanted to go. Click X5 for a loose leash and start walking forward again.
Whether you click for a loose leash as you’re walking forward or not is up to you. Some people think the explanation is clearer with clicking for a loose leash as they walk, others think the focal point getting closer and further away is best by itself. Your choice.
I BACK UP AND SHE COMES WITH ME, BUT THEN JAMS RIGHT BACK TO THE END OF THE LEASH AS SOON AS I STOP! You’re not going back far enough. She has to be totally convinced that the focal point is unobtainable from where she is. Anytime you start getting into a yoyo action, back up further next time. Read the first couple of Levels of Zen again.
SHE WANTS THE SQUIRREL SO BAD SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! Wanting the squirrel is super, you’ve got a good focal point. If she can’t give you a loose leash, you’re still too close to it. You want to work at the dog’s threshold of behaviour, not where she can’t think for excitement. A block away (582 steps) from the squirrel, can she give you a loose leash? How about 581 steps from the squirrel? 580? 575? 570? 565… oops, that was too close. Back up again!
My llama studs walk on loose leashes to the breeding pens, because they know in their souls that no amount of pulling is going to get them where they want to go. The GOOD news is that once they figure that out, they put all their enthusiasm into keeping the leash LOOSE instead of into tightening it!
SHE’S RIGHT BESIDE ME BUT THE LEASH IS TIGHT! I hate to point this out, but she can’t make it tight all by herself. If you’re working with a 6′ leash, you have it wrapped once around your hand, the dog is right beside you, and the leash is tight, YOU must be holding it tight with your other hand!
SHE CAN PULL ME, SO I CAN’T BACK UP! Remember I told you to put both hands together, grab your belt buckle, and keep them there? Now put your dominant foot forward a bit, toes turned out about 45 degrees. Put your other foot back a bit, toes also turned out. Put most of your weight on your back foot, use your front foot for balance. Sink your body down a little to lower your centre of gravity. If you know someone who does any martial art, ask him to show you how. From this position, a 300-pound llama can’t pull a 90-pound kid.If your dog can still pull you from this position, you’re going to have to put a halter on her, or a no-pull harness because you need a little mechanical help.
SHE ISN’T GOING IN ONE DIRECTION – SHE JUST PULLS ME HERE AND THEN THERE AND ALL OVER THE PLACE! Ah, too many focal points! You need ONE thing the dog will really want to get to, and NOTHING else of interest in the vicinity. You can’t teach this without a SINGLE focal point. Set yourself up to succeed.
I CAN’T REMEMBER TO KEEP IT LOOSE! Somewhere I saw a device that clips on between the dog’s collar and the leash that beeps when it gets tight. Or hire a kid to walk around with you and remind you. Or give yourself a talking-to so it truly becomes a priority. Or give it up and let the dog pull you for the rest of her life. Being inconsistent about a loose leash will only teach her to pull harder.
ADDING A CUE: The cue I use for Loose Leash is just the leash. I want this to be a default behaviour – one that occurs just because that’s the way life works. You roll out of bed, you fall on the floor. Gravity. That’s the way life works. You’re wearing a leash, the leash is loose. That’s the way life works. On the very odd occasion when the dog forgets, I just use a little voice correction – Hey! Or Uh!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Testing this Level involves standing still in one place while the dog keeps the leash loose for one minute with one distraction, but don’t try to teach standing still. Backing up is MUCH easier. Once she’s good at walking with a loose leash, standing still should be easy. A word of warning, though – don’t put yourself in a standing-still position where you CAN’T back up if you need to!
Remember the beginning of this behaviour was the beginning of the dog’s new Loose Leash life? Practise it everywhere. And don’t EVER let the dog pull you from now on. Loose leashes go in the direction the dog wants them to. Tight leashes go AWAY from wherever the dog wants them to go. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the park, to get into class, to get where you need to go with the dog so you don’t get yourself into a situation where you tell her that pulling still works to get what she wants.
SIT The dog Sits from Stand on one cue only. The handler may use the dog’s name to get her attention before a voice cue. This behaviour must be tested with no food or clicker on the handler or anywhere nearby. DISCUSSION: One of the standard complaints about clicker training is that the dog won’t do the behaviour if you don’t show her the cookie first. This is a totally false impression UNLESS you don’t stop luring. If you spend months telling her that when you have a treat in your hand, you’ll lure her into a Sit and give her the treat, but if you don’t have a treat in your hand, you’ll be either yelling at her to Sit or pushing her into a Sit or not asking her to Sit at all, what do you suppose she’s going to believe?
EASY BEGINNINGS: Go to your most common training location WITH your clicker and maybe 15 treats. Put 10 treats on a table 5′ away from you. Put 10 treats on a table 10′ away from you, and put the rest on a table in the next room. Keep your clicker. Work on Sit from scratch until she’s offering it to you eagerly and you’ve used up your initial handful of treats. Without any break, ask her for a Sit. Click, and go FAST and HAPPILY to the closest table, get a treat and hand it to her. Make a pretty big deal of this. Go back to your training place, ask for another Sit, click and go back to the table to get a treat. Finish up the treats this way.
Now, seamlessly, go back to the training place and ask for another Sit. Click, and go to the 10′ table. Continue until you’ve used those ten treats up, then work with the ones in the next room. Lots of work for you, running back and forth, but worth it to get the dog to trust that there WILL be a treat, even if she can’t see one.
When you’ve run through that routine several days in a row, do the same thing again, but don’t take your clicker into the game. Where you would have clicked, now you’re going to use a word instead. I use YES!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: After each meal, I measure out the dog’s next meal and put it in a bowl in the cupboard. That way I’ve always got food available to go to when I ask the puppy for a behaviour. Whatever’s left in the bowl at mealtime is her meal. Sometimes I add some tiny bits of nuked, cutup hot dog, just to make life interesting.
Take this show all around the house. Explain that ANYWHERE in the house that you ask for a behaviour, you can back it up with a reward.
Put a plastic bag of treats in the glove compartment of your car. Put some in your mailbox or behind a bench at a bus stop, or hanging from a tree in the park. Here’s another place you need to use imagination.
SITSTAY Dog Sits and Stays while partner walks 20’ away and back. Partner may give extra cues while away. An official “return” is not required. DISCUSSION: The good thing about teaching the DownStay before the SitStay is that the DownStay is easy for the dog to understand. The bad thing about teaching it first is that it will be natural for the dog to think that any duration requires a Down. Important not to get frustrated here! This is a very difficult concept to get across – I don’t mean Down, I mean hold whatever position I put you in.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Ask for a Sit, then Rapid-Fire ten c/t in a row while she’s sitting, just to get her thinking about the Sit. Then start 300-Peck Sits – ask for a Sit, count to one, c/t. TRY to put the food right in her mouth after each of these counted Sits. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world, but try. Sit, count to 2, c/t. Sit, 3, c/t, and so on. Your criteria are important here. Under no circumstances do you want to tell a dog that she can move ANYTHING but her head or tail during a Stay, so if she moves ONE paw, or shifts her bum, she’s broken the position. Under 10 seconds, if she breaks the position, give her a Rapid-Fire X5 and start your count over again from one second. Over 10 seconds, you can leave out the RF and just start from one again.
SHE GETS UP WHEN I CLICK!
a) No problem, the click ends the behaviour. That means that when you click, she ALREADY did what you wanted her to. Problem solved.
b) If you think it would be best if she didn’t get up when you click, stand closer, be ready to put the treat right in her mouth when you click. Try 10 one-second stays, then 10 two-second stays, and build up that way until she’s decided she might as well remain sitting. Ailsby’s Principle of Laziness says she WILL decide to remain in position if she knows the next thing you’re going to do is… lemme take a wild guess here, 217 Sits in a row, maybe it’ll be another SIT?! Why bother getting up when you’re just going to ask her to Sit again? ALWAYS REMEMBER, though, that the click ended the behaviour. If you’re too slow and she does get up, just ask her to Sit and start again.
WE’RE UP TO THREE MINUTES AND I’M SO BORED WITH INCREASING ONE SECOND AT A TIME I COULD SCREAM! Okay, okay. Dogs don’t get bored but people certainly do. When she’s reliably and cheerfully doing a solid 60-second SitStay, you can try increasing your duration five seconds at a time. Of course, if it doesn’t work, you’re back to one second at a time!
SHE MOVES WHEN I’M AWAY FROM HER! A real strong point of the clicker is that you can reward behaviour that’s happening when you aren’t right with the dog. If she SitStays for 10 seconds at 10′, you return, click and give her a treat, you’re rewarding her for staying when you’re right in front of her. The whole ten seconds and ten feet distance was incidental. Fine if she’s understanding it, but it doesn’t give you any way of fixing a problem that doesn’t involve you right in front of her. For instance, if she’s standing up when you take the first step to come back to her. With the clicker, though, you can fix this easily. You KNOW when she’s going to break. It isn’t random (if it IS random, you’re probably dealing with an attention problem, or why the heck are you asking for so much? Go back to whatever time and distance gives you ten times right!). She breaks when you take the first step to return? Fine. Click and THEN return X10. Then tighten your thigh muscle in one leg, click and return X10. Then tighten, lift that leg just off the floor, click and return X10. Then tighten, lift and plant that foot, click and return X10 (oh my gosh, you just took a step and she didn’t break!). And so on. And if she breaks after the click? Of course she can, the click ends the behaviour!
ADDING A CUE: When you have the behaviour the way you want it and up to at least twenty seconds, start telling her that it has another name besides Sit. I use Stay (I don’t bother with Wait, myself), and my hand signal is a fist with a thumbs-up, though a more common one is showing the dog your flat palm.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: When the dog understands that you’re paying for her to remain in the Sit position until you click, start doing the “stay dance” – move to the left, to the right, clap your hands, wave your arms, do jumping jacks, turn around. Start moving away from her – remember, though, that when you make one part of a behaviour more difficult, you make everything else about it easier. That means if she’s doing a ten-second SitStay with you right in front of her, and you want to move a step away from her, you lower the time to two seconds, or however long it takes you to take that step out and back.
Dog Stands from a Sit or Down with no more than two cues – two voice cues, or a voice cue and body language, or body language and a hand signal, or voice cue and hand signal, etc. DISCUSSION: Stand is thought of as an ephemeral behaviour – Down people can understand: keep the body in contact with the floor. Stand seems to be defined but what it isn’t: it isn’t Sit, it isn’t walking. The problem with Stand, though, is criteria. In fact, Stand is a very definite behaviour. Four feet NOT MOVING and butt off the floor. That’s it. If ONE foot moves, bingo, it’s not a Stand any more.
What’s Stand for? The classic answers are being examined by the vet and not sitting in puddles. But it doesn’t stop there, of course. Stand is the beginning of conformation stacking. A required behaviour in obedience and Rally trials. Necessary for grooming. A foundation behaviour of drafting. Gives the dog a faster go off the agility start line than sitting.
EASY BEGINNINGS: The classic way to teach Stand is to lure the dog forward until she’s standing, then try something (maybe putting your hand under her belly) to keep her standing. Forget it. This is clicker training! It’s easier than that. The easiest way is simply to catch it. Carry your clicker and a pocketful of treats around and click when you see her standing. This should be fairly easy: if she doesn’t stand, she’s probably… um… dead?
You can lure it too, but don’t lure forward. Put a treat right up to her nose, then slide it quickly down to her chin and along her jawline towards her throat. If she twists sideways to get it, move it to keep her straight. She’ll engage her rear , pop it backwards and up so she can back up to get the treat. DON’T let her con you into moving the treat DOWN – that’s LOOKS like a Down because it IS a Down. Keep it right along her lower jaw. Click when her butt pops up. Remember to get rid of the treat in your lure hand as quickly as you can. Also don’t let her con you into moving it to one side or the other so she can get it by turning her head. Keep it nice and straight, heading right for her throat.
OK, you’re luring. Why is THIS lure better than luring her forward? Because when she’s going forward, her centre of gravity is in a position where it’s easy for her to sit. Luring forward makes her body want to sit. When she’s backing up, she shifts her centre of gravity to make it easy to stand. Luring backwards makes her body want to stand.
Stand is an interesting behaviour because it lends itself equally well to all three ways of getting behaviour. To shape it, simply start shaping the dog to back up. Backing up, as I explained, naturally produces a Stand. Spend the first few sessions clicking either front foot for moving backwards even slightly. When the dog is regularly offering front paw movement in the right direction, wait for either back paw to move backwards. Later you can separate this into backing up AND Stand.
WHEN I LURE, SHE JUST GOES BACKWARDS! Lovely, athletic dog! You’re clicking too late if she’s walking backward – she can’t walk backward without FIRST standing up! On the other hand, if she’s SCOOTING backwards without actually engaging her back legs first, start with her tail in a corner so she can only back up a foot or so. Let her duck and bend and try to get the treat, but the only way to get it off her throat is to move her throat out of the way, and the only way to do that is to stand up.
WHEN I LURE, SHE LEAVES HER BUTT ON THE FLOOR AND ROLLS OVER BACKWARDS! Generally this happens to young, fast-growing big dogs who don’t really know where their feet are yet, but sometimes it happens to perfectly normal dogs who just don’t think of taking their tails on the trip. Once she’s rolled back so she’s sitting on her tail, she can’t stand up even if she tries. She’s gone backwards and left her back end behind. In this case, lure her forward FIRST to get her standing, THEN lure backwards to set the position. Click any weight shift backwards, or any step backwards.
I TRIED TO SHAPE BACKING UP, BUT SHE ONLY GOES ONE STEP AND STOPS! Ah, grasshopper, you were clicking the stop! The thought goes like this: “Oh, I guess that’s as far as she’s going to go, I guess I better click!” Nyuh uh, too late. When you’re teaching a MOVING behaviour, like backing up, click the MOVING, **NOT** the stopping! (And note that we’re working on Stand here, she doesn’t have to move backwards. If she takes one step, she IS Standing!)
ADDING A CUE: Luring the Stand with your hand going under her jaw produces a lovely hand signal that looks rather like an aborted chop from her nose to her throat. Move this signal gradually up into the air so you can give it while you’re standing up.
For a voice cue, either get her volunteering the Stand and tell her what the cue is, or use the voice cue first, FOLLOWED by the hand signal, until she starts anticipating the hand signal when she hears voice cue.
My dogs seem to have a very hard time with the word “Stand”. They hear the S and before I get to the T, they’re Sitting. My cue to back up is Out, so I started asking for that first, then whispering Stand while they were drifting to a stop. Out stand. As you can imagine, this quickly became Outstanding! and I’ve been using it ever since.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: With a L2 dog, you probably started this behaviour with the dog in front of you and facing you. Can you get it with the dog in front of you and facing your right hand? Your left hand? With the dog beside you? You’re going to need a shaped trick in L3 – how about backing up?
Dog remains standing without moving her feet for 10 seconds. Partner may or may not leave the dog’s side. This exercise may be done beside the dog or in front of the dog. DISCUSSION: The third Stay for the dog to learn at this Level. She should be getting the idea by now! Go slow here, it isn’t as easy for you to watch four feet as it is for you to watch whether the dog’s lying down or not! That’s why the L2 test is so simple – beside the dog, in front of the dog, leave, stay with her, just give me ten seconds and we’re OK!
On the other hand, as this is the third time we’ve explained Stay, I expect the StandStay to go fairly easily. Just watch those feet!
EASY BEGINNINGS: This is just like teaching the SitStay. Get the Stand, then Rapid-Fire ten treats in the Stand position. In fact, repeat that two or three times. Then get the Stand, c/t. Stand, c/t. X10. What’s the difference? When you’re doing Rapid-Fire, your hand stays right in her face. You’re clicking and shoving the treats into her as fast as she can take them. Then you slow down a bit. Move your treat hand away from her face between clicks, as if what happens between each click is a separate behaviour (which it is, but you don’t have to point that out to the dog). Then get the Stand, count to two, c/t. X10. Then count to three, then to four, and so on. Voila, a StandStay!
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE MOVES HER FEET BUT STAYS STANDING! Oops, no, sorry, that’s not a Stay. Don’t even THINK about letting her think a Stay involves moving her feet! If she moved ONE foot, she blew the behaviour. Start over and explain it again from scratch. Can she stand still for 1 second? 2 seconds? 3 seconds? And so on, with NO feet moving! Tails, yes. Heads, yes. Feet, no.
SHE DOESN’T GET INTO A GOOD STAND SO WE CAN START THE STAY! Oops again, if she can’t give you a solid Stand, she’s not ready to think about Stay yet. Work on the Stand and come back to Stay when she’s good at it.
ADDING A CUE: When you’re up to 10 seconds, start telling her what her StandStay is called. I usually duck the standard Stay signal in a motion that mimics my Stand signal, thus giving her a double reminder to Stand AND the information about staying as well.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Work her around gradually until she can do the StandStay on your left side. How about on a grooming table? On the stairs? In each room of your house? On your front porch?
Dog touches the marked END of a touch stick with her nose with only one voice cue. Naturally, presentation of the stick is a second cue. DISCUSSION: Since the dog is already targeting your hand, the challenges here are a) switching the targeting behaviour to the stick, and b) getting her to aim for the tip of it only. Once you’ve got her touching the end, you can use the stick as a lure to produce behaviours that you can’t quite reach with your hand – weaving through your legs, spinning in circles, over jumps and up ramps. I use it to get a good show stack on the llamas – their necks are so long I have trouble luring their weight forward with just my hand.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Try it the easy way first. Present the end of the stick to the dog. She might just reach out and touch it! If not, try pretending to nibble the end of it (appreciative noises dont hurt: “Mmmm, that’s good, wanna try it?”), then offer it to her. Be ready to click when she touches it.
If that doesn’t work, get her to target your hand X5, then hold the stick in your target hand and gradually let it peek out of your hand until she’s touching the stick before she gets to your hand. Click the stick touch and pull your hand away so she can’t touch it too. This is the method I usually use with the llamas.
Now she’s touching the stick, we need to get her to focus on the end of it only. Start by pointing the stick right at her so she CAN’T touch it anywhere but the end. X10. Then gradually begin tilting it so she has access to the rest of it. Make sure that she keeps giving you enthusiastic touches. Sooner or later, she’s going touch the stick up the shaft a bit. Don’t click. Let her figure it out. If you rewarded her enough for touching the stick, if you rewarded her enough for touching the end of it, if you changed the position of the stick slowly enough, when she doesn’t get a click for touching the shaft, her next touch will be on the end again. Play around with this explanation until you can present any part of the stick to her and she’ll go to the end to touch it.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE WON’T TOUCH THE STICK! If worse comes to worse, you can always smear a little peanut butter, soft cheese, or liverwurst on the stick. Just enough to get her to touch it, then you can continue by clicking.
SHE QUITS IF I WAIT FOR HER TO GO TO THE END! Don’t go on to the next step before you have the dog eagerly offering you behaviour where you are. If she’s eagerly offering touches to the stick and you change the position slowly enough, she shouldn’t even notice that she has an opportunity to touch it anywhere else BUT the end.
If you want to shape her to touch the end without taking away the opportunity for her to touch it anywhere else, divide the stick into eight sections. At first, click any touch of the stick at all. When she’s sure of what she’s doing, click any touch in the seven sections closest to the end you want her to touch. When she’s good at that, reduce it to the six sections closest to the end, then five, four, three – until she’s touching only the end.
ADDING A CUE: As with the hand touch, pick a word that means “touch this with your nose”. Start using it when she’s volunteering to touch the stick where you want her to and how you want her to. And good luck having a chance to use it – if you’ve done a good job of teaching her to target, targeting quickly becomes a default behaviour – if the stick is there, chances are she’ll touch it!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: A cool llama trick is kissing. I teach them to touch me (and other people) on the cheek. A very simple targeting behaviour. The cue is turning your cheek to the llama. You can also get your dog to target other things – your foot, the back of her crate, or anything else you can think of. A particularly useful target object is anything that frightens the dog. If she’s afraid of men, for instance, you could teach her to target shoes. Ask a stranger to sit down and cross his legs, then have the dog target his shoe, turning the stranger into nothing more than an object to be targeted helps to give the dog confidence in her world.
Dog performs a trick of the partner’s choice. It may be very simple. DISCUSSION: WHY do we teach tricks? Some people think tricks are “demeaning”. I don’t agree. Everything we ask the dog to do is a behaviour. Whether we call it a trick or an exercise or a job, hey, it’s ALL tricks. Tricks:
a) give the dog something to do when she meets new people. Having something to do makes the dog less fearful and helps her concentrate.
b) give the trainer something to teach that isn’t “important”. If you got your puppy with high dreams of a conformation Specials career, you don’t really want to learn the techniques of training while working on gaiting or stacking! Make your mistakes on Sit Pretty, or Shake Hands. If YOU screw up, so what? Your dog never does a good job of shaking hands. Altogether now, AAAAWWWWWWWW.
c) help forge the relationship. Give trainer and dog (and family) something to giggle about together. I’ve known so many people who won’t let their children interact with their big-deal competition dog. So sad. Kids AND dog are missing out! But if the kids screw up your Sit Pretty, where’s the tragedy?
These Levels are designed to teach your dog several fun and interesting tricks, AND to give you specific practise in all the different ways of getting behaviour. Let’s get started!
Any trick at all. C’mon, you can do it! If the puppy pulls on her tugtoy with you, put a name on it: Pull! If she bangs her dish around with her paws, put a name on it: He shoots, he scores! If you say “Where’s Paul?” does she run to Paul? That’s a trick. Scratch the door? Ring a bell? Put her head in the collar? You can do it!
Dog finds partner’s face and holds eye contact for 10 seconds with no more than two voice cues. No body language or touching other than looking at the dog. DISCUSSION: Sure, you can train a dog to do just about anything without her actually looking at you, but once you’ve worked with a dog who gives you eye lock, you won’t want to go back.
EASY BEGINNINGS: First, of course, you need to get the dog looking at your eyes. It’ll probably be just a glance. Click that! If you’re working with a small dog or puppy, sit on the floor or otherwise get down to her level. Make strange noises with your mouth. Hand Zen frequently gets a good glare from the dog. Do just about anything you can think of to get her to look at your eyes BUT do NOT put a treat in your hand and then put the treat near your eyes! That just gets the dog looking at the treat near your eyes. In your training life, you’ll click the dog a thousand times for looking at your treat (usually by accident). You certainly don’t have to reward her intentionally for that behaviour! Rapid-Fire click/treat will also usually result in a glare when you stop.
So, get the behaviour. Just a glance at first, but be ready for it. If you’re thinking “Oh, there it is! I have to click!” it’s already too late. You’ll make mistakes, because her eyeballs are a lot faster than your hand is, but stick with it. Click the glance X20, then ask for more. Some dogs will start locking on to your eyes fairly quickly. For these guys, you can simply wait for a 1-second watch, then 2 seconds, then 3, and so on.
For the ones who decide they’re getting clicked for a glance, work it X20, then ask for TWO glances before you click. Pay for two glances X20, and you should be starting to get a longer stare.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE KEEPS LOOKING AT THE OTHER DOGS (OR PEOPLE)! Start playing this game in a distraction-free place if you have to. The bathroom (working in the bathroom should give you several solitary times each day to work!), the bedroom – put the other dogs and people out of the space. You’ll work up to distractions, but don’t start that way.
SHE JUST STARES AT MY HAND! Well, good, she’s got the “stare” part down pat, now you just have to transfer it to your eyes. Sit quietly and let her stare at your hand. And stare. And stare. Keep your hand absolutely quiet. Sooner or later, she’ll give you the “Hey, Stupid!” reaction – “Hey, Stupid! Did you die up there? I’m staring at your hand! Where’s my treat?”, which is accompanied by her looking at YOU instead of your hand. Click!
Another way to get around this problem is to hide your hands behind your back. If the dog follows your hands, sit in a corner so she can’t. Be happy – when you’ve successfully transferred her attention from your hands to your eyes, she’ll be VERY good at looking at your eyes!
ADDING A CUE: Add a cue (Watch me!) when you’ve got at least 10 seconds of solid eye contact.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Once she has the idea of holding contact to get the click, you can start increasing the time. Count 1/click. 1-2/click. 1-2-3/click. And so on. When she makes a mistake, start back at ONE second. Watch your criteria here. You want total eye lock. If she glances away, start again.
Build up the time she can hold contact, and start adding distractions. The first distraction I use is just wiggling my fingers. Do this when you’re sure the dog understands that she’s being paid for holding eye contact. When she sees your hand move in the corner of her sight, she’ll glance over at it. Just keep moving it and do nothing else. Pretty soon she’ll remember what game she’s playing and bring her eyes back to yours. Click! Next open your hand near her, then close it if she comes for the treat (hand Zen), and wait for eye contact. If you’ve been sitting down, stand up (remember to make time easier when you make distance harder). Work in different rooms and with different distractions.
The first thing I do in ANY new situation is sit down and start working eye contact. By doing this, I’m reminding her of many things I want her to know: a) she CAN work in new places, b) she’s not alone in a new place, I’m with her. She can stick with me and we’ll be safe together, c) she has to give me what I want before she gets what she wants, even in wonderful new places. This is especially important for an enthusiastic greeter to know. She can’t just bomb into a new place and take an hour to use up all the wonderful sights and smells before she comes back to me. I’m FIRST. I get attention, or we don’t play here at all.
Dog stays off a treat in the handler’s hand for 5 seconds and off a treat on couch or chair for 10 seconds. No more than two cues for each behaviour, handler cannot guard the treat to keep it safe. Intent is to present the treat at nose level. DISCUSSION: Hand Zen by itself is good for keeping the dog from grabbing your cookie as you go by, but the real glory of Zen is how it applies to the dog’s entire life. In this Level we’re going to work on expanding the don’t-grab-food idea from your hand to the couch (or chair, or coffee table, or kitchen table, or brick, depending on the size of your dog), and extending the amount of time she can control herself.
EASY BEGINNINGS: We’re building a baby chain of behaviours here. She already has the first part (staying off your hand for 5 seconds). Now, forget about that part for a moment. We need to teach her about couch Zen. Take the treat in your Zen hand and put it on the couch. Cover it with your open hand. As before, let her lick it, nuzzle it, whatever. When she moves her nose away from it, click and FLICK IT ONTO THE FLOOR. This produces the same clear explanation of Zen as dropping the treat out of your hand did in Level One.
When she can stay away from the treat under your hand for five seconds, slowly uncover the treat. If she dives for it, don’t respond in any way except covering it back up so she can’t get it. Hold your hand over it for a couple of seconds, then slowly uncover it again. When she doesn’t go for it, click and flick it onto the floor. Build up to 15 (yes, 15) seconds with the treat uncovered on the table.
Now go back to maybe 8 seconds, and move your hand a little further from the treat. Sit back a bit. Tell her you trust her (whether you do or not – you aren’t REALLY leaving the treat unprotected, you’re just looking more nonchalant than you did hovering over it twitching to cover it up when she blinked). When you can sit back with your hands in your lap for 15 seconds, you’re ready to move on.
Now go back to the plain hand Zen, and build that up to 10 seconds.
PROBLEM SOLVING: ACK! SHE’S SCRATCHING MY COFFEE TABLE! OK, don’t put the treat on the coffee table. Hold it in your Zen hand. Do hand Zen just above the surface of the table. When she understands that, put your Zen hand right ON the coffee table. When she understands that, try putting the treat on the table with your fist covering it instead of your palm. When she understands that, open your fist.If you’re really attached to the coffee table, use a plastic chair or a block of wood to explain this behaviour – something she can’t hurt.
ADDING A CUE: When you changed what you were asking her for, of COURSE you stopped using the cue. When she’s good at the new behaviour, add the cue in again.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: You’ve got hand Zen to 10 seconds, and couch Zen to 15 seconds. Now you’re ready to put the two together. Do 10-second hand Zen X5, then 15-second couch Zen X5. Next, do a 5-second couch Zen with a 1-second hand Zen over the couch right before it. Then 5-second couch Zen with a 2-second hand Zen. And so on. If she has trouble with any part of this chain, BREAK THE CHAIN. If, for instance, she jumps for the treat when you put it on the couch, don’t keep working it with the hand Zen first. You’re having trouble with the couch Zen, work on the couch Zen until she’s steady again. THEN put it back in the chain of hand Zen-couch Zen. Build back up to your 5-second hand and 10-second couch Zen. Note that every time we made one part harder, we made the other parts easier.
That’s Level Two. You’re about to find a wonderful dog under all that fur! Click HERE for Level Three.