LEVEL THREE (A)
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.
This colour indicates behaviours that are optional. In Level Three, a dog must pass 4 of the 8 optional behaviours. Pick your optional behaviours with an eye to what sports you’re aiming your dog for, or whatever looks like it would be a fun and interesting behaviour to teach your dog.
The dog must come from 40’ away on one cue only, through milling people. The dog may come from a stay or be held by someone else. A “Front” is not necessary, nor is a Sit. DISCUSSION: Now we’re getting into the real world. Coming in a vacuum is a good start, but it’s a long way from coming with real-life distractions.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Your dog already comes with no distractions. If you’re going to have a problem getting her to come with people around, play Monkey In The Middle (this game is described in the Introduction) as much as possible to convince her that people aren’t important to her when you’re calling her.
Start in the place where you normally call her (and she normally comes). Start with one person to help you. Person stands nonchalantly looking at the ceiling (the dog saw this in the Come Game, it means “don’t bother talking to me, it’s your mom or dad who’s paying for visiting right now”). Call the dog – but DON’T use your Come cue or her name if you can help it . When she comes, click and drop your treat. JUST like the Come Game. Do that a few times, just to remind her of what’s going on.
For the next stage, your extra person could talk to her, or pet her, but as soon as you start calling her, all interaction stops, the person stands up straight and looks at the ceiling.
For some dogs this will be a no-brainer, for others it will be pure torture to have a human who doesn’t want to talk to them. Remember, though, they already played this in Level One, we’re just adding a few quirks to the game.
SHE DOESN’T WANT TO GO NEAR THE OTHER PERSON! Hey, that’s OK, it just means you’re a step ahead in this particular behaviour. You can use Monkey In The Middle to balance her more towards wanting to talk to people, but for THIS behaviour, you’ll be paying ONLY for coming to you!
SHE WON’T LEAVE ME! Awwww! The rest of the dog-training universe has NO sympathy for you! Ahem. Well, you could give her a treat for arriving at your feet, then toss another one for her to chase to get her away from you. You could give her a big treat and then escape while she’s eating it. You could do your 20′ SitStay and call her out of that. You could do Go To Mat and call her from there. You could do your 20′ SitStay with the other person holding her leash and when you call her, they’d let go so she could Come.
SHE’S TOO BUSY FUSSING WITH THE OTHER PERSON! Play more Monkey In The Middle. Then play more of the Come Game from L1. Then be VERY sure that your person is cooperating – giving her NO interaction and looking at the ceiling. If she continues to pester them, stop calling her (you don’t want to wear out your caller!). Both of you can just stand there – you looking at her, your person looking at the ceiling with arms crossed – and wait for her to realize that she’s going to get nothing good from the person as long as you want her. When she decides the person is useless, start calling her again. YOU’RE willing to give her a treat and talk to her!
ADDING A CUE: Remember to stop using her name or “the C word” (your Come cue) until you have the behaviour back the way you want it. You have lots of alternative sounds and noises until then!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Add more people, but be sure they’re not interacting with the dog. If you want to add a little interaction once she’s got the behaviour down pat, go ahead, but be sure the people are instructed to stop interacting with her the instant you start calling her. When Dad’s calling, there is NOTHING better in the world than what’s going to happen with Dad! Gradually move further away from her as well, until you’re the full 40′ away. Go closer and use fewer people if you’re having a problem, move further away and use more people when she’s successful.
Dog walks a flat board with a click on or immediately after the down contact. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: Walking a board is the start of many agility behaviours – the Dogwalk, the Teeter and the A-Frame. It’s also a wonderful confidence builder for any dog, and teaches them to think about where their paws are and what they’re doing. I like any exercise that teaches a dog to use or manipulate objects
Before you start, decide what behaviour you want from your dog on the contact. If you’re not planning on doing competitive agility, just click when the dog’s close to the end of the board. Otherwise, you’ll need to pick ON the board at the end, just OFF the end of the board, front feet OFF and back feet ON, or whatever. If you’re going to be using a target to get the nose down or foot planted on or after the contact, you can start this behaviour at this Level and add the target for the next one, or work on your target before you start working on Contacts.
Be sure the board is solid. If it’s a little warped, put something under it or put it on a thick carpet to keep it from wobbling when she touches it.
The “down contact” will be 3′ on the exit end of the board. In agility, those three feet are painted yellow and are called a contact zone because the dog must put at least one paw on the yellow in order to get credit for the obstacle.
EASY BEGINNINGS: This is a very good behaviour for building your confidence in shaping. Put a board on the ground near you. I start with one of my dogwalk boards, but you could use any old board – 8″ wide (or more) by however long you have or have room for (yes, you can teach this in your living room!). Click the dog for looking at the board, walking toward the board, sniffing the board, putting a paw on the board, the two paws, then three, then all of them. If you’re not up to pure shaping, stand or sit near the board and use where you toss your treats to get the dog in a good position to go further. For instance, to get the dog engaged with the board in the first place, toss your treat NEAR the board, or just on the other side of it. Of course you can lure the dog onto the board as well, but why not give shaping a shot here?
When you’ve got her on the board, you can lure her along the board by moving slightly along beside it, or turning your body and eyes to pull her along the board, or by placing or treats toward one end or the other. By placing your treats at the beginning and the end of the board, you can get her running the board quickly and happily.
Walking along the board beside the dog will almost certainly help her get the idea of walking along it, but, like any other lure, don’t spend TOO much time doing this or she’ll need you to walk with her all the time. Think of this as a distance exercise, just like going around the pole.
When she’s running the board correctly, start clicking precisely where you want her to stop in or after the contact zone. Soon she’ll run the board and stop for the contact, anticipating your click (but that’s the next Level).
MY DOG IS BIG AND DOESN’T NOTICE THAT HER BACK FEET AREN’T ON THE BOARD! My llamas have the same problem! In this case, once she’s eager to do what she thinks is right with the board, try putting the board up a little higher. Support each end with something solid – a paving block or a large book. If the board is long, put a support in the middle as well so the board doesn’t bounce. Or get another, wider board until she understands that ALL her feet need to be on it, then go back to the narrower one. Several of my big dogs were too wide between their back feet to put both feet on going slowly, but when they understood the job and got up some speed, they got it. Once they could do it at speed, they could do it more slowly as well.
I WANT TO USE A TARGET! No problem. There are as many contact behaviours as there are dogs running agility. What we’re asking for in this Level is for the dog to be confident running the board and to be rewarded for whatever you’re asking for at this stage of training in the performance of the contact behaviour you’ve chosen.
CONTACT BEHAVIOUR? HUH? Not to worry. Diehard agility people get right crazy about contact behaviours. If you’re not one of them, then simply click your dog for arriving at the end of the board. It’s a great trick and confidence-building behaviour and you don’t have to get crazy about it.
ADDING A CUE: When she’s eagerly and confidently approaching the board, again and again, you can start telling her what that’s called. I say Walk On. At this point, I’d suggest having just a click for the contact behaviour, rather than adding a cue to it yet.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Work until your dog will see the board, run onto it, run the whole board with all four feet on it, and clearly expect a click when she gets to the end. That’s the test behaviour. From there, you can raise the board a bit – put one end on a step, or rest each end on a low high jump. You can have the dog going up a ramp, or down a ramp, or running a board 6″ above the ground. Just be sure the board is solidly anchored so it can’t fall down and scare the dog.
Dog enters a crate on one cue only and remains quietly for one minute with the door closed. DISCUSSION: Now she’s well and truly confined. From here on, the crate behaviour is a simple continuation of the initial behaviour of just going into the crate. This step, though, from just walking into the crate to having to stay quietly in the crate, is a big one. Don’t underestimate it, and don’t accept ANY noise or other fussing in your testing.
EASY BEGINNINGS: In Level Two, I described a good way to get her used to having the door closed while she’s eating a meal (Problem Solving: She Screams When I Close The Door). Do different things while she’s eating – walk around the room, vacuum, wash a dish. If she sleeps on a blanket or small dog bed, put it in the crate.
What happens next, you already know, because in Level 2, you started teaching her Go To Mat. The crate is no different than the mat, except the door will eventually be closed. This is, in the long run, as different as doing Watch with the leash off and then doing it with the leash on. In other words, not that much different. Dogs will naturally be upset about being confined away from their families. It’s a different story if the dog first confines herself.
When she can go into her crate and stay in it for two minutes with the door open, cut your time down to 10 seconds and close the door. In the beginning, hold the door closed with your foot, and treat her exactly as you would if the door was still open. Toss a treat in occasionally, and when you open the door, keep working her as if she were still doing Go To Mat. Whether the door is open or closed should make no difference to her behaviour (or yours). This means that she won’t be jamming out of the crate the instant the door opens, but waiting until you click or otherwise invite her to come out.
Build your time up to one minute with the door closed, and there’s your behaviour.
SHE CLAWS AND BITES AT THE DOOR! You went too fast. Go back to the Go To Mat idea and go slower. Don’t close the door on her until she’s comfortable and understanding that staying in the crate is the behaviour you’re paying for today. When you work on any behaviour long enough, that behaviour will become this week’s default – which means she should get to the point where she’s volunteering to go in the crate at every opportunity.
ADDING A CUE: The cue you use is to get in the crate. From there on, behaving correctly in the crate should be just what she does when she’s in the crate.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Work up to the one-minute duration with you in and out of the room. If she’s doing really well, sit down, read a book, and have your lunch!
Dog goes around a pole 4’ away on one cue only. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: The difference between 2′ and 4′ isn’t much if you truly had her offering you the go-around in the previous Level.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Work the Level 2 Distance behaviour until you have it well on cue – until you can ask her to go around the object when she wasn’t thinking of going around it, and she not only recognizes the cue but gives you the behaviour. From that point, it’s just a matter of gradually backing away from the pole. I like to back up a couple of inches when the dog is going away from me toward the pole. Maybe it’s superstitious on my part, but it seems that if the dog doesn’t notice me moving away from the pole, she doesn’t have any difficulty with a little extra distance.
Each time you begin a training session, start close and move back further. As she gets better, start back further until finally you’re asking for the behaviour from 4′ away on your initial approach.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’S STUCK STARING AT ME! A trick I use is to set her up to think of going around the pole the second and third time. If she’s going around clockwise, I turn to my right so she comes up to me on my left side (I hold the treat in my left hand). She gets the treat, then follows me as I continue to turn until we’re both facing the pole again. Since she’s already moving AND facing the pole, it seems to be easier for her think of going around it from that position.
ADDING A CUE: You may have been able to use your cue every time while you built up your distance, but if you give the cue twice without getting the behaviour, you naturally stopped using your cue until she was cheerfully volunteering the behaviour again.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: As before, different “poles”, different locations, and different directions will solidify her understanding of the behaviour.
Dog Downs from a Sit on one cue only from 10’ away. The dog may drift very slightly off the position where he was sitting, but there must be a fairly immediate response to the cue. This behaviour must be done with no treats or clicker anywhere in the room or area. DISCUSSION: Here we’re using the Down as one of our first ways to explain working at a distance to the dog. Getting this behaviour in the bag gives you excellent practise in introducing a voice cue that will work anywhere, at any distance, and without showing the dog a lure.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Practise some L2 Downs. Get her thinking about Down, volunteering Down, and responding to your Down cue immediately. Then start slowly moving around. Sit down and ask for a Down. Cue a down as you reach for a treat on the table nearby. Turn your side toward her and ask for a down. As these go well, move half a step away from her and cue a down. Work at that distance X5, then move another half step away and work again X5. Move to the side, move away, move closer, try a lot of different positions to show her that she can continue to get paid for the Down no matter what position you’re in when she does it.
Another way to work at it is the “300 Peck” method. Click a Down with you beside her. Move one half-step away, click a Down. Move another half-step, click a Down. Move another half-step, click a Down. And so on. When she makes a mistake (fails to offer the Down), move back beside her and start again from there, once again moving back half a step at a time until she makes a mistake.
Get away from the clicker and treats as you did in Level Two.
SHE WON’T STAY AWAY FROM ME! Put her behind a baby gate, or with her in a wire crate or ex-pen. Begin working the Down standing right beside the gate, working as usual, then gradually move away as described.
Be sure that you don’t use the Down cue until you’ve got the moving problem taken care of. You don’t want to teach her that “Down” means “walk to me and lie down”. You want her know that “Down” means “hit the floor, right now”.
ADDING A CUE: When you start to change the distance, make everything easier. That means NOT using the cue but waiting for her to volunteer the Downs. When you’ve got the distance you want and the Down you want, start adding the cue back in as you have done before – remind her of what the behaviour is called, and eventually start asking for it when she’s not thinking of it.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Can she Down in her crate? On her Mat? On the carseat? In the trunk? On cement? On a grooming table? On grass? When your back is turned? How about when someone else asks her?
Dog Downs and stays while the handler walks 20’ out, stays for one minute and comes back. One cue is allowed for the Down, and two cues for the Stay. There will be one mild distraction. DISCUSSION: Don’t use those extra Stay cues if you can help it. We’ll be working a lot on duration in Level Three, in many different behaviours. If the dog is having trouble with the time, try working ALL your duration behaviours up at the same time – work SitStay up to 10 seconds, work DownStay up to 10 seconds, work Watch and Zen up to 10 seconds, then take each of them to 15 seconds, and so on.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Continue to use your “300 Peck” Stay as you did in Level 2. It doesn’t matter whether you work up your distance first, and then your time, or the other way around, but try not to work them both at once. Get your time up to 20 seconds, then drop it to 10 seconds and increase your distance by a few feet. Then increase your time to 30 seconds, drop it to 20 seconds and increase your distance again. You can increase your time by 1-second intervals, or by 5-second intervals, but if you choose the faster route, be very sure to cut it back to shorter intervals if you start to lose the behaviour.
Add your distraction when you’ve got a solid duration and distance – maybe 45 seconds and 15 feet. Since you’re making the behaviour more difficult by adding the distraction, make the rest of it easier – cut back to 10 seconds and 4 feet, for instance. Click when the dog sees or hears the distraction and doesn’t move. Watch for decisions, when the dog notices the distraction, thinks about moving and doesn’t. Whether your count was ready for a click or not, if you see a decision happen, click it!
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE PUTS HER HEAD UP AND DOWN! That’s OK. She can wag her tail, too. She can look around, yawn, fleabite her wrists. What she CAN’T do is raise her elbows off the floor, raise her hocks off the floor, or roll from side to side. Yes, I know that rolling from side to side is acceptable in obedience trials, but let’s not tell her that, shall we? Let’s make the explanation as simple as possible: pick a position, hit that position, hang on to that position.
I WANT A SPECIFIC DOWN – ONE HIP OVER, ONE FRONT PAW TUCKED! For this you have two choices. You can accept (for now) the Down she offers you, and use it to start working duration and distance, and teach her the competition Down you want, with a different voice cue, in the meantime; OR you can teach her the Down you want right away, wait until she’s really doing a good job of it, and then start working on your Stay.
ADDING A CUE: You stopped using your Stay cue when you began making the behaviour more difficult. When you’re up to being tested, add your Stay cue in again. The two cues allowed in the test are a voice cue and a hand signal, both given at the same time.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Use as many different distractions as you can. One of my favourites is “Stay Zen” – when she’s good at Zen AND good at Stay, I put treats on the floor near her while she’s doing Stays. Pulltoys are a good distraction. Other dogs, other people, open doors, food dishes, squeaky toys, tennis balls – use your imagination! When you make it harder, make it simpler – but you know that already, right?
Dog is able to follow eye contact while the handler pivots to the left. DISCUSSION: So many places the swing Finish will be useful! I don’t just use it for getting the dog back into Heel position from in front of me. I also use it for left turns and the Figure 8 in Heeling, for getting us both going the same direction in agility, for teaching the sidestep and backing up for Rally-O, and for getting the dog out of my way when I’m carrying groceries… By the way, when you hear someone talking about the “Get Lost Game”, this is it – or half of it, anyway. The other half is the right pivot for the beginning of the Heel.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Eye contact. In the Level 3 Watch, you’re working on 30 seconds of eye contact. WARNING: do NOT start the Finish until you have a really, good, solid, 30 seconds of eye contact! Put the dog away for a minute, we need to talk.
Let’s discuss a pivot. Drop a coin on the floor, put one of your toes on the coin, and turn left. Do NOT move the coin, and do NOT take your toe off the coin. That’s a pivot. If you took even a tiny step in any direction, you weren’t pivoting, and not pivoting can really mess the dog up on this behaviour. When you pivot, the dog has to walk around you – that’s what we’re looking for.
Start with the dog in front of you, with solid eye contact. Click X10 for contact, then on the 11th contact, pivot slightly to your left instead of clicking. Click when she finds your eyes again. Another 5 clicks for contact, and when you get the 6th one, pivot again, clicking when she finds you again. Be sure that your body language remains the same – you’re looking directly in front of you, waiting for HER to find YOU, you’re not turning your head to find her.
Play with this and the dog will begin to hold your eyes instead of letting you “escape” and having to find you later. That’s all we need at this level, but don’t skip ahead. If you don’t work to real, solid eye contact here, you’re going to miss out on a lot of neat stuff later!
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE DOESN’T FOLLOW MY EYES, SHE JUST STANDS THERE! How can you explain this to her? Click a LOT for eye contact before you try turning. Be sure that you turn AWAY FROM CONTACT – in other words, TURN INSTEAD OF CLICKING. If you hand her a treat and turn away while she’s looking down and chewing, hey, maybe you decided to quit playing. Maybe you’re getting another handful of goodies. Maybe you heard the phone ring. But, if you click for contact ten times in a row (or 20, or 40) and then just get lost the eleventh time, you’re going to make her mad. Hey, Stupid! We were playing here! Where’s my click?
Or, sit down so your eyes are closer to hers, click a “billion” times, really fast, for eye contact, THEN pivot.
Or, get hysterical when you’ve turned and you “can’t find” your dog. EEK, MY DOG IS MISSING! WHERE’S MY DOG? You want her to come around saying “I’m right here, geez, don’t have a conniption!”
Try turning away fast and clicking when she finds you again. Try turning away very slowly and clicking for taking a single step to come with you while maintaining contact.
STOP LOOKING AT HER! If you’re clicking for contact, then you turn your body but your eyes stay on her, she doesn’t HAVE to move. Pretend you’re holding a magnifying glass about the size of a dinner plate right in front of you at waist level. You can’t see her any time at all unless you can see her in that magnifying glass. Then she HAS to come in front and look up before you can see her and click.
SHE DOESN’T HOLD MY EYES, SHE HAS TO LOOK WHERE SHE’S WALKING! Give her a lot more practise at stationary eye contact. Try backing slowly away from her and clicking for maintaining contact. See if you can get her to walk forward as you walk backward, holding contact. Sit down on a chair and turn slowly, clicking a weight shift without looking down or a single step.
ADDING A CUE: No cue yet, you’re a long way from having a complete behaviour.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Try getting her food into her dish, and when you’d normally put the dish on the floor, turn your back on her instead. When she comes around, put the dish down. Do the same thing when you’re peeling carrots or doing something else in the kitchen that would normally result in her getting something good. And click for contact. Click for contact. Everywhere, all the time, wherever, whenever, click for contact. Between Heeling and Finish, contact is about to get complicated, she better be good at it!
Dog hits centre line of Front-Ray 3 in a row/5, all cues, DOG must decide what is correct. Sit optional. Start with dog 5’ in front of handler. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: Teaching Fronts with the Ray and Circle diagrams is so much easier and more fun that what came before! All we’re asking here is that the dog’s body blocks your view of the centre line.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Make an actual Front-Ray diagram on your floor or ground. Draw it in chalk, mark it out with electrical tape, draw lines in the dirt with a stick, it doesn’t matter. The lines are not for the dog, but for you, so you can easily be able to tell whether the dog has done what you’re planning on clicking for. While you’re at it, make six lines instead of only three (I’m going to keep talking about three, but you’re not a lumper, right? You’re a splitter, so you naturally decided to use smaller increments!).
Stand at the point where all the lines meet, facing C. You’ll need some room behind you and off to the sides, as well as the diagram in front of you. Make sure the dog is in the game, willing to work with you. Rapid-Fire a few treats if you have to. We’re going to be shaping a straight Front.
Stand up straight, arms loose at your sides, looking straight ahead. Let her see the picture she’s going to be searching for right from the beginning.
Toss a free treat somewhere behind you. The dog runs to get the treat. Then she runs back to you to see if she can get another one. If she comes ANYWHERE IN FRONT OF THE “A” LINE, click. Give her a treat from your hand, and toss another one behind you.
Careful now! She doesn’t have to Sit. She doesn’t have to make eye contact (she will, eventually, but she doesn’t HAVE to). ALL she has to do is come from behind you to in front of you. She doesn’t even have to be facing you.
When you’ve done this X20, or 30, or 50 – when she’s coming in front of you every time, and not making any mistakes, not hanging around behind you wondering what’s going to happen next, or wandering off to sniff the cat – you can move from the “A” lines to the “B” lines. Now she has to be between the “B” lines in order to get clicked (remember, you split the diagram up into more lines than I did, so there’s at least one other step between A and B). Same criteria otherwise – you don’t need a Sit or a Watch or anything else, just that she arrives between the “B” lines. Click when she does – and it will be MUCH better if you click while she’s still in motion than if you wait until she stops – and hand her one treat from your hand, and toss the next one over your shoulder, behind you, or way out to the left or right.
When she’s not making any mistakes finding her position between the B lines, you can hold out for her to block your vision of the C line. See why you were clicking her motion rather than stopping? If you hear yourself thinking “Oh, I guess that’s as far as she’s going to come”, you’re clicking her for stopping. Click her for stopping, she’ll always be crooked. It doesn’t matter if she passes A and is heading for SURE for C, if you’re clicking her for passing A, then click her for passing A, NOT for stopping halfway between B and C.
Anyway, now you’re clicking her for blocking your view of C. She’s started to orient on you – on your face or, more likely, your hand. If she’s coming around and looking at your hand, once you’ve got her coming every time and standing over the C line – WHEN SHE’S VERY GOOD AT HITTING THE C LINE! – you can start waiting for eye contact before you click. This shouldn’t be a huge stretch for her, considering all the other areas in Level 3 that you’re working on eye contact.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE GETS THE TREAT AND STAYS BEHIND ME! Work the Get Lost game from the Level 3 Finish. Once she’s doing that, this will be easy for her.
ADDING A CUE: No cue yet, this is only one small skill she needs to learn for a good Front. And when she knows ALL the skills, your body language will be the cue.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Move your diagram all over the place. Front yard, back yard, facing south, north, east, west, NNE, ESE, etc. Dogs are EXTREMELY aware of what direction they’re facing when they do something, so start generalizing this early. We want the dog using YOU as a focal point, not how far she is from the wall or where the setting sun is!
GO TO MAT
Dog goes to his mat, bed, etc from 5’ away, one cue only, lies down, 1 cue only, and remains Down without fussing with no additional cues for one minute. DISCUSSION: Another of the many duration behaviours in this Level. Here we’re asking the dog to hold a DownStay, but as the time gets up around ten minutes, we’ll relax the Down as long as she stays on the mat.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Two things added at this Level – Down on the mat, and Staying on the mat. Start with Down. You’ve got a good Down on cue from L2, and in L3 Downs you’re working on Down from a distance – this fits in nicely with both of those. You can simply ask her to Down when she’s on the mat. Down, click, and toss the treat off the mat. Down, click, toss. X10, then wait to see if she offers you a Down when she gets to the mat. If she does, X20, click, toss off the mat. If she doesn’t, another ten giving her the Down cue and try for the volunteer behaviour again.
Or, you can NOT cue the Down, just start right in on duration. She goes to the mat, you count ONE, click, toss off the mat. She goes to the mat, you count TWO, click, toss off the mat. Etc. If she hasn’t started to lie down on the mat by the time you get to 20, I’d go back to the first paragraph and start cueing it before you click.
When she has a clear understanding that she goes to the mat and lies down on it, you can start your duration counts. For this, toss the reward ON the mat X10, then once OFF the mat, then continue your count. So, she gets on the mat and lies down, click, toss ON. She’s down on the mat, count two, click, toss ON. She’s down on the mat, count three, click, toss ON, etc. She’s down on the mat, count ten, click, toss OFF the mat. She runs to get it, gets back on and down on the mat, count eleven, click, toss ON, etc. As usual, when she gsits up or gets off the mat at, say, 12 seconds, get her back on the mat and start your count over again from one second/click, two seconds/click, etc.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’LL STAY FOR 30 SECONDS ON THE MAT BUT SHE WON’T STAY ANYWHERE ELSE! Of course not. You haven’t yet trained her anywhere else. Stay on a mat may look exactly like stay in the front hall to US, but they don’t look anything like the same thing to a dog. By the time you’ve started from scratch and explained Stay to her in thirty different places, she’ll be starting to understand. Even putting the mat in the front hall won’t seem the same to her as having the mat in the living room.
ADDING A CUE: I don’t use any cue for STAYING on the mat. The initial Go To Mat cue will get the dog to the mat. Once there, she’s on her own. You’re teaching her to stay on the mat until you click or call her or otherwise release her.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: The more she practices staying on the mat, the better she’ll know it. Move the mat around your house. Use different mats. Use mats, and low tables, hammocks, clothing. And remember, each time you change ONE thing about what the dog knows, change everything else to make it easier, so if you use a different mat, be sure to keep it in a place she knows, and lower the distance and time. If you change the place you put the mat, use the same mat, and lower the distance and time. Effort you put in now to help her understand new things will be well worth it later, because, like everything else you teach her, the more practise she has in generalizing a behaviour, the better she’ll be at it.
Dog eliminates on cue. Tester should allow no more than two minutes for elimination to begin after the first cue is given. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: “Handling”, in this context, isn’t limited to just hands-on the dog. It also includes other behaviours to make your dog easier to take out into the world, whether as a pet or competition dog. It’s a necessary behaviour for service dogs.
And if you CAN’T think of a SINGLE possible use for it, consider this little story: When I lived in the city, a man brought his Mini Poodle to poop on my lawn every single day right after lunch. The dog always stopped in the same part of my lawn, and the man always stood there watching the traffic and pretending it wasn’t happening. Then he’d walk off, leaving the poop on my lawn. At first I thought I’d embarrass him by staring at him out my front window. No change. Then I sat on my front step and watched him. No change. Finally, I yelled at him to at least pick it up. No change. Finally, on a day when I had my three Giant Schnauzers and two belonging to friends at my house, I watched him allow his dog to poop on my lawn and walk on. When he was a few houses down the block, I came out of the house with all five Giants on leash. He lived about 8 blocks away, and we followed him all the way home, staying about a quarter of a block back. When he went in his house, we stopped on his lawn and, on cue, ALL FIVE Giant Schnauzers dumped on his lawn, with him watching out the window. When they were done, I smiled and bowed to him, and we went home. I don’t know whose lawn that dog pooped on after that, but it wasn’t mine.
EASY BEGINNINGS: This isn’t a matter of teaching the dog to do anything, it’s merely a matter of getting the behaviour on cue. To get a behaviour on cue, wait until the dog is volunteering the behaviour, then tell her what the word is. As if you were saying ” By the way, that thing you’re doing? It’s called ‘Twinkies!’, OK?” After the dog has “gone”, tell her she did a good job and give her a treat BUT don’t use the clicker for this! There’s a good possibility that with a clicker, she’ll learn to stop peeing when she hears the click – whether she’s actually finished or not.
When you’ve used the word WITH the action 50 times, start using it to PREDICT the action, just before it happens. “Guess what? You’re going to Twinkies!” When you’ve done that 50 times, you can start suggesting it as the first action in the going-out sequence. “Hey, Dude, how about if you go out and Twinkie?” Continue to reward the action.
Now you’ve got some basis for discussion. Next, start putting the leash on the dog to go out. Great, she can pee when you let her out, and it’s starting to look like it’s on cue. But if she can’t do it on leash, it still isn’t very useful. Remember, though, when you put the leash on, you’ve changed something, so start over again from scratch.
BIG HAIRY SECRET! And now here’s the big secret to getting elimination on cue. It’s called a Limited Hold. Instead of spending hours pacing around outside, waiting for the dog to go, you put the whole thing on a limited hold. When you take her out, she has two minutes to get the job done. That’s it. Take her outside to her favourite spot. Try to be inconspicuous, don’t be chanting at her or waving your arms or otherwise taking her mind of her business. At the same time, don’t let her just crouch in one spot and wish she were in the house again. Show her the potty area, let her sniff, keep her moving very slowly. When she goes, give her a treat, take her in the house, and play with her for a few minutes.
If she doesn’t go in the limited time you gave her, say nothing, just bring her in the house and confine her. An hour later (or half an hour, if she’s very young), repeat the procedure. NEVER give her more than two minutes. It’s a simple enough behaviour – she either goes or she doesn’t go, and she’ll take as long about it as she knows you’ll give her.
SHE JUST WON’T GO! Sure she will. What else is she going to do? If you start out giving her two minutes and she doesn’t go, that means she didn’t need to go. An hour later, she might have to go. If she doesn’t she didn’t need to yet. Keep giving her two minutes every hour until she HAS to go, and then she will. Your job is to explain to her that she only has two minutes in which to relieve herself. Don’t under any circumstances tell her that she has ten minutes, or she’ll take ten minutes!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Vary your surfaces. Many dogs get stuck only eliminating on grass, or only on cement. Be sure yours can respond to the cue anywhere. When you want to switch (say, from grass to cement), resolve to NOT return to the original surface until you have your behaviour on cue on the second surface. I once had a training building with a city drain near the outside door. A few weeks of working in the building, then taking the dogs to the drain on the way out resulted in a very strong pee-on-the-grate behaviour that came in handy many times in many locations.
Left about turn with contact. DISCUSSION: Heeling is arguably the most difficult behaviour most of us will ever teach a dog. Contact is essential. Whether that contact is EYE contact, HAND contact, or whatever, is your choice, but the dog needs to focusing on some part of you. Testing an eye contact turn will be easier than testing a knee contact turn, but don’t let that influence your choice. Bear in mind we aren’t asking the dog to be in Heel position at this point, merely to maintain contact! We start with the right about turn because it helps both dog and trainer focus on the behaviour rather than on how far they can walk. The about turn here is a 180 degree pivot to the handler’s right (clockwise).
EASY BEGINNINGS: OK, You have eye contact, and you know how to pivot (Level Three Finish). Stand with your toe on the coin, the dog in front of you. Click X10 for eye contact, then, the 11th time you get contact, instead of clicking, turn your back on her by pivoting to your right. Don’t look back over your shoulder, look straight ahead of you and down, exactly the body position you had before you turned. Here’s you’re looking for a “Hey, Stupid!” reaction. You want the dog to think “Hey, Stupid! We were playing this great eye contact game, and you went away in the middle of it!” If she wants to continue the game, she’ll come running around and find your eyes again. Click! Give her another 5 clicks for contact, then turn again.
There are two ways to get the behaviour. The first way is to turn away FAST, getting her running around to find your eyes again. When she’s done that enough, she’ll be anticipating your “escape” and will start holding your eyes as she comes around with you instead of finding them later – et voila, a brilliant, fast, accurate about turn!
The second way is to turn slowly, clicking for the dog following you slowly and holding on to contact as you turn. Gradually speed up as she understands that she can walk and hold contact at the same time. When she’s done that enough, she’ll be anticipating the speed of your turn and will start running around with you holding your eyes as she comes – et voila, a brilliant, fast, accurate about turn. Which way you decide to explain this depends simply on what explanation you think your dog will understand best. Or try both, and let her decide.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’S NOT IN HEEL POSITION! HER BUTT IS SWUNG WAY OUT! Not a problem. Practise a little Heeling Zen on yourself here. At this Level, we’re ONLY asking her to maintain contact while you turn around. We’ll deal with her heel position in later Levels. Get that really solid contact, and it won’t be difficult at all. On the other hand, if you get her contact absolutely perfect on your turn, you can turn faster… and faster… and faster… and when you’re going fast enough, she’ll naturally drop back into heel position. Click, if you’re still standing up.
SHE HAS TO LOOK DOWN TO WALK! No, she doesn’t, she just thinks she does. Can you get eye contact and then walk backwards with her still watching you? Can she follow a treat lure right in her face? How far away can you get that treat from her face while she’s moving before she looks down again? If you can lure her along with a treat 2′ from her nose, without her looking down to walk, you can get the same behaviour using your face as a lure – WHEN she’s got the behaviour of making eye contact solid enough. So, more work on Watch!
ADDING A CUE: Not yet, the turn with contact is only a tiny part of heeling.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Don’t think about how strange you can make this turn. Think about how solid you can make it. So MUCH of what comes next in MANY behaviours will depend on the dog’s ability to find and hold contact. Practise in different rooms, different places, wearing different clothing. Practise standing up and sitting down. Practise a full turn. But no matter what twists you’re adding, remember that NO glancing around is acceptable, no wandering, no meandering, no dawdling. You’re going for full contact in fast, eager, enthusiastic turns. If you’re getting less than that, you’re asking for too much. PLEASE ask for less and get this right!
Handler lists, in writing, ten reasons why a dog might not perform a required behaviour. DISCUSSION: One of the main things that marks a poor trainer is the constant desire to blame the dog for glitches in understand or performance. Warning phrases are “she’s Dominant” (one of the “D” words), “she’s Stubborn and Stupid” (both “S” words at once), “she’s Bad” (one of the “B” words), and “she’s Deliberately Blowing me off to Pay Me Back” (whee, a “D” word, a “B” phrase, and a phrase so ignorant as to not deserve a name). I left my students once for two weeks with this homework, and they came back with 152 reasons why a dog might not perform.
Dog maintains a loose leash walking 40’ straight, 2 cues, 1 distraction. Cue any time. DISCUSSION: Now it starts to get more complicated for the trainer. You have pay attention to the dog, the leash, your rewards, natural rewards, AND to where you’re going! On the other hand, we started teaching Loose Leash by walking, so it shouldn’t be THAT much more difficult. Those two cues you’re allowed? That’s just so you don’t panic when you’re getting ready to be tested. You won’t need them.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Just keep practising Loose Leash. If you have a show ring available in your training area, it’s at least 40′ long. Be sure you don’t get yourself into a position where you can’t back up when you have to. Take down a few ring gates if that’s the only way to get more space. If you haven’t, measure out 40′ so you know how far it is and how many steps it takes you to walk it. There are a LOT of behaviours that will test out at 20′ or 40′.
The distraction could be some food on the ground that you have to walk past, or it could be another dog or person walking near you. Don’t make this so difficult that you can’t pass it. On the other hand, remember that this is an incredibly important behaviour. Don’t make it too easy. My dog’s done so much Zen she wouldn’t even think that food on a mat was available to her just because she walked near it – that would be a terribly easy distraction. She’s pretty good at other dogs and people working around her as well. They’d be a reasonable distraction. Someone 10′ away, bending over and making kissy noises at her, though – now THAT’S a distraction! You’ll be picking your own distraction. Make it fair for the Level, neither too easy nor too difficult.
Remember your decision whether or not to click for a loose leash as you walk toward your goal. Is that working? Or are you going to change your mind and try it the other way now?
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE HEADS OFF TO THE SIDE, GOING FOR THE DISTRACTION! You know what to do. Back away from the distraction. The problem here is that you were going from South to North (for instance), and the distraction is off to the West. You need to be a little flexible now. The leash is pulling you West, so you back up to the East. Whatever the distraction is, wherever it is, and whatever it’s doing, just back away from it.
ADDING A CUE: The cue is the leash. Stick with that. Don’t get suckered into walking around chanting at the dog!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Different locations, different distractions. Is the distance you have to back up getting less? Are you noticing that you have to go further back for some distractions, and only give a one-step-back reminder for others, depending on how attractive each one is?
ON THE ROAD
The dog must pass the Level One tests in a strange location. Do your best to make this a STRANGE location. If you normally work in your home, make your test “Road” location a park. If your normal training area is training field, do your “Road” test near a mall or in an arena. You’re proving that the dog can work in many different locations.
Dog nose-targets four different objects including a dumbell, on one cue each. DISCUSSION: Most trainers divide dogs into “natural” retrievers, and dogs who don’t retrieve. All kinds of harsh methods have been devised to force non-retrievers to retrieve. These methods have turned off more potential dog trainers than any other part of training. Fear not! It is NOT necessary to do nasty things to dogs to produce a reliable retrieve. Even dogs who have never thought to voluntarily pick up a twig or a toy can be taught to enjoy retrieving.
A solid retrieve always feels to me like a turning point in my relationship with a dog. When I can ask her to reliably bring me something, it makes me feel that we’re really communicating.
The point of this behaviour is simply to get her thinking about many, many things as objects to be touched. In agility, we need the dog to focus on objects to jump over, go through, climb, or weave. A service dog may need to focus on various objects to retrieve, push, or pull. An obedience dog will need to retrieve different objects and commit to different behaviours with others. A shy dog can target feet and hands to improve her appreciation of strangers. Even if targeting didn’t lead directly to retrieving, it would be a worthwhile endeavour.
EASY BEGINNINGS: You’ve already got the dog targeting your hand and a target stick, so getting her to target other objects shouldn’t be any problem at all. I like to keep a basket of “touchables” handy to practise on: a pop can, a pencil sharpener, pen, rolled-up newspaper, old cell phone, a videotape, Kleenex box, plastic cup, spoon, glove, leash snap – the more things you have her target, the better she’ll understand life as a series of objects to be manipulated.
Of course, the dog should be able to pick up any dumbell, whether it’s small enough to fit inside her mouth, or outweighs the dog herself, but for the sake of competition, you’ll want to get one that fits her mouth properly. Be sure her lips have room to fit comfortably between the ends, but the bar isn’t much longer than it needs to be. You’ll want the ends big enough to lift the bar well off the ground, but not large enough to be poking her in the eye when she picks it up. All this is of little importance at this stage, but if you’re going to buy a dumbell, put some effort into the fit.
When you start having her touch the dumbell, don’t worry about where she touches it, just get her going well on the touching. Once she’s eager to touch it, start positioning it so it will be easy for her to touch the bar. Then you can stop clicking her for touching the very outside of the bell. Click any other touch. By changing how you present the dumbell to her, you can keep your click rate very high, while not rewarding her for touching the outside.
When she’s still eager to touch, and is aiming for the outside of the bell less than one time in ten, you can stop clicking any touch but those that land on the bar. You’re shaping her to touch the bar, so be careful not to frustrate her into quitting. Keep her excited about the target and gradually move to the point where you’re only clicking for touches on the bar.
SHE WON’T TOUCH ANYTHING METAL! Ask her to touch your hand X10, clicking for each touch, then put the metal object inside your hand, ask for another ten touches. Then let the object stick out of your hand just a smidge, and ask for another ten touches. Then let it stick out enough that she’s occasionally going to brush it while touching your hand, do another ten, and finally move it out of your hand far enough that she has to touch the object in order to touch your hand. Click for her touching the object, and reward before she has a chance to touch your hand.
SHE’S NOT TOUCHING, SHE’S GRABBING! If this were the “Target” behaviour section, that would be a problem we’d try to work around, but since this is the “Retrieve” behaviour section, we’ll just give a big hairy “EE HAH!”, click, and reward her for grabbing anything. Don’t let go of it yourself, but click and then trade a reward for the object.
ADDING A CUE: Don’t put a cue on this yet. Just let the presentation of the object itself suggest to her that touching it will be rewarded. You don’t want to use a Target cue, because we’ll be asking for more than that in the next Level, and you don’t want to use a Retrieve cue, because you don’t have that behaviour yet.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Get her to touch everything you come across. Big things, little things, soft things, hard things, fuzzy things, metal things, leather things. If you can touch it, she can touch it!
Dog finds a treat hidden under a cup or piece of cloth. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: In official competition, there are only a few areas where scent discrimination is required – a pity, since working scent can teach you so much about the dog, and is so much fun for dogs and people. Teaching the dog to find a treat under a piece of cloth doesn’t, of course, begin to challenge her ability to use her nose, it merely tells her that you WANT her to use her nose. Give it a try!
EASY BEGINNINGS: Start with interesting treats – cut up hot dogs, pieces of cheese or roast beef. Get a washcloth or other small piece of cloth. Put the cloth on the floor. We want to differentiate what you’re doing now from Zen, so first, show a treat to the dog, put it on the floor near the cloth, and tell the dog she can have it. Repeat X10, gradually moving the treat until, by the 10th repetition, the treat is ON the cloth.
During the next 10 repetitions, gradually move the treat until it’s resting just UNDER the edge of the cloth.
When the dog is eagerly going to take the treat out from under the edge of the cloth, you can start asking her for a SitStay while you put the treat under the cloth, then releasing or clicking and letting her get her reward from the cloth.
Ten more repetitions and you should be able to put the treat down and put the cloth directly on top of it, release her from her SitStay, and let her dig the treat out from under the cloth.
That’s it, you’ve got the whole behaviour.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO DIG UNDER CLOTH! Use the same method to get her to tip over a plastic or foam coffee cup, a small paper plate, a paper napkin, or a Kleenex.
ADDING A CUE: You can add a cue when she’s good at finding the treat. Using her nose to find something isn’t retrieving, so use a word that won’t mean she should retrieve. I use Find It!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: If you’re ready for something really cool, play the shell game with her – put down TWO cloths with the treat under only one of them, and watch her find the treat.
There are more behaviours in Level Three. Click here.