LEVEL FOUR (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 similar.
This colour indicates behaviours that are optional. In Level Four, 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 comes from 40’ away on one cue only through milling dogs. The dog may come from a Stay, or may be held by someone. DISCUSSION: This one might be more difficult. Try to pick dogs, especially to start with, who will ignore her if she approaches them. Many puppy classes regularly call the puppies out of a throng of marauding puppies, to reward and then release them back into the group. This is a super start.
EASY BEGINNINGS: The trick here is to first get your dog in the game. Get her thinking that Come is the best thing that’s going to happen to her all year. Have REALLY GREAT treats for this, don’t fool around with dry kibble and a MilkBone! She’s got a good grounding in Come, or she wouldn’t have made it this far. If she’s not a dog freak, this won’t be any more difficult than getting her to come through people. If she IS a dog freak, you’ll need to work a bit slower.
Start off with one other dog, a dog that can be controlled, or a dog that’s on a leash. Get your dog’s attention if you can’t get her attention, she’s too close to the other dog, start farther away. And farther. And farther, until you CAN get her attention. This is dog Zen, Loose Leash stuff. If you don’t have what you want on leash, don’t for Heaven’s sake turn her loose and start bellowing “COME” at her! Start in a relatively small training area or a large room. So, you got her attention. As a reward for attention, turn her loose to play with the other dog. And let her play. If you think you have to keep stepping in to settle disputes or calm everybody down, either think again or use a different dog. Leave them alone and let them play. Wait for a moment when YOUR dog is calm. No matter how frantic the play is, there will be times when they’re both tired, or thinking about a new game, or the other dog has the toy and won’t let her have it. At that moment, call your dog. Call her to tell her that you’ve got something wonderful. Get excited about it. And when she comes, GIVE HER THE TREAT AND LET HER GO.
This is a classic case of the dog having her cake and eating it too or having her play and eating the treat. You aren’t making her decide between you and the other dog, you’re only asking her to come over here for a sec and get a treat. Before you actually catch her and put the leash on, you should have called her at least a dozen times, and she should be getting tired. Once you’ve got that handled, you’ll need a couple of dogs to play with, both under the same kind of control that the first one was. In fact one of them can be the first one, just add a second one to the mix. And, when you have her coming again, add a third, and so on.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE JUST WON’T COME! This can’t be a problem with her coming, because she came in all the Levels below this one. So it must be a problem with the dogs. If you have to, put your dog in one area, and the other dog in an adjacent area, then go back to working the Come right from the beginning as you did in Levels One and Two.
ADDING A CUE: As always, don’t use your REAL cue until you know she’s going to come. There are lots of ways of calling a dog without using your precious “I really need you!” cue. Start adding your real cue when she’s barreling toward you as fast as her little legs can carry her.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Slowly add lots of dogs, more people, children, maybe a bicycle or skateboard, until she’ll come no matter what else is going on. At that point, everyone you know is either green with envy or really, really hates you.
Dog walks a flat board, stops on, in the middle of, or after, down contact on his own. Dog’s contact behaviour must be determined before testing. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: The only difference between this and the previous Level is that here we’re asking the dog to give you whatever contact behaviour you’ve picked. If you haven’t picked one, now’s the time. Choices are two front feet on the ground, two back feet on the contact OR running through the contact heading for a small target placed on the ground out a bit from the contact OR lying down on the contact OR lying down on the ground just past the contact OR stopping and standing on the contact OR stopping and standing on the ground just past the contact OR doing a running contact with the head down – lots of choices, and it probably doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as long as you choose one – and my advice would be to choose one and STICK WITH IT. Scuba learned six different ways to do contacts and ultimately doesn’t have a CLUE what to do with them.. What we’re looking for here is that the dog knows she has to do something specific at the end of the board, and does it.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Put out your target if you’re going to use one, and click a billion times for the dog running the board and touching the target. Or put food on it and let her run the board and get the food.
Or click a billion times for her merely arriving in the contact zone or on the ground after it, or for having two-on-two-off, or whatever you’ve decided. If you’re going for a position like this, let the dog run the board to the position, click for the position, deliver the treat with her in the position, and then click maybe five more times in that position, so you get six click/treats for each run and you’re doing a lot to emphasize the position.
Once you’ve done a billion reps of your chosen behaviour, let her run the board once and you DO NOTHING. If she gives you the desired contact behaviour, click it! If she doesn’t, you’ll have to practise it another billion times, then try again.
PROBLEM SOLVING: I STILL CAN’T DECIDE WHAT BEHAVIOUR TO CLICK FOR! I had the same problem. In fact, I had the same problem for eight years, during which I trained every single possible way of dealing with the contacts. I settle on the “shepherd method”. That is, I’m asking her to stop in the contact zone. That’s all, just stop. If I know she’s thinking of stopping (and is therefore for SURE going to hit the contact zone with at least one paw), I can tell her to do the next obstacle before she ever gets to the contact. That way, there isn’t any pause at all on the contact because I’m telling her to move on before she actually stops. On the other hand, if I think she’s going to leap right over the contact and NOT touch it, I can tell her to lie down on it to emphasize it. You’ll see many agility handlers making the dog wait on a contact in the first run of the day in order to emphasize the importance of hitting it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
ADDING A CUE: The main cue for the contact is the contact itself. You want the dog to hit her contacts without you having to babysit them. If you’re planning on running agility, however, you’ll appreciate the control of a cue word so you can remind the dog if you think she might miss the contact in her enthusiasm. Bottom, Floor, There, Hit It, Please, Wait, and YOU STAY THERE YOU KERFLUSHINNER DOG! are all common cues.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: This is a very important distance behaviour in agility. If you’re going to be running agility, having excellent solid contacts is one of the hardest and most useful things you’ll have to teach (next to good fast weaves!).
Dog enters the crate on one cue and remains quiet for 2 minutes with the door closed. DISCUSSION: Two minutes is about the amount of time it takes to make a cup of coffee. Or use the time to take out the garbage or clean out your junk drawer. Practise three or four times a day for best results.
EASY BEGINNINGS: All you’re doing is extending the duration of the behaviour. This is a perfect 300-Peck behaviour: She’s already up to one minute, so start at maybe 50 seconds and go up in 5-second increments. Work for a few days with her volunteering to go in the crate and you not closing the door. That makes this a Go To Mat behaviour, only you’re using the crate instead of a mat.
Remember your criteria. It isn’t enough that the dog is in the crate. She must be relaxed in the crate, thinking about getting her reward rather than how soon she can get out.
Say you get up to 90 seconds in the first few days. Then cut back to 50 seconds again, and start closing the door while she’s in there. Work up to 90 seconds again.
Start from 90 seconds and work to 2 minutes with the door open, then start back at 90 again and work up to 2 minutes with it closed.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE CLAWS/BITES/WHINES/BARKS/HOWLS AT THE DOOR! You went too fast. Go back to the Go To Mat idea and go slower. You canNOT ask for a longer time until you have the behaviour you WANT. Little errors you made in the previous level are coming now to haunt you. Go back to the beginning and concentrate on your exact criteria – calm, reasonable, quiet, relaxed acceptance of being in the crate.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Put the crate in different locations – car, front yard, training building, friend’s house. Do different things while she’s in the crate – do the dishes, sweep the floor, read a book, watch TV, ride your exercise bike, do jumping jacks, pet/play with another dog, bounce a ball.
Dog goes around a pole 10’ away on one cue only. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: At 10′, your dog now needs to seek out the pole and commit to going around it, as it isn’t right in front of her any more. She’s starting to be ready for doing other distance behaviours such as jumps, retrieving, tunnels, gobacks.
EASY BEGINNINGS: You’ve got this behaviour at 4′. From here on, it’s just a matter of adding distance. Distance can be added exactly the same way you add duration – one small step at a time.
Get the dog offering to go 4′ readily. Work this 5 times, then start backing away from the pole 6″ at a time, so the 6th repetition will be 4.5′, the next 5′, the next 5.5′, etc. When she makes a mistake, take her back to working 4′ with no trouble and start moving back again.
To save time, I move back while the dog is going forward, so if I’m sending her from 5′, I’m receiving her at 5.5′, sending her from 5.5′, receiving her from 6′.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’S STUCK AT 8′! Every duration or distance behaviour is liable to produce plateaus where it seems the dog will be stuck forever. Don’t get frustrated. Keep everything else exactly the same – same training area, same object, same direction – to give her the confidence she needs to take the next step. Be careful that you don’t get in the habit of chanting a useless cue or making continuing gestures. Just go back to what she CAN give you and work up slowly. Every time she makes a mistake, go back to where she’s confident and work back up again a step at a time.
ADDING A CUE: As always, stop using your cue when you’re increasing the difficulty. Add the cue back in when she’s volunteering the finished behaviour as you want it, when you want, where you want it.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Play “Around The Clock” with the pole – send her to the pole from north, south, east, west, and all directions in between. Remember to shorten the distance when you change the direction. Continue to play with sending her around various objects. How about another dog? A cat? Bunny in a cage? A food dish? Exercise pen? Bait on the floor?
The dog Downs from a Stand on one cue only. This behaviour must be done with no treats or clicker anywhere in the room or area. DISCUSSION: The difficulty here is that many dogs don’t learn Down as a behaviour, but merely as one-step-down-from-where-I-was. So they think Down from Sit means Down, but Down from Stand means Sit. If this behaviour takes little further training on your part, congratulations. If it takes a lot of work, consider it a good lesson in communication. The dog rarely sees something from your point of view the first time you explain it to her!
EASY BEGINNINGS: Don’t get stuck in the trap of chanting Down!, getting a Sit from Stand, then chanting Down! again to get the real thing. Remember, when you make something harder, or change something, you stop using the cue until you’ve got the new behaviour as you want it.
As we get into more and more advanced behaviours, there will be more and more different ways to achieve your goals. How to get the dog to Down from standing?
You could get her started on Downs from Sit, to the point where she’s volunteering them. As you click for each one, toss the treat far enough away from her that she has to get up to get it. As she comes back to you and offers you another Down – hey, she was giving you a Down from standing up! From there it’s just a matter of adding the cue back in.
You could lure her down with a treat or target pulling her nose down and back between her front legs. This is a classic way of teaching a bow, but if you’ve started with a volunteer Down from Sit and moved to the lure, she’ll figure out eventually that you want ALL the parts down, not just the elbows.
You could just click when she lies down while she’s wandering around the house, and add a cue to it when she’s volunteering it.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE WON’T GO DOWN UNLESS SHE’S SITTING FIRST! You’re trying to go from where you were to where you want to be. Down from Stand is a COMPLETELY different behaviour than Down from Sit. PLEASE go back to the top of this section and start from scratch!
ADDING A CUE: Only when she’s volunteering the behaviour. It’s a HUGE temptation to build in two cues here – one “Down” meaning Sit, and a second “Down” meaning Down. Roll up a newspaper, nice and tight now, and smack yourself in the forehead with it when (WHEN, not IF) you find yourself doing this.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Different locations, different directions, different surfaces.
Dog Downs and Stays for 3 minutes while the handler walks 40’ away, turns and faces the dog, and makes a formal Return. There will be two distractions. DISCUSSION: Four things to work on here – more distance, more time, another distraction, and walking around behind the dog to get back into Heel position.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Distance and time work up alternately as you did before: build time to 90 seconds at 20′, then cut back to 60 seconds and start increasing your distance. When you’ve got 60 seconds at 30 feet, cut back to 20 feet and gradually increase your time to 2 minutes, and so on, until you’ve reached the required 3 minutes and 40′.
You’ll need extra time to throw in another distraction, so make the initial distance less and make the distractions lighter. Build up the distance again gradually as you make the distractions more appealing. Remember to watch for and click the correct decisions the dog makes about staying instead of galloping off.
The formal Return in obedience competition is the same for the SitStay, DownStay, and StandStay at all levels. With the dog in a Stay, you walk toward her, go to your right to get behind her, and come up into heel position with her on your left. You’ve spent a great deal of time now rewarding the dog for keeping her eyes on you. It’s unlikely she’s going to let you “escape” around behind her without pivoting to watch you go around, so try this: start with a SitStay. Stand in front of her, about 3′ away from her. Step to your left, click when she hasn’t yet moved a foot. Start again. Step to your right, click when she hasn’t yet moved a foot. When she understands that, take two steps to the left or right. This is a 300-Peck opportunity. Work to see how far you can get to the left or right without her moving a front foot. When she fails, cut back to an easy distance and start again. Take this up to about 10′ to either side, then start a slightly different explanation. From 2′ in front of her, start stepping to the side AND towards her tail. One diagonal step to the right, click and return to the front. One diagonal step to the left, click and return to the front. Then two steps, then three steps. Again, when she fails, go back to the beginning and explain again that the object is for her to keep her front feet still.
When you’ve reach the point where you can move to her hip to either side, at some point when you’ve stepped to her left hip, simply take that one additional step around her tail and come up on her right side. Click anytime in here – click when you’re directly behind her and she hasn’t moved a foot. Click when you’ve come around and you’re at her right hip. Click when you’ve come around and are stepping into heel position. And finally, click when you can walk around her and stand in heel position for a few seconds without her moving. (By the way, you KNOW that each of those clicks is followed immediately by a treat, right? And each of those clicks is a release, if she chooses to be released.)
Now let’s put the whole thing together. Put her in a SitStay and go out to 3′ in front of her. Turn and face her. Put a treat in your LEFT hand. Move forward and to your right. Give her the treat as you pass her (withOUT clicking, this isn’t a release) to remind her that she’s doing the right thing. Walk around behind her and come up into heel position. Count to 5 before you release her.
PROBLEM SOLVING: HEY WAIT A MINUTE, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE DOWNSTAY! Yeah, I know, but in the SitStay it’s easier to reach her mouth without her moving, so I start teaching the formal return with that. Once she’s got the formal return for the SitStay, you can easily add it to the DownStay, and without so much bending on your part. Just run through the whole thing from scratch with her in a DownStay. It won’t take nearly as long as the first explanation did.
ADDING A CUE: As usual, you stopped using the Stay cue when you started explaining the new and more difficult parts of the exercise, but once she’s steady with you going around her, you can start using it again.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Try returning to your left, coming up on her with her in heel position on your RIGHT side. Try making BIG circles around her. Try making really tight crowded circles around her. Try stepping over her. Do your DownStays in different locations. In preparation for Level Five, do some in places where she can still see most but not all of you. Do Stays in high traffic areas (people and dogs, for Heaven’s sake, NOT cars and trucks!)
Dog swings into Heel while handler pivots, voice cues only. DISCUSSION: We continue what the dog learned in Level Three, but now you need her to finish the job you started by swinging all the way into Heel position.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Get a stick – your touchstick, a broom, or cane. Put one end of the stick on your stomach, with the other end sticking straight out away from you. Pivot left. Notice that the far end of the stick moves a lot faster than the near end? That’s what we want the dog to do. The eye contact will anchor the dog’s head right in front of you, and her tail will have to move much faster to keep up.
Let’s define heel position before we go any further. When the dog is in heel position, she’s very close to you – as close as she can be, really, without touching you. Her head-to-shoulder area is even with your hip (or the side seam on your pants), and her spine is in a straight line pointing in the same direction as yours (except her head is probably turned toward you, which is fine). For large dogs, YOU get to pick whether you want her head, her neck, or her shoulders even with your hip, but whatever you choose, she has to hold on to it. She can’t be wobbling around with her head there sometimes and sometimes her shoulder there. So that’s what we’re looking for. How do we get there?
In Level Three, you asked the dog to simply come around with you when you pivoted to the left. We’re going to continue that, but now we need her to come ALL the way into heel position. This isn’t a new behaviour, it’s just more of the same one. Get eye contact, pivot, click when she’s coming with you and her rear is moving faster than her front. This is a duration-type behaviour, so it’s a good place for 300-Peck – pivot, click when her butt swings past a certain point on your left. Start again, pivot, click when her butt swings an inch further than it did the last time. Then another inch. And another, and another. When she fails, start again at an easy point.
When she finally hits heel position, you can alternate between two responses. Initially, of course, you click her for finding it. Then you can start asking her to Sit in heel position before you click. And/or you can jump forward into a short Heeling routine as soon as she finds heel position. This is especially rewarding for dogs that like moving better than sitting.
Heel position is a place where an obedience dog, Rally dog, agility dog, drafting dog, water dog, tracking dog, Service Dog, and yes, conformation dog, is going to spend a lot of time. “Home base” as it were, so I need the dog to be completely comfortable and at home there. If you’re in agility and you’re starting to get worried about the right side, you can work that too. Right side heel position is the summer cottage – she needs to be comfortable there too, but the left side is home.
I need at least one other way to explain home base, so I’m just going to ask her to Sit, move myself so she’s in heel position, and RapidFire X10 for her sitting in position. I’m going to do that once a day until she knows it’s home and is looking for that position any time she gets near it.
And I’m going to occasionally be ahead of the dog and reward her when she finds heel position by just coming up and making eye contact.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE SWINGS PARTWAY, THEN SHE STOPS! Your criteria is wrong. You’ve been pivoting, watching her swing partway with you. Then she stops, you think “Oh, I guess that’s as far as she’s going to go this time!” and you click. But you’re clicking for STOPPING, not for SWINGING. You MUST click when she’s MOVING if you want her to continue moving!
ADDING A CUE: Not yet. Wait for it. This is a VERY complicated behaviour!
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Any way you can think of to explain how good heel position is will help. Pet her in heel position. Feed her there. Get her sitting there before you let her outside. When you’ve got her pivoting all the way into heel position, you can start cutting down on how much movement you have to make in order to get the swing.
Dog hits the bullseye of a Front-Circle three times in a row with no more than 4 tries. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: Working the Front-Ray diagram teaches the dog to be straight in front of you. Working the Front-Circle teaches her to be close to you. Get them both solid to go on to Level Five!
EASY BEGINNINGS: Draw the bullseye diagram. Again, the diagram is for you, not for the dog. It can be done in chalk, duct tape, lines drawn in the dirt – my floors are 8″ tiles, so I have lines drawn already, and 8″ apart is a good working distance. Working the Front-Circle diagram is another exercise in shaping. As you did with the Front-Ray diagram, you’ll start standing up straight, arms at your sides, clicker in one hand and treats in the other, your toes just inside the centre ring of the bullseye. Toss a treat out away from you to get the dog started. She runs to get it, then starts back toward you. When she’s STILL MOVING and her front feet cross over the A line, click. If you’re purely into shaping, toss the treat behind her so she can start again. If you’d like all the help you can get, give her a treat from your hand after you click, then toss another treat behind her. Work ten times on the A line, then put off clicking to see if she’ll cross the B line. Of course, as before, three lines in this diagram is lumping. You’ll have many more lines, much closer together, in your own diagram. If she crosses the B line, work that 10 times, then try for the next one. If she doesn’t, work the A line another 10 times and try again.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE WON’T COME ANY FURTHER FORWARD THAN THE A LINE! Two things. First, watch what you’re doing. You’re clicking her when she’s crossed the A line and already stopped walking forward. She thinks you’re clicking her for standing that far away from you. You HAVE to click when she’s still moving, even if, at this point, it means clicking her OUTside the A line. Click for movement, not for standing still.
Second, if she’s stopping, when you click, give her that treat from hand to mouth and toss a second one out behind her. Combine those two suggestions and get her moving again.
ADDING A CUE: Nothing at all yet. Let your posture and clicker speak for you.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: As before, move the diagram around the house and yard, different locations, different directions. By now she should be looking at you as she’s working the diagrams. Be sure she’s looking at your eyes, not your hand. Looking at your hand will make it less likely that she’ll sit automatically, and will pull her off-centre when you get back to working the Front-Ray diagram as you move toward your lovely straight, close, snappy Front.
GO TO MAT
Dog goes to his mat, bed, or pause table from 10’ away, lies down and remains Down with no fussing for 2 minutes. Appropriate cues. DISCUSSION: Remember to decrease the time when you increase the distance, and vice versa. Getting a solid voice cue is one of the most important parts of the behaviour at this Level.
EASY BEGINNINGS: It makes no difference whether you increase distance first, or time. The choice is yours. Best results (or most visible results) will probably be gained by alternating. So work going to the mat up to 6′, then cut back to 4′ and make sure you have your Level Three 60 second Stay solid. Then go on to 80 seconds. Go back to maybe 10 seconds on the mat, but work the distance to the mat up to 8′. Cut your distance back down to 6′ and work your time up to 100 seconds. Go back to 20 seconds and work your distance to the full 10′. Cut your distance to 8′ and work your time all the way up to 2 minutes. Finally, work your distance back up to 10′.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Pay some careful attention to your cue at this Level. With a short distance and no duration on the Stay, move your mat around so the dog has to look for it a bit to find it. When she’s really good at finding it, no matter where in the room you put it, put the cue back on. Do it a LOT. In this behaviour’s most useful incarnation, you can walk towards one end of a training area, cue Go To Mat, and have the dog run out ahead of you and find something to park on. Wait a minute, does that sound like really good distance on the agility pause table? Why yes, I think it does!
At this Level, you can also start finding better things to do than staring at your dog for two minutes. Cut back to short distances and short durations and fold some clothes. Rinse a couple of dishes. Sweep the floor. Again, this is an excellent leadin to the pause table, works just as well for leadouts at the start line in agility, and is also the beginning of the out-of-sight stays in obedience.
Dog allows handling of muzzle and teeth by the handler. This may be done on a table or on the floor. DISCUSSION: Back to hands-on work. Many dogs are fussy about having their faces handled, but for retrieving, tooth cleaning, mouth tricks like balancing a treat on the nose, and grooming, we need to be able to handle them without worrying about their reaction. In an emergency, being able to handle the dog safely can save you a lot of money on anaesthetics, if not the dog’s life.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Go back and remind the dog that she enjoys being touched on her body and legs. Click for the touching, get her in the game. Then gradually work up her back, over her shoulders to her neck and up onto her head, clicking as you go. Gradually work your hands over her skull, play with her ears, and onto her muzzle.
Don’t work to the teeth until you can hold and restrain the muzzle without any fuss. Once you can restrain the muzzle with your hand, do so, and play with the lips with the fingers of the same hand. By the way, don’t restrain the muzzle while the dog’s trying to chew the previous treat!
Here’s the secret to “showing the show dog teeth”. Put the dog in front of you facing to your right. Put the middle finger of your right hand up between the dog’s jawbones to support the jaw and keep the head from going up or down or side to side. Click this a lot, get the dog very comfortable with resting her head on your finger.
Now take your left hand. Fold the last three fingers tight into your palm so they won’t be covering the dog’s eyes. That leaves your left index finger and thumb. These come down on the dog’s muzzle, finger on the left side of the nostrils, thumb on the right. Use these two digits to lift the dog’s nose (and upper lips) up. At the same time, use the thumb of your right hand to pull the dog’s lower lip down. With practise, this is a fast, sweet, easy method of showing the front teeth to someone (a judge, for instance). BUT – but, of course, the dog must be used to it and comfortable with it, and you’ll get that from going slowly and clicking relaxation.
Opening the dog’s mouth to further handle the teeth, remove contraband, or give a pill can be just as easy when the dog’s is used to it. With the dog in the same position, reach over the muzzle with your left hand. Slide your left index finger and thumb into the appropriate sides of the mouth immediately behind the upper canines (long teeth). When the dog slightly releases the pressure holding her mouth shut, you can put your right index finger on her lower incisors (front teeth) and push her jaw down to open her mouth. Again, click a lot. Click for acceptance. Click for relaxation.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE ABSOLUTELY WON’T LET ME TOUCH HER MUZZLE! A problem like this is beyond the scope of a written self-help book – you need professional assistance.
ADDING A CUE: In general, I want the dog to allow me to touch her anywhere, anytime, without a cue. I do take some pains to build in a cue that says “I’m trying to play with you right now, feel free to escape from my hands, play-bite at them, and growl at me”. This cue involves my head tilted to one side, boggling my eyes, my hand in a claw threatening to grab the dog’s nose or paws, and some kind of threatening statement like “You bad dog, I’m gonna GIT you!” In the ABSENCE of this cue, I expect allowing me to touch her, hold her, and manipulate her to be her default behaviour.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Having other people able to handle your dog isn’t part of Level Four, but it’s a necessary part of life. If your dog’s already comfortable with you handling her head, take this opportunity to get her used to others doing the same.
Dog Heels an about turn, walks 10’ with contact, one cue only. DISCUSSION: We add straightaways to the contact turns. It’s starting to look a bit more like actual Heeling. We’re still not asking for Heel position. If you trust me, keep working. If you don’t trust me on this, work a lot on the Level Four Finish, progressing to the Level Five Finish, and hurry through the Level Four Heel on to Level Five, where we’ll start to work the happy, enthusiastic, contact-seeking dog into Heel position.
Why am I teaching the dog to swing her butt out when we’re heeling? Because eye contact is so important. Contact needs to be the MAIN default behavior for ANY sport at ANY level. When I teach contact as a default, I can then build in not-looking-at-me in certain situations (conformation gaiting, flyball, commitment to obstacles in agility) knowing that the dog is IN contact with me even though she’s not MAKING contact with me. Give me a dog that knows nothing at all except to give me contact, and we’re a team. So first, contact. To be sure, EYE contact. Eye contact will naturally pull the dog’s butt out, but that’s easy to fix once we have a solid swing Finish, and it’s MUCH easier to fix in Heeling than it is to fix lagging or wandering off or just generally being “bored”.
EASY BEGINNINGS: This Level will flow very naturally out of the Level Three Heel behaviour of being able to pivot with the dog holding eye contact. Start, as before, with the dog in front of you. Click X5 for eye contact. The sixth time you get contact, pivot right and click as she comes around holding your eyes. Work that X5, and then move on.
Start with her in front of you again, click once for contact. On the second contact, pivot right 180o and take ONE step forward. Click for contact. Be sure to click while both of you are still moving. Don’t wait until you’ve stopped and she’s swung back out! Did you notice that as you stepped forward, her eyes, head, and shoulders stayed with you, while her butt fell back almost into Heel position.
Work that pivot and single step a few times, then pivot, take a step, and, instead of clicking while you’re taking that one step, pivot to your right again and click as she holds contact coming around. Wow! Two about turns and a straightaway! OK, OK, very SMALL straightaway, but there it is! From here it’s only a matter of adding straightaway steps until you’re walking 10′ with contact between pivots.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE ISN’T SITTING WHEN I STOP! Take a deep breath. It’s likely that Heeling will be the most difficult thing you ever teach the dog, so we’re going slow and making sure we’ve got good foundation behaviours. We’re not asking for Sits yet because we haven’t actually STOPPED yet. All your clicks have been for contact WHILE YOU AND THE DOG ARE STILL MOVING. Since the click ends the behaviour, there ARE no stops, and thus, no Sits yet. A “chain” is a series of behaviours that follow one another. Heeling is a chain – Sit, make eye contact, walk with me making contact, Sit when I stop. Chains aren’t taught all at once, though. Teach each individual link in the chain, and THEN put them together. You started teaching her to Sit back in Level One, she’s got that part of the chain. When all the other parts are in place, we’ll start putting them together.
ADDING A CUE: Not yet.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Concentrate on your body language. Stand up straight, keep your shoulders square with the direction you’re traveling. Look at the dog out of the corner of your eye, not bending over. And, as always, different locations, different directions, different distractions.
Handler describes, in writing, 10 steps in shaping the dog to drop a dog dish in a basket. DISCUSSION: Whether or not you ever plan on teaching a dog to clean up the dog dishes after a meal, this is excellent practise in splitting behaviours into easily-taught bits.
JUMP – BROAD
The dog seeks out and jumps over one board on body language cues only, handler 3′ away from the jump. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: So many sports require jumping, and it’s so much fun for most dogs. The Broad Jump is the most difficult of the two jumps for two reasons: it doesn’t have marker posts on the side to keep the dog in the middle of it, and it’s easy to walk over it instead of jumping. For these reasons, we’re going to go slow and build a really good foundation. Getting from one side of something to the other side is a standard, useful behaviour – and one that you’ve already started with teaching the dog to go around a pole.
EASY BEGINNINGS: Luring is an easy way to start the Broad Jump. How are you going to lure? You could use your touch stick, get the dog chasing the end of the stick, and simply move the stick over the jump board, clicking when she lands on the other side. Don’t worry in the beginning if she’s stepping on the board, click anyway for getting to the other side. As she gets more confident in the behaviour and thinks of many reasons why she should get to the other side, she’ll get faster and you can start clicking only for clean jumps.
Another way to lure would be to simply stand on one side of the board with the dog, click when she looks at the board, and toss the treat to the other side of the board. Then click when she moves toward the board, toss on the other side. Then click when she gets to the board, click on the other side. Then click for getting to the other side, toss on the other side.
You noticed there was a lot of shaping in that luring, didn’t you!
Another way to lure would be to put a target or target plate on one side of the board and let the dog go to it. For this, it’s a good idea to have a helper, because you don’t want the dog to be able to get the treat off the target plate by going around the board, only over it.
Or you could use your eye contact to lure – stand with your toes touching one end of the board, click a few times for eye contact, then pivot to use your eyes to pull her over the board.
Or you could shape the behaviour from the beginning. Sit down, make yourself comfortable a few feet from the board. Click her for noticing the board, for looking at it, walking toward it, interacting with it (don’t be afraid, let her touch it), getting to the other side. Once she understands the job is getting to the other side, you can start shaping fewer and fewer paws on the board – click for only three paws, only two paws, only one paw, and finally for a clear jump. There’s luring in this shaping as well – by where you toss your treats, you can control how she approaches the jump and how fast she goes over it.
Or you could butt the Broad Jump board up against the pole you taught her to go around, and cue the go around. For the Broad Jump, this is probably my least favourite, as there’s no pole on the finished product, so you’d have to fade it.
PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE’S STEPPING ON IT AND TRIPPING OVER IT! I know that any contact with the board is cause for hysteria in a traditional trainer, but relax. The shaping process and more confidence and understanding will show her what she’s going to get paid for, and then she’ll give you that. Most big puppies (and others!) aren’t used to having to propel their bodies over something cleanly and frequently don’t know where their front feet are, let alone their back feet. She doesn’t have to be perfect right away. Let her learn and experiment and she’ll figure it out. Better yet, as SHE has figured out how to get from one side of this obstacle to the other, chances are she’ll have excellent jumping form when she’s done.
SHE JUMPS BACK AND FORTH OVER IT! THE BROAD JUMP IS ONE WAY ONLY! You’re worrying too much. In obedience, she’ll never have a choice of which way to jump it. You’ll set her in a sit on one side and tell her to jump to the other side. In agility, it will be part of a course and again, you’ll be telling her which direction to jump. The bottom line, then, is that you’re getting twice as much jumping in the same amount of time, and it’s doing no harm at all.
ADDING A CUE: Not yet, let the sight of the board be all the encouragement she needs.
CONTINUING EDUCATION: Change your position in relation to the board. Traditional trainers tend to stand in the “correct” obedience spot all the time, hoping to hold the dog on the board (give her no option BUT to jump it), but you’re teaching her that her job is to jump it and it doesn’t matter where you are in relation to the board. This is a more “agility” attitude than an “obedience” attitude, but it will certainly give you a nice solid Broad Jump in obedience as well.
Change your distance in relation to the board. You can toss each treat toward the centre of the space in front of the board and several feet back from it, which sets the dog up nicely to offer you another jump. Once you can do that, you can totally control the whole setup without having to be anywhere near the board.
Once she’s steady on the single board, ask her to jump over other things. Watch your height – don’t ask for too much for her experience and her age. We don’t want our puppies and young dogs giving us a lot of height or distance, or too many repetitions. What they need to learn about the Broad Jump is to seek out and commit to jumping it, no matter where it is and no matter where you are in relation to it. They can learn that on one board, no height, no length.
There’s more to Level FOUR – click HERE for the rest!