Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lesson #5: Self-control Game

This is a simple, quiet little game that you can play with your dog or puppy anywhere. I saw this for the first time at an Ann Braue seminar and I believe that it’s in the Shaping Success book by Susan Garrett.

You will need:
* You & your dog
* Treats of any kind

This game has one very specific rule:
You don’t say a word – ever!

The Game:

Step 1

* Sit on the floor with your dog (the dog doesn’t have to be sitting, just in your area and interested).
* Put about 5-8 pieces of treats on the floor and cover with one of your hands.
* Your dog should be interested in what’s under your hand.
* As soon as your dog relaxes and is just looking (not pawing, licking, barking, or otherwise) at your hand with the treats under it, lift your hand up take a treat out with the other hand and give it to your dog.
* Repeat this until the dog understands that being calm and relaxed gets him a treat.
* Again, you say nothing during the entire exercise, make the dog think, and figure it out for himself.

Step 2

* Now that the dog is remaining calm in any position, you are going to lift your hand half way up, just a bit from the treats, so the dog can see the treats.
* If the dog remains calm give him another treat from the pile with your other hand.
* If the dog reacts, quickly cover the treats back up until the dog becomes quiet and calm again.
* You are not moving your hand away at this point, you are simply uncovering the treats just a little bit.

Step 3

* You are going to progress to moving your hand away from the pile of treats completely.
* Your dog can be sitting, standing, or lying down, but remaining calm and quiet, patiently waiting for his next treat.
* Once you have this behavior you are going to start moving your hand farther and farther away from the pile.
* Treat the dog for good behavior and cover the pile for undesired behavior.

Step 4

* Now progress to moving your hand completely and moving the treats around, randomly placing them anywhere within a few inches of each other.
* Your dog should continue to remain calm and quiet.
* If the dog goes to snatch a treat, quickly collect them all and cover them with your hand.
* If you want to get creative try putting the treats on their paws!
* If the dog gets too excited when you start moving the treats around return to step 2.
* Again no verbal sounds on your part.

This game is intended to teach the dog to think, “what will get me that treat.” Most of all we are teaching our dogs that you don’t take treats, they are given to you! Think about that one for a minute. You (the dog) don’t take anything without permission. So if I drop a treat on the floor that is not automatic permission to take it. The dog may stand there and look at it, until I either release the dog to it, give it to him, or take it away. If I take whatever I dropped away, I will give my dog something else in return, even it’s just a “good boy” with a pat on the head.

Enjoy silence!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lesson #4: Touch Me!

As you advance in agility work, you'll want to have the ability to send your dog to obstacles at some distance from you. You'll also want to be able to get your dog to come back, often specifically to your left side or your right side, and to come in close. With this lesson, we lay the foundation for your dog to come to your side, by teaching him or her to touch your hand. This can be easily taught with or without a Clicker. I hadn't learned about clicking when I taught Viva to touch my hand, and I still tend to reinforce this exercise without a Clicker due to force of habit.

Clicker-Free Version:

For this, you will need your dog, and your dog's favorite treats. Remember to keep the treats small -- no larger than the size of the fingernail on your pinky -- and to do the exercise before, not after, you feed your dog. With your dog close by, preferably just behind you, place a treat in your left hand (ideally between two fingers, unless your dog will chew your fingers off when going for the treat), and place your left hand at your side, with the palm of your hand facing behind you. You are essentially using food here as a lure. Your dog will likely approach your hand, and lick/eat the treat. Repeat. Repeat again. Take a break. Repeat again, this time with the treat in your right hand, and your right hand at your side. Repeat twice using the right hand. Later the same day, repeat the same exercise. By this time, you should have a dog who comes quickly to your hand when it is down at your side, and touches it. A nose touch would be ideal. When your dog is consistently doing this, begin to say, "Touch," "Touch me," or "Here" -- whatever word you would like to use when asking your dog to run toward your side when you're racing through an agility course a few months from now. After several days using the word with the treat, try asking for the behavior with only the command. If your dog touches your hand, treat and praise! Once your dog is consistently touching on command, you may begin to "ping-pong" your reward -- reward randomly, rather than every single time.

Clicker Version:

For this, you will need one additional tool: your Clicker! Hold the clicker in the hand that is not holding the treat. Perform the exercise as above, only when your dog comes to lick your hand, click. Repeat as above, clicking when your dog touches your hand. Add a verbal command, continuing to click for the successful touch. Shift after a few days to command only (no lure), click, treat, etc. For the Clicker geniuses among you, it is possible to do this exercise as a completely shaped behavior, without any luring at all. I will state for the record that I am not remotely a Clicker genius. We'll get into some shaping with future exercises, but for this one, if you'd like to shape the behavior rather than lure, head to your favorite Clicker website for help. Karen Pryor's website can get you started, if you're curious but haven't done much shaping.

Advanced Version:

Once your dog is running to touch your hand every time you have it at your side and say the word "Touch" (or whatever word you elected to use), try the command when/where there is a mild potential for your dog to be distracted. This is known as "proofing" the command. Dogs don't generalize. A "sit" in an empty living room is different than a "sit" when you have company over, or a "sit" in the kitchen when someone has dropped a piece of cheese on the floor, or a "sit" outside while a squirrel is making a mad dash ten yards away. Ideally, we want all of our commands to be fully proofed, so that our dogs will respond anywhere, under any circumstances, to our commands. Proofing doesn't happen overnight. Add one distraction at a time. Set your dog up to succeed. If you don't think your dog is at least 70% likely to succeed, you've set too great a challenge for him or her. So don't go from the quiet of your living room (if your living room is quiet) to rush hour at your local dog park. The first step to proofing this exercise might be increasing the distance between you and your dog. I'd aim to get my dog running from the other side of the room to nose-touch the palm of my hand before I proof this exercise outside in Squirrel Alley, or in the kitchen while my beloved is making pizza and Viva thinks it's raining cheese.


If you plan to pursue obedience training and trialing, avoid using the word "Come" as that will take on a different meaning.

If your dog appears oblivious to the chicken/cheese/peanut butter dangling from your hand, make sure you're not too far away from your dog. Also, make sure your dog is at least a little bit hungry, and really likes whatever you're attempting to use as a lure. I'm all for using Viva's kibble to reward her behavior, but if we're working on something tricky, I know we'll both be better off if I'm using a high-value lure -- something she really goes crazy for (without chewing off my fingers, since I need them).

Happy Training!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lesson #3: The Collar Game

So far we have introduced our puppies/dogs to the clicker, and taught them that the sound of the clicker or marker word produces a treat. Then in Lesson #2 we associated the dog’s name with a click and a treat. So by now your dog should understand that a click or marker word produces a tasty treat.

Lesson Intro:
In this lesson we are going to build on the association that our dog has already made with the clicker, so be sure that you have completed Lesson #1. Also this lesson may challenge your manual dexterity, so if the clicker is hindering your training session replace the clicker with a marker word. (See Lesson #1.)

Clicker or marker word, dog, treats, buckle collar

Some of you may be wondering why are we playing a game with a collar, can’t the dogs run without a collar? Yes, but this game serves a couple different purposes. First, none of us like a dog that shies away when you reach for their collar. Usually the dog associates the collar with being grabbed at, tugged around, and controlled in some manner. So we want to teach the dog that handling of the collar is a good thing. Second, once the dog is comfortable with their collar being handled we are going to start incorporating drive into our dog.

You will often hear the phrase “train in drive”, so what exactly does this mean? It means that you have tools or games that make your dog excited about the work he is about to do. Remember we want our dogs to think that work is play! So we have to present work as play. This is just another way to get our dogs into drive. I will be honest with you in saying that this is my first dog, after two, that I really made an effort to train in drive and I will say it really makes a difference. If you can get your dog to play you have a very powerful tool to use.

This is how it works.

1. Put a buckle collar on your dog. It doesn’t need to be fancy or anything special -- just something you can hold on to. If you need to put a leash on your dog to keep him in your area you may do so.

2. Put your clicker and treats in one hand (let’s say your right hand). This is where it gets challenging, so if the clicker isn’t working for you use a marker word.

3. With your left hand you are going to start to pet your dog going lightly over the collar.
As soon as you pass over the collar, click and treat.

4. Progress to touching, holding lightly, and holding the collar with resistance, click and treat whenever the collar is being touched.

In the end you want a dog that willingly offers you his collar in order to get a treat. This is when I would start to incorporate toys. If you have a toy that your dog is nuts over get it out. Once your dog is absolutely okay with you fully applying resistance to his or her collar you are going to start to train in drive.

1. Hold your dog by the collar.
2. Present the toy and tease.
3. Apply some resistance to the collar, meaning the dog should be pulling for the toy and you are applying opposing force.
4. Once you get a dog that is pulling toward the toy release and reward with the toy.

This is the perfect picture of what you are trying to accomplish:

I get a toy my dog loves. He sees it and starts jumping all over the place. I keep the toy out of reach with my right hand. I present my left hand to the dog and request that the dog offer me his collar. Once I get a hold of his collar, now the fun begins. I present the toy teasing my dog saying things like “You want it?” or “Are you going to get it?” or “Are you ready?” and once my dog is allowing me to hold the collar while focusing on the toy, I release the dog and we play with the toy together.

Don’t reward the dog if he or she is pulling away from you to get you to let go of the collar. Understand that the dog has to be totally comfortable with you holding the collar. There will be times in future lessons that one of us will ask you to hold your dog by his or her collar to begin the exercise, so please do not dismiss this exercise as unimportant.

Have fun building drive!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lesson #2: The Name Game

Hi! Kathryn here. In Lesson #1, you "loaded" your clickers (or marker words). Each time you click or mark, your dog should happily expect a treat. With the name game, we begin to take advantage of the loaded clicker (or marker). The tools for Lesson #2 are the same as for Lesson #1: clicker, treats, dog! I like soft treats for training, as they don't distract from exercises by requiring prolonged crunching. Also, they're easy to break into tiny pieces, so that I can reward frequently without worrying too much about the impact my training success is having on my dog's waistline. : )

Waiting to begin the game until your dog is looking away from you, call your dog's name in an excited, energetic, happy manner. When your dog looks at you, click and treat. Repeat this as often as you like. You are working to build a consistent response from your dog, so that whenever you say your dog's name, your dog immediately looks to you. This attention is valuable at this stage to cultivate attention, and will be just as valuable when you are tearing up an agility course together years from now. Keep in mind that you want your dog's association with his or her name, and with you, to be positive. Try to avoid using your dog's name with any sort of stern or threatening tone. Keep it happy!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lesson #1: The Clicker Game

Hello, everyone! Gail here. I recently became the proud and very pleased owner of an Icelandic Sheepdog. I’m excited to hear that these dogs are great workers and have drive and ability. I’m already seeing a great working relationship with my eight-month-old puppy, Nosi. It appears that several of you are having litters of puppies or are acquiring puppies and are interested in becoming involved in agility. I thought it might be fun to create a blog for people to start some agility training at home with their puppies. I am involved with agility and teach classes. I don’t claim to be a “professional” by any means, but I have experience with my own dogs and my student’s dogs, so I have a good feel for what works and doesn’t work. I also try to keep up on the latest training tips and techniques from magazines, seminars, and publications. My goal is to help my students bring out the best in their dog and their relationship/ teamwork. Not all teams respond to the same training methods, so sometimes one needs to be creative and take a problem-solving approach.

What Kathryn and I propose is that we all share our knowledge and experience from the sport to help others. Not everyone has access to equipment, instructors, or has the time or money to attend seminars, take classes or purchase publications, which can be hard to decipher if you don’t know the agility lingo. So by us sharing, we can all help each other problem-solve and learn. If you have any training tips or maybe a lesson you had in class and would like to share it, please send us the lesson in detail and we can post it to the blog. We are looking for your input. These lessons are meant for everyone, and everyone should feel free to contribute!

Our plan is to make these lessons building blocks, so that one builds on the other. If you were to send us a lesson and it doesn’t get posted right away, it may be that the skills needed for the lesson have not been acquired yet. These lessons are meant to start with itty bitty puppies of any age, so you don’t have to worry about harming your puppy. If there were age restrictions for the lesson we would note them for you. Of course you will always want to take a common- sense approach to anything and ask yourself if this is appropriate for your dog. If you have specific questions please feel free to post a comment!

Tools for Lesson #1: Clicker, Treats, Dog!

Clicker: You can purchase one of these just about anywhere. The average clicker is a small plastic box with a metal strip inside. When you press the metal strip it makes a clicking sound. Some clickers have a button -- those are okay too. I (Gail) don’t use the clicker to teach every behavior, but I do use it to teach specific behaviors. What I like most about the clicker is that it is constant. You may use a marker word in place of the clicker, like the word “yes.” Either one will work. What makes the clicker more defined is that it is non-emotional. Say for example you are slightly discouraged with the behaviors your dog is giving you and your dog finally offers the behavior you want, and you say “yes” with a sigh. The next time your dog gives you the correct behavior immediately and you screech out “yes” with excitement. Did the first "yes" mean the same as the second "yes?" No. The two were not of equal value because of your contrasting emotions and subsequent inflection. The clicker takes out the emotion out of the equation and gives a clear consistent signal every time. That is not to say you cannot use a word. Just be sure to use the same intonation every time you deliver the word. You may hear trainers refer to these particular clicks or words as "markers."

Treats: Since you will be doing this exercise often I would suggest that you start by using part of your dog's dinner as reward. Pieces of kibble are fine. Remember the more you train the more treats your dog gets and the greater potential for your dog to carry extra weight. If you plan on training and using lots of treats, be sure to adjust your dog's daily food as necessary.


1. Get your treats and clicker in hand, have your dog (young or old, no age restriction) close.
2. All you are going to do is click, treat, and feed.

Let me stress that we are NOT looking for a behavior of any kind! These are puppies that don’t know anything. All we want to teach them is that when you hear this click or word you get a treat! If they sit that is fine, but don’t wait for it or expect it. Remember to deliver the treat immediately after the click. If you are not prompt with the treat you are going to lose your puppy’s attention, remember it’s not that long. : ) So have your treats ready, puppy close by, you may sit on the floor. Click, treat. That’s it! Click, treat. Do this about 2-3 times a day 10-15 repetitions. Make the entire lesson short and quick. Don’t waste any time in between clicks. Think of rapid fire.

All we want the dogs to do, is expect the treat when they hear the click. Make sure you do this exercise everywhere, not just in one spot. Once your puppy responds to it in one room try another, then another, work yourself to outside. It’s amazing how you think they understand something and you move to another location and they seem to have forgotten everything you taught them. ; )

If they don’t respond to the click, get and show them better treats. If the click isn’t producing something they really want, it won’t mean much to them, so they won’t respond to it. So make sure you have a good motivator.

Good luck and have fun!