- Warm up with a few complete counterclockwise pivots on the platform. The dog should be swinging all the way past your left leg. (And you are reinforcing high and to the left ear with your left hand). Click and reinforce 4-5 times just as the dog’s rear end swings past your leg. That means you’ll be delivering the treat with the dog facing AWAY from you… and yes, that means you’ll be reaching.
- Next, step your left foot in closer, leaving the rest of your body out of the dog’s space. The dog’s butt fluff should actually brush your leg. Click that contact, and feed the dog’s head facing away.
- Then take another step in with that left leg, so now the dog’s hip is actually bumping you. Click that contact, reinforce.
- Finally, step all the way in so that your left ankle is centered next to the platform (ankle NOT toes). The dog should pivot around and bump with his shoulder. Click THAT.
A couple of general points:
- Distance, Duration, and Distractions (including handler motion) are separate training tasks.
- When working on one criteria, make the others easier. For example, when increasing duration, we will be standing right in front of the dog (distance = 0) and in a low distraction environment.
- Your “release” cue should define a specific behavior. This really can be anything, stand up, step forward, etc, but you and your dog should both know what it is. I use a hand touch most often to end a stay.
- Your release cue will act like a click (whether you deliver food after it or not), so make sure you like the behavior you are seeing when you give the cue.
For criteria, we only care about the dog being in a down. Let him pick what position is most comfortable for him. After all, he’s going to be there a while.
- Sit on the floor in front of the dog.
- Cue the down, and rapid fire 3 treats into his mouth while his elbows stay down. Deliver the treats low to the ground.
- While the dog is still in the Down, give your release cue and toss a treat forward.
- Repeat with a 1 second pause between the 3 treats.
- Repeat with a 2 second pause between the 3 treats. Then 3 seconds, etc.
- Continue to increase the overall duration of the Down, by either increasing the number of treats or the time between treats.
- Now do it again with you standing up.
Eventually we will need to fade the treats during the stay, and the primary reinforcer will come on the release. When doing this keep in mind:
- Use calm reinforcement on the down. We want the dog feeling very chill here, so calm praise and food rewards will probably work best.
- Increase the number and/or value of reinforcers proportional to the length of time the dog is working. So if he holds the position for 1 second, 1 cookie. If he holds it for 10 seconds he gets 10 cookies at the end. Those aren’t real numbers by the way, just an example.
The dog should be sitting (of course!), front feet still, head up and straight, chest between elbows, and preferably hips square. Also, Ears Up and Eyes Bright, because a dog that looks happy and confident in a stay probably IS happy and confident.
To fight the forward and down effect of gravity, we are going to deliver our reinforcers and cues over and even behind the dog. Reset the dog between every sit here. It helps.
- Cue the sit, watch the front paws. When the front paws are still, click and deliver the treat (or toy) above the dog’s head. He might even jump up to get the treat, and that’s not a bad thing.
- Increase the duration of the time the front paws are still in very small increments. Work up to a solid 30 seconds.
- Now watch his head. We’ve just been rewarding up high, so there is a good chance he’s holding his head up. Great! Click it and reward over head. We are shaping away from that very attractive “vulture” posture so many dogs assume during stays.
- Continue to build duration in gradual increments, with an eye on your criteria. If the dog breaks criteria (moves his feet, say). Simply reset and start over. It is preferable to split your criteria so that the dog never makes an error during this training.
- Now we are going to make a little chain with the sit and a hand touch.The hand touch is nice here because allows us encourage the head up, weigh balanced posture. Cue the Sit, and when you like what you see, present a hand target overhead and cue the dog to Touch. The dog should jump up to touch your hand. Click and treat the Touch.
- Make sure the front feet are still when you cue the touch, because your cue will be acting as a reinforcer.
- Increase duration between the Sit and the Touch. Clicking and treating the touch.
We will add distance to both behaviors in the same way. The only difference is in how we reward. We will continue to reward the Down by delivering food in position and low to the ground. For the Sit, we will continue to present a hand target overhead to touch, and then reward the touch.
- Start with one step. Return and reward. Just walk back up to the dog, you don’t need to return to heel position before rewarding. We’ll do that separately.
- Two steps. Then three, etc.
- Keep working until you are the full distance away. It’s also worth keeping in mind that even moving towards the dog is potentially reinforcing (before we even get the treat out), so make sure to return to your dog when you like what you see, and before he starts to get fidgety (a sure sign you are lumping). It is our natural tendency to want to push the dog as far as possible, and reward/release right before he breaks. This means we often reward “intention” movements and this will degrade your stay very quickly. Decide in advance how long each repetition will be and stick to it.
- After working on moving straight out for a while, switch things up and start working around your dog in an arc.
- Continue returning to the front to reward your dog to encourage his head facing forward.
- Gradually make your arc farther around the dog, first to 1 o’clock, then to 3 o’clock, etc. The hardest part is crossing behind the dog’s tail, so take your time there.
Stand – Duration Only
- Cue the dog, click for still feet and reward.
- Here is the tough question: Where and how to reward? It depends. For the majority of dogs, reward at chest level. With a fast dog, it is often hard to get the treat to the dog while his feet hold still (we’ll do a little zen game for that later), and trying can make some dogs worse. In the early stages, I will reward just barely out of position so the dog has to step forward or sideways to get the treat, which resets us for the next rep. Once we’re a little farther along, I’ll usually switch to tossing the toy or treat behind the dog, or we’ll be using a zen bowl. So for now, focus on marking a moment when the dog’s feet are truly still.
- Say the alphabet silently in your head, using that as a count for how long your dog is holding position. Remember, any foot movement results in a reset. If you have two errors in a session, decrease your criteria to the last point of success (or end the session because you’ve gone too long). Gradually increase the time between the cue and the click.
- Starting with the dog in front of you (but not in a “front”), cue and reward 3-4 Stands. It really doesn’t matter at this point if it is a “kickback” Stand or if the dog just walks into it.
- Now start walking backwards veeeeerry slowly. Tiny steps, very slow. Think reverse granny with a walker. Don’t stop until after you’ve given the cue.
- Cue the stand, click and treat the first pause of the paws. You can stop walking once you’ve clicked. Reward by tossing the treat behind the dog, or at least at his feet.
- As the dog eats the treat and starts to come back to you, begin walking slowly backwards again. When he is close to you, cue the stand. Click and reward behind him again.
- Repeat gradually increasing your speed backwards until you are walking normally.
- Remember, we want to plan the session to prevent errors from happening. It’s best to start with criteria you know the dog can make, than be forced to lower your criteria. So increase your speed very gradually. If you get two errors in a row, go back a step (or more). If you increase your criteria in small enough increments, you won’t be doing any one step for more than a few reps each… meaning you get through the entire progression really quickly! If you do find that you are getting a lot of errors, and you haven’t increased your criteria, then you probably have a foundation problem and need to go back and look at teaching the Stand itself.
Combining a little Distance with the Movement: (Work on the Duration exercise in the Stand for Exam article first)
- Begin walking slowly backwards as before.
- Cue the Stand, but this time keep walking slowly for a step or two after the dog stops before clicking and rewarding behind him.
- Gradually increase the number of steps you take backwards between the cue and the click, until you can walk 12-15 feet without pausing and with no errors.
Combine Distance, Movement, and a little Duration:
- Since we are adding a new component, we’ll make the others easier.
- Start walking backwards slowly again, cue the stand, and walk 1-2 steps farther after the dog stands, then pause (1 Mississippi), click and treat.
- Repeat above, pausing for 2 Mississippi before clicking and treating. Then 3 Mississippi, 4, etc.
- When you can pause for 5 Mississippi with no errors, we’ll start to ping pong the duration and movement.
- So this time, start walking back a little faster, cue the stand, and pause ~2 Mississippi before clicking and treating. Then 3 Mississippi, 4 etc.
- Again, a little faster.
- Back up on the speed, and the duration, but go back to working on your distance.
- FINALLY, you will reach a point where you are walking a normal backwards pace (as normal as is safe), to a full 12 feet away, and pausing for 10-15 seconds or so before rewarding.
Put it beside you:
- Now turn so the dog is walking beside you, but not “heeling”. Just a casual following with attention.
- Again, you are going to start walking, but forwards this time. Give the cue, click and reward behind the dog.
- Repeat, gradually increasing the speed of your walking until you are walking forward at your normal, brisk, heeling pace.
- Run through the same basic protocol of ping ponging between Distance, Duration, and Movement that we did backwards. You will be able to progress more quickly this time, but don’t rush it.
Combine with Heeling:
- If you have already taught a fluent Heel, you could combine that behavior with this one to make a mini-behavior chain at this point. Before combining, make sure you are truly fluent with both behaviors individually first.
- You’ll cue the heel, heel forward 1-2 steps, cue the stand and reward if criteria are met.
- Gradually increase the number of steps of heeling, ping pong your other criteria.
- Mix up your reinforcer and keep it FUN. Use play, toys, running, high value food, etc to keep it interesting, but don’t forget to STICK TO YOUR CRITERIA.
- Start with your toes pointing to the platform, arms at your sides. Arrange yourself so that you are directly in front of the dog. Have treats in both hands.
- Click and treat here about 10 times, being careful to deliver the treat to the center of your body. Alternate which hand delivers the treat to avoid pulling the dog to one side or the other.
- You might include eye contact as part of the criteria here, if you choose.
- Turn 90 degrees (either direction) and wait for the dog to line up. He will likely cross the center line and overshoot. Click as his spine crosses the center, and deliver in the center of your body.
- He might look like a windshield wiper at first, that’s ok. Time your clicks for the moment he crosses the center line, and keep being careful about your food delivery. The oscillations should get smaller and smaller until it’s just one step or less.
- Turn 90 degrees the other way and repeat. We want to work both directions from the very beginning.
- Start off the same way. Clicking and treating in position several times.
- This time, we will toss the treat out a short distance (4-5ft) to reset. Toss directly behind the dog (12 o’clock), so after he eats the treat, he will be coming straight at your front.
- Click and treat when he finds straight.
- Click again before he moves and toss the treat out.
- Gradually work your way around the clock, but keeping the distance of the treat tossing the same. The radius, if you will.
- Once you’ve gone all the way around, start back at 12, but throw the treat farther.
- Keep working around the clock, gradually increasing the distance.
- Eventually the dog will be able to line up on your front and center himself from anywhere in the room without help or prompting.
Now that you have a few skills under your belt, we’ll start to vary how we reinforce them and work on conditioning the emotional state into them.
- Hand touch – Tossed treat or toy
- Pivot – Zen bowl
- Backward walking – Toy play
- Positions – Toy and zen bowl (separate sessions)
I usually play this game with 2 mats, but if you have more mats handy… go for it.
To train this behavior:
- Starting with the mats close together, stand near one mat and reinforce.
- Move to the next mat and wait for the dog to target it and reinforce there.
- Move back to the original mat. Reinforce when the dog targets that one.
- Repeat going from mat to mat with a rhythm. When the dog is anticipating going to the next mat, even before you have moved, you know he feels good about it.
- You can vary this by increasing the distance between mats.
- Start by reinforcing the dog with 10 “rapid fire” treats for offered attention beside you. Deliver the treats at your hip, just as you would for heel position, but the dog’s position is not required.
- Drop a treat right by your left foot, and take two steps forward. Pause and turn your head to connect with your dog, but keep your shoulders square and posture upright.
- When the dog steps up beside you, click and deliver 1 treat in position, and drop a second treat by your foot. Take 2 steps forward again.
- Repeat, delivering 1 treat in position and 1 at your foot, taking 2 steps forward each time.
- Many dogs will start offering heel position automatically if that is already in their skill set. That’s great! Once your dog is offering to step into heel, you can start holding your hands in formal heel posture while still maintaining the rhythm of the game.
Once your dog is proficient at this game, you can use it to measure where he is mentally in a given situation. If at home he’s able to find heel quickly and accurate, and today he’s slow or crooked… that’s a good sign that there maybe more going on behind the curtain than you know about.
- Sit -> touch
- Down -> sit
- Pivot -> touch
The general structure of this ritual will be:
- Some default “waiting” position. I use a down, but that’s totally optional.
- A cue to move through the gate with the handler. I say, “Let’s go!”, but again it’s totally up to you.
- A default behavior once on the other side of the gate. I prefer to have my dogs turn to face me, which makes it easier for me to remove the leash in the higher levels. However, in Novice, you will be keeping the leash on for the first heeling pattern. My recommendation is to have the dog either turn to face you, then you can hand touch and call to heel at the starting point of the heeling pattern. Or you can have the dog default offer heel and move directly to the starting point. The important part is that it is always the same.
To teach it:
- Start by standing at the gate, step through and click/treat.
- Add your cue to move through the gate, click/treat each time on the other side. This will tend to build an automatic reorientation, but you can add heel position to it separately if desired.
- Start back-chaining your “wait” position to the entrance-click/treat. Practice this about 2343528769 times.
- Increase the amount of waiting you do before cuing the entrance. Later, we’ll add a formal set up to this picture, but not yet. I want your dog to have a lot of deposits in his bank account of simply automatically directing his attention to you upon entering the ring space.