06 January 2009

I love foundation training!

…that is: I love the foundation after it’s trained :-)

The other day I was helping my father in law with his puppy. He’s had dogs before, but the last one lasted almost fourteen years, so it’s a long time since he has dealt with a puppy. In addition he’s got a quite challenging puppy, so he’s very happy to get advice. One of the things I want to show him is that a lot has happened with training over the years. To demonstrate how efficient shaping can be, I picked up my own youngster, who is ten months now, and decided to teach retrieving for competition retrieving. Boy, was that a fun session!

I finally realized what a good foundation I have been working on with this dog. Everything worked perfectly on the first try! After ten minutes, he picked up a rolled up newspaper, came back, waited for my signal, and then dropped it in my hand. When I taught my other dog the same thing it took a week… All we need is a bit of proofing and perfection, and it’s an exercise ready for competition. Not that I probably will bother to do the last bits of it, since I’m not too interested in obedience competition, we did this only to demonstrate methods. My father in law was really impressed and, frankly, so was I!

The method I’m using is basicly chaining the behavior backwards. That means starting with rewarding interest, biting and then holding the item. I then proof the holding to the point where I can dangle a treat in front of the dog’s nose and he knows if he drops that thing the treat will disappear, so he waits for my signal (which is first a yes, then swapped for a “release”). I then add the criteria of the dog sitting before getting to drop the item. When that’s done, retrieving from a distance is usually not an issue. It’s so much fun already, that none of my dogs so far has had any trouble running to get it. Last thing is the dog sitting, me trhowing, dog waiting and then running to get it. That’s easy if you have a good sit command and the dog understands not to go before you release (Orkan knows that form throwing toys and running to get them, and agility starts). Then you switch the release word with “retrieve” or whatever you say in english, and the thing is done!

What I realized during my session with Orkan is that he has such great understanding of how training works! With Storm I had to work for a while on biting and holding, but Orkan already has an understanding of biting stuff that I hold in front of him, because of the shaping I’ve done with tug toys. It was a bit harder for him to keep holding it when I let go, but that was solved by another thing he knows from before. When I close my hand with the treat in it, he’s wrong and needs to change his behavior or improve his position. When I open it, he’s right, but needs to freeze until I tell him he can get it, or I give it to him. That way I could easily give him the message that the holding was right, and he needed to keep doing it in order to get the reward. Easy! When I dropped the newspaper on the floor, he had an easy time picking it up, but when I threw it further away, he first stayed where it had landed, patiently holding it. That was also an easy thing to solve, I simply showed him my open hand, which he knows from nose touch contact training, and he came running. I wouldn’t use that nose-touch more than a few times, since he has already learned to put toys in my hand that way, and then he doesn’t need to wait for a release command before dropping the toy, in contrast to the sitting down and waiting. But it came in handy that one time to put him on the right track of coming back to me! I also used the crate games to have him wait while I throw and give him the command, since his sit is not perfect yet :-)

Training is so much fun when it works!