Thursday, June 29, 2006

Shoulda Known

I did a little research to see where Elicia Calhoun is located in case I'm ever there with my dogs I'd try to schedule another lesson. Turns out she was an engineer in a former life and from her website, '...she utilizes her analytical engineering skills and positive training techniques to design and develop a training program that pinpoints each team’s needs in an enthusiastic and effective manner.' I wish there were more people with engineer brains out there teaching skill specific sports. I'm convinced I could improve my swim stroke if only someone could explain what to do in more analytical terms. Or maybe I just suck and there's not much any coach can do about it.

In any case, I left masters early last night because they started in to a sprint workout (25 yard laps on a 20 second interval-yeah right!) and I figured my body didn't need that kind of torture. Besides, I was eager to get home to start working with the dogs.

We're starting off simple, teaching a verbal release word. Now the dogs already have a verbal release word ('O.k.') but they only understand it in certain contexts, eg when they're waiting for their dinner at their foodbowls or waiting to go out a door/gate. If I lead out from the startline of an agility course and say 'O.k.' to Cody he just sits there. I think the problem is that every pet obedience class I've ever taken has told me not to reinforce the release. So you put the dog in a sit, click/treat, then say 'O.k.' and make them move out of the sit using body movements while saying the release word. But absolutely no click/treat when they release because supposedly you don't want to encourage them to self release or some such nonsense. It's never made sense to me but I've always heeded the advice because what do I know? However, if you think about it, the dog is rewarded when you release them to their food bowl. The instructor will say they're being rewarded for holding their sit/stay but really they're also being rewarded for the release whether you intend it or not. So my dogs understand the concept of 'release' when there's something they want but they don't understand it in general. If I put the dogs in a sit and reward for a while then say 'o.k.' they just sit there waiting for more rewards. Cody's 8 years old and still does this.

Elicia gave me a way to train the release without using body language and with actually rewarding the release. I put the dog in a sit by my side then just click and treat for a while, moving my hand quickly to her head to feed a treat then quickly away. After a bit I put my hand in her collar and gently pull her out of the sit while saying 'o.k.' and clicking and treating. My feet stay planted on the ground and I don't let her see my hand sneaking around to take her collar. I thought Lola in particular would be freaked out by this but in fact she was fine. It turned into a pretty fun game and with very little reptitions I was able to fade holding her collar and use just the word. It was like magic! Very cool. All 3 dogs did great with it.

I'll probably work on this for a week or so then progress to the start of contact training.


  1. Have you tried jumping excitedly when you say OK and then praising them effusively and happily? The jump often makes them jump up, too, and the excited praise makes them know they've been good. Then you can play the whole "stay" game all over again ...

    I've done it this way and my dogs like it.

  2. Thing is, I'm trying to teach a release with no body language. I think a lot of my startline stress issues came about because the dogs were unsure of exactly what cue was releasing them, probably cueing off some bit of body language I was unaware of. Ditto for the contact releases. It's a good idea though.