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Lyra – Four months

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Most of my training time with Lyra is really structured play – play that gets me the behaviors I want with maximum joy and energy.

There are also a few skills that are more easily mastered when the dog is calm.  For these, I use food as the reward.  Food leads to a thinking, clear head.  With Lyra, I work on these types of skills in small doses since her food drive is limited.

In this video, I’m showing her skill building work in the following areas:

1)      Pivots in “front” position.   I have her front feet on a Frisbee to help her – she knows that her feet must remain on the Frisbee above all else.   If I say “come” while I pivot, she’ll try and sit when I stop (I didn’t teach this but I think my husband did).  She is accurate enough in her pivots that I am allowing this behavior to emerge – I would suggest you avoid the sit until your dog is reasonably accurate on the pivots in front without them.  Look for a straight body when you stop moving – straight bodies with static front feet tend to end with straight, tucked sits.  Be very careful about your hand position when you pivot and when you reward – try and keep your hands out the picture so your puppy does not rely on your hands in front to understand what is expected here.  When you do reward, make sure your hand position reinforces the dog’s straight body position – normally your midline.  Alternate your reward hand.

2)      Pivots in” heel” position.  Again, I use the Frisbee to stabilize her front end. I have named this skill “get in” – pivot next to me while I move away from you.  Note that my choice of hand position for feeding reinforces a straight body.   I do not ask for a sit when we stop – that will come later.

3)      Positions – once again, that handy Frisbee is called into play.  Lyra is practicing her sit, down and stand commands.   I lure with my hand into the correct position.  The Frisbee is to keep her front feet steady; I want her to do any combination of positions without moving her front feet.  We have a long road ahead – I’d estimate that we’ve done these about 500 times, yet she seems to have relatively little concept that the words I’m using predict the hand cue.   I have chosen not to shape her positions because I am very particular about how they are completed – no movement of front end – and I do not have enough confidence in my shaping skills to believe  that I can get that result at this time.  I also do not delay very long between the verbal and the hand cue – I have found that if I delay she tends to start moving her front feet – my number one priority here is no front foot movement.

4)     Mark – while holding Lyra back, I toss a highly visible cookie (goldfish!) straight ahead with my right hand.  I then switch my hands so my right hand holds her ruff, and my left hand gives a signal on the side of her head to indicate where she should look. I then release her to the cookie.  This will give us a head start on the glove exercise and the go outs for Utility – my hand on the side of Lyra’s head will mean “look out there where I’m indicating”. Combined with the “I’m holding your ruff so go out with speed” cue, I hope to get a clean mark and a lot of speed going away.  Even with the goldfish, I can see she has trouble finding the food at a distance.

5)      To end the session, I transition her to play by throwing a toy for her final mark.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

9 responses »

  1. Not that I know enough to tell you anything… but I find that the girls can follow the purple goldfish better than the orange ones. So I use the orange ones for scent games and teaching the foster puppies about sharing, and the purple ones for when I want them to use their eyes instead of their noses. Also the pretzel fishes are really hard to find if you want to make them a little crazy.

    • Hey, I’ll try the purple ones; thanks!

      • I’d be interested to know if it works for you, purely as an intellectual exercise. I’ve read several studies about how dogs see color and what the color shifts are, etc but I’ve been experimenting with how we can use that knowledge in our training. So it would be really interesting to have an extra data point.

  2. Another idea for the marking that might help her mark them easier. From the start, hold her ruff or collar with your right hand. Hold the treat in your left hand, and, crossing it over your right arm, so it’s next to her head, throw the cookie like that, ending with your hand in the mark signal. This way, you switching hands (the time it takes and the movement she might see) won’t distract her from taking her eyes off the treat. Got that from Susan Garrett.

  3. I’m working with my dog Koira (4 years old) on pivots right now. She is slowly getting more and more used to moving her back feet independently. We are also trying to work on fold back downs (which is going good) and tuck sits, but her sits are consistently rock back sits with tons of front foot movement- after all, that’s what I’ve been rewarding her for for 4 years. I’m trying to figure out a good way to get a nice tuck sit from her instead.

    • The dog I retrained from rock-back sits to tuck-sits needed a lot of luring and even a little physical “modeling” (which, as a general rule, I HATE using — but it worked for him; gotta be flexible). Gentle pressure on bum, right at the base of his tail, while luring head up and forward (NOT back). Once that was consistent, I dropped the modeling (after maybe 5-6 sessions) but it took a lot of luring and a LOT of regular practice — I trained this 3x/day for about a month before I noticed he was offering tuck-sits for his food bowl, to go outside, etc. It had become a new default behavior.

      Also, Strata will move his front feet while sitting 98% of the time. This initially frustrated the hell out of me, because my instructor included “the dog’s front feet remain stationary” in her description of the ideal tuck sit. After about a week of stressing out about it, we chatted via e-mail and came to the conclusion that the front feet really don’t have to remain stationary as long as they don’t go BACKWARDS. He basically shuffles his feet while doing a tuck-sit but there’s no backwards motion. The shuffling is gradually decreasing with time (I did this retrain nearly 2 years ago). I don’t know if this has anything to do with the re-train specifically; he’s the only dog I have done this with, but I thought I should mention it!

      • Thanks for the tips- I am finding that I spend a lot of time retraining this dog- that’s what I get for starting from scratch with her! I’m glad she is patient and super willing to work.

  4. How would you do the marking signal with a tiny dog? I’d like to start this with Dragon soon, as it would be a nice supplement to our agility training, too. (We’re working on marking on a toy/target on a lead out, which will later be marking on the first obstacle at the start of a run.)


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