Lyra is now seven months old.
In addition to close in attention, I’d like to have an explosive send away as well. This is useful for retrieves, go outs/send out, articles and any work that requires the dog to look out ahead.
There are two components to a good send away from the handler. The first is drive….the dog needs to understand that getting somewhere is what causes the reward to happen. Lyra and I spend a lot of time playing games that involve toys in an effort to build this drive. There should be a very clear correlation between speed to her destination and her drive for toys – both will increase together. Lyra knows that arriving at the destination; the dumbbell, blinds, platform, etc, causes me to play with her, so that connection is established. Now it’s a matter of building her desire for the things I control – toys, food or play.
The second component to a good send away is a clear destination. I want the dog to LOOK where they are being sent before I actually send them. When I throw the dumbbell I want the dog to mark the fall so they know exactly where they are going. When I do a go out for directed jumping I want the dog to have clearly marked the destination point. Dogs that do not mark the destination often look confused when they are sent – this affects confidence, and unsure dogs rarely run straight or fast.
To teach a mark command, the dog must be able to look away from their handler – straight ahead – on command.
Lyra has been working on this for months in various forms. To start, I taught her “destinations”. Those can include any of the following: a toy, dumbbell, platform, stanchion, garbage can (for running around), IPO blind, or a piece of tape on a wall or other object. Each of these possibilities was taught one at a time, until the sight of the destination causes a known behavior. For example, the sight of a platform makes her want to hop up. The sight of a dumbbell makes her want to retrieve, etc. Once I have that to as many destinations as I wish, I add a scruff grab. By holding her back very close to a single destination and then letting her go, she begins to learn that holding her ruff means to look ahead.
Next I added more than one possible destination, but far apart from each other. For example, I might have a stanchion with tape on one side of my training field, and a garbage can 180 degrees away on the other side of the field. I start close to each one and release her forward. I line my body up carefully – I want her to be at my side looking ahead. Eventually, being in heel position and looking straight ahead should lead her to the correct destination.
We are currently at the point where I can send her to various destinations from up to 30 feet away. I try not to have two possible destinations closer than about 60 degrees apart – I want her to be right.
She is starting to get it. When I hold her ruff, she looks away from me, but she is not at the point of “locking” on to the object straight ahead. That will be our next goal for this exercise.
My guess is that the locking on will happen at about the same time her drive for the toys comes up, since locking on to a remote object is an issue of both training and motivation. Training I will provide. Motivation will come with time.
Here’s a video of Lyra working with multiple mark destinations: