My least favorite precision aspect of obedience is the finish. No surprise, it is also where I lose the most points. Funny how that works.
I do pretty well with the “around” finish but I struggle with the flip to heel. That bugs me. I want my dogs to be able to do both finishes with accuracy, and I have a heck of a time with it!
I do a fair amount of teaching with a platform since I’m looking for muscle memory, and I feel it helps quite a bit. When using a platform, the dog must be correct; the platform forces that issue. But a platform is a lure – I have to fade it eventually.
I do a lot of pivoting on a disc from front to finish for the same reason; muscle memory. But for this to work I must move since her front feet are “stuck” on the disc. Less than ideal but a nice middle step for teaching a 180 movement.
I also use a “pivot around my hand” to teach the finish (too complicated to explain here right now). As a result, if I offer my hand as a guide, any of my dogs can nail a finish. That also helps create excellent muscle memory, but once again, it’s a “lure” that has to be faded.
Finally, I do a ton of exercises where the dog moves with me in any direction – forwards, backwards, and sideways – at a variety of speeds – and in this manner they learn how to line up and “find” heel position. This too helps, but the movement of my body acts as a lure. I’m getting closer, but still no finish!
What I need is a way to set the dog up for success, so that I can reward them, even when there are no props. With a high drive dog, you can simply repeat finishes until they get it right. But with a middle or lower drive dog repeating without reinforcement is a recipe for failure since these dogs lose motivation. Low motivation almost guarantees a butt out finish.
The good news is that I think I found a middle step that is helping; a way to make Lyra correct over and over (with specific help) and then…voila! A correct finish all by herself!
Here’s what I mean:
This first video shows my efforts to pattern her with a disc for support. This is an excellent first step using a foot target for a lure:
This second video shows my efforts to pattern the 180 degrees without a physical support. I have Lyra moving towards heel over and over, and I reinforce every effort regardless of her end position. My goal is to get her in a habit of moving her rear around and around until she is anticipating. I’ve subtitled this video to make it easier to follow what I’m doing here:
After a few days of playing this game, I found a strong improvement in her position at my side, and most important, the super high rate of reinforcement and the quickness of the drills is keeping her interested and engaged in the game. I have also noticed that her finishes are speeding up along with becoming more accurate – she’s enjoying the movement rather than worrying about what she is supposed to do at the end of the behavior.
I call this using “patterns” to create a behavior. If this sounds interesting, give it a try.