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Teaching a “mark” for Utility go-outs

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I’ve gloated enough about the book; now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

Brito is learning to “mark” which means, “look straight ahead”.  I use this cue for the go-out portion of directed jumping for Utility.  I also used it when I was competing in IPO but I taught it differently because the field is much larger and there is often no end marker.  This blog is for the traditional AKC go out when you can count on a marker (stanchion or post) at the end of the ring.  If you find that bare walls are also a possibility, I’d train it the same way, but the piece of blue tape will have to become extremely tiny:).  And if you expect to trial in an open field (IPO style), I’d teach it to a blue tape target on the ground.  Regardless, these early steps are the same.

It’s worth training both marks and go-outs very early in a dog’s career since some dogs take a long time to get this concept, in particular if you do not expect to have a clear end target, and Brito is no exception.  We’ve been working on this skill for several months now.  At this point, he has the  basic idea that “mark” means to look ahead and that the cookie will come when he arrives at the thing he looked at.  I use blue painter’s tape to teach  a mark, because it’s easy to stick to just about anything, and I can fade it simply by tearing it down to smaller and smaller pieces.  I can also go back to it any time my dog is struggling.

I start this training in the house.  First teach your dog to touch a piece of the tape on your finger. Second, hold it out and wait for dog to look at it before releasing them forward.  I click for the action of looking at the tape, but I reward when the dog actually arrives at the tape.  This is because rewarding for position will cause the dog to move forward to get their cookie, but “looking” is the action that I wish to identify in the dog’s brain.  Both are important and trainers should know how they each affect behavior!

Next I move the tape to various objects, starting extremely close, normally within a foot.  When the dog begins to understand the game, I add the word “mark” to mean look ahead for your blue tape.  Again, reward when the dog arrives at the tape.

Next I will take that tape to my training area and associate it with the two things that are most likely to show up in trials where I live – stanchions and poles.  I place a small bit of tape on each of these objects a few times, but I find that it is easy to fade since stanchions and poles are distinct from the surroundings.  Once the dog shows me that they can look/go straight ahead from a few feet without tape, I no longer use it unless I’m working in a place with no obvious target (such as a blank wall).  Brito can now travel about 10 feet towards a stanchion with confidence.  We have just begun training to poles, so are back within a couple of feet.  Note that I send him to different stanchions – I want to reinforce “straight ahead” rather than having him always go to a specific stanchion.

If I’m expecting trials with baby gates and off-center stanchions, I could place the blue tape on the baby gate itself – always straight ahead.

To add a “go” cue: First your dog must understand “mark” and accept that the click means the food shows up at the target.  Next, I click for the mark, but as I release the dog I add the word “go” and still reward at the target.  Most dogs can pick the cue up quickly in this manner.

Next I’ll add a “stay” command before asking for a mark.  When the dog looks, I’ll send with “go”.  At that point I would click for arriving at the target, through it’s always ok to occasionally click for the “mark” cue itself – just remember to reward at the target!

Brito does not have a stay command, so I physically hold him back before sending him.

In this video, you can see most of these steps.  Note that I included the final video (going to the poles) to demonstrate adding new objects, but the quality of training was very poor because Brito was much more interested in hunting the squirrels behind the poles than in working with me.  When I realized that continuing was an exercise in futility, I put him away.  I included that portion anyway so you can understand that all dogs have challenges and Brito is no different.  The best thing to do if your dog is not focused on their work is to end the session.

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.

One response »

  1. that was awesome, thank you for posting the video! it really helped to watch you do this. cute doggy, too.


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