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What is more____than____?

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There are a few basic principles in training which most good trainers follow.  Examples include rewarding a dog in the position that you wish to reinforce, marking behaviors at the exact moment they occur (timing), and training behaviors in small and manageable pieces.

Today I’d like to talk about a problem solving technique along the same lines.  I call it, “What’s more___than____?”

Here are a few examples.

Your dog has a tendency to go down with her elbows slightly elevated on the signal exercise.  Since the behaviors that follow the down are in the upwards direction this is logical; your dog is simply consciously or unconsciously anticipating what will come next.  So what can you do to change this?

Ask yourself, “What is more down than down?”

How about “drop head or chin on ground?”

Since it’s impossible to have your head down and your elbows up, your dog is quite likely to drop their elbows fully if the next requested behavior might be “more down than down”.   With dogs that are inclined to hover their elbows above the ground, I frequently include a signal to “put your head down” as often as I might request a recall, sit, etc.  It becomes one of the options in the signal exercise.

Eventually, I use “chin on ground” as a correction since my dogs don’t much want to put their chin down when their toy might be thrown soon.  In that case, the only time I insist on chin down is when I notice hovering elbows.  Your dog quickly figures out that keeping elbows down on the down cue is more desirable than being asked to put your chin on the ground (especially if I then make them stay in that position for several seconds), so the problem of elbows down tends to resolve without any additional effort on my part.

This worked beautifully when I was training Raika in Mondioring – she’d break her down cue into a sit when the “bad guy” would rattle the stick.  My correction was  1) bad guy stopped agitating, 2) block Raika’s vision of the person by standing in front of her, 3) re-cue the down signal 4) cue head down 5) re-introduce the bad guy into the equation.  She didn’t particularly like the expectation to keep her elbows down on the down cue, but she truly hated being asked to hold her chin on the ground.  Voila – she learned to keep her elbows down, even under extreme agitation.

How about a dog that hovers their butt a few inches above the ground when they sit?  For example, each time you halt in heeling, your dog “almost” puts their rear end down, but not quite, in anticipation of either a toy reward or moving again?

Ask yourself, “What is more sit than sit?”

How about sit up and beg?

If the dog hovers their rear, then I’d cue them to sit up and beg on every halt.  When I notice that they begin to sit properly in anticipation of being asked to sit up, then I no longer require that secondary behavior unless they fail to sit properly.  Since most dogs hover because they want to continue moving, the “sit up” eventually becomes a correction and I only cue it when I see a hovering sit.

Here’s a short video with Raika showing the head drop for both the signal exercise and the drop on recall.  In this video I only ask her to duck her head; if she had failed to do that I would have asked her to put her chin on the ground.  Since she doesn’t particularly mind ducking her head but she does object to chin down, I can use whatever degree of “reminder” makes the most sense based on the dog’s behavior:

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.

8 responses »

  1. I occasionally ask my dog to ‘sit pretty’ (beg) during or at the end of the long sit – I figure it keeps her mind further away from lying down.

  2. Thankyou for this post/advice.

    I do have a problem with ‘almost’ behaviours. (And DID miss a final qualification for a title when I was told after the event that Sally had not actually put her heels on the ground when she ‘sat’ (Bummer! I had even ooked at her to be sure she was sitting, too!). Of course the fat tht i am directionally dyslexic ans this a 360 left about turn instead of a 360 right, and walked around on a stand stay which wasn;t asled for didn’t help! 😦

    I also ahve trouble with my dogs just not quite putting their elnbows down on a ‘down’. I have been cuing ‘right down!’ when this haopens but am suspecting that now they are waiting for the second command before the elbows go down 😦

    Not to metion that they are getting into bad habits re sitting straight at heel without a ‘reminder’.

    Any hints on how to overcome that would be welcome. They are not terribly ‘foody’ so the lack of click and treat doesn’t other them in the slightest.

  3. As always, love the way you think! I’m wondering about applying this to my dog’s contact behavior in agility. The criteria is 2on/2off at the bottom of the contact obstacle. She’s been cheating a bit: 1toenail on/3 off etc. So I asks meself, “What’s more 2o/2o than 2o/2o?” And I answers meself, “How about backing up her hind footies up the ramp?” We’ll get an NQ if she is all the way off and puts her footies back on, but I don’t care as long as she learns something. What I don’t want to end up with as a final behavior, tho, is 4 on or turning this into a behav chain. Thoughts?

  4. Helen Gruenhut

    I have taught all kinds of behavior, but have never succeeded in teaching head down.
    Are there any classes taught at the Academy that have this instruction during the course?

    • Helen, you need to learn shaping:

      This class teaches tricks, and head down is a straightforward trick with shaping.

      • I would teach ‘head down’ with targetting.

        I have taught my old (and pretty ga-ga now) dog to ‘chin target’. That is, he puts his chin in my cupped hand. ( I did this after reading “How Dogs Love Us” Gregory Berns, about how he did MRIs on dogs’ brains.)

        It would be pretty simple then to start lowering your hand until it is on the floor, then change the cue word to a ‘chin on floor — and fade you hand signal.

        Or you could use a target stick — I usually ask for a nose tough to a stick (I make my own stick fram wooden dowel and glue a wooden bead on the target end). Te you can ask for a ‘touch’ while the dog is lying down.

  5. For those who havent cme across the Canine MRIs, here is a video of how they trained the dogs.

    Dog fMRI – Training Video

  6. Pingback: Head drops in heeling | Denise Fenzi

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