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Mistakes in positions

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I’m working with Brito on position changes.

The possibilities are sit, down and stand.  I also frequently cue the position the dog is in, since a lot of dogs find this notably difficult and I find that is helps their understanding of the actual position as opposed to “try something different and hope for the best”.

Now, before you read on to how I handle errors with positions, I need to put out a disclaimer:

I’m not very good at position changes.  I’ve never been able to get a dog to 95% reliability on random position changes.  I’m not talking the AKC utility exercise where it’s exactly the same each time; I’m talking about training a dog to really listen and nail them – every time, in any order.  So now that you know that I’m at about 80-90% reliability with most of my dogs, you can choose to read on or not.

Here’s a video of Brito practicing.  We’re in a public space where he has only been one time before, and the distraction factor is splitting his attention (and by extension, his success rate).  Indeed, if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that environmental sounds/visuals are causing him to miss more positions than he might if we were in a more pristine environment.  He’s trying hard to look at me and pay attention because he wants to cooperate – I have tasty cookies and work is fun!  But he’s still struggling because the world is very real and he can’t totally shut his brain off from that reality – even when he’s looking right at me.  (If you think a dog looking at you means you have their brain…well.  You’re wrong).

That split attention is not necessarily a bad thing, since the purpose of this session was to help him become more fluent – able to function even under mild distraction.

Things to notice:

I work quickly.  Work should be interesting to your dog, so give them something to do!  I give cues quickly, I reward quickly and I “re-set” him when errors occur quickly – so he has a chance to get it right as fast as possible.

Here’s an example:

At 19 seconds I cue a “sit” and he gives me a “stand.”

By 20 seconds I have moved to re-set him.

By 21 seconds I have him back in the sit where we started (heeling sideways will end in an automatic sit) and I re-cue the sit to a sit.  He succeeds and is rewarded at 22 seconds.

That means in four seconds, he has made an error, been re-set, been re-cued and won.

His next error occurs at 44 seconds – after he is reinforced for his down, he pops up.  He doesn’t like to lay down on the cold, hard cement, so this is not a surprise.   It takes me five seconds (until 49 sec) to get him back into heel position and to re-cue a down.  I do not reward that down, because that wasn’t the challenge.  The challenge was staying down when he was in a down.  So instead, I cue a second down – that is the one I reinforce at 53 seconds)  and…he pops up again!

I have him re-set at 55 seconds, and rewarded at 58 seconds. Now I simply work on holding his down – we practice repeatedly with success up to 1:08.

At which time, I cue a sit.  Failure.

I get him up (re-set), put him back down (not rewarded because not the issue I’m addressing) re-cue a sit with a bit of hand help – and reward his success.

I then work both issues until 1:22.  Hold a down when you’re down and respond to a sit cue from a down.

You can see another error at 1:38 – I cue a sit and he maintains a stand.  I re-set him and re-cue a sit by 1:42 seconds and he is rewarded.

In a two minute session of position changes, we worked very fast – both correct and incorrect responses are handled quickly.  Correct ones deserve the reward and incorrect ones need a chance to be performed quickly so that he can see the difference between what works for him and what does not – as fast as I can possibly manage!

The important takeaways for most people are to have a plan for handling success and failure, and work fast to keep it from becoming a drudgery.


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.

3 responses »

  1. Regarding training Brito: the question of how to respond to an incorrect response.

    In the video Denise immediately resets Brito and then repeats her request.

    After my dog kept waiting for a second cue, I was advised that retries give the dog permission to get it on the second cue. And instead to break it off completely and ask for another unrelated behavior and then retry. After I moved away from where we were practicing 3 times, my soft dog simply refused to try the behavior again. Just a retry upset him a little but me breaking off and moving to a new spot, destroyed him.

    what are some ways to reduce the slow processing, getting it on the second cue response?

    • I have had a similar problem with a very soft dog and am now having success with just holding the hand signal in place for as long as it takes for the dog to get the position right. So right hand palm forward out horizontally is my stand cue so i just hold it there until the dog tries a stand (even if that is a minute or more) then click and reward. It seems to be working and latency has gone down to fractions of a second!

  2. I’ll try it. I mostly use voice commands, but I can try with a hand signal
    Maybe it gives a message that I asked once and ain’t gonna ask again. But I’m patient.


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