One of the common challenges that exhibitors encounter is dogs that refuse to “set-up” for work. Maybe they have just finished the heeling pattern and are moving to the start of a recall and…the dog stands there, looking everywhere but at the handler….waiting. But not sitting. Not setting up.
This is an extremely common stress response. Akin to – “If I don’t sit then I don’t have to start.” Which is technically true.
When a dog fails to set up, there are two things I look at; one is what happened immediately before and the other is what is about to happen immediately after.
If the last thing that happened was a fantastic play party with food or toys and now the dog won’t set up, then I suspect that the dog finds playing/working and time between exercises a whole lot more rewarding than work. If that is the case, then consider either carrying the party into the start of the next exercise (reward the set-up and then release – do that several times and make it a habit for life) OR after your play party, offer your dog a break. Then restart engagement at Stage 4 (search this blog for info on that). Both of these will prevent the dog from developing a bad habit of setting up slowly and painfully.
But what if the dog does this regardless of what happened immediately before? You certainly don’t want to stand around waiting – that’s going to create a really bad habit.
That’s when I look at the actual training. Is something about the work not much fun, so my dog is avoiding starting or continuing? Is my dog only showing this behavior in a ring, and is a ring the only place that I ever go from exercise to exercise without reinforcement? Fix that – train for it! Simply end one exercise, praise, go to a new one, set up – and reinforce there instead. Then randomize it – sometimes you reward parts of exercises or finished ones. Sometimes you reward after play. Sometimes you reward at the set-up. And other times you don’t reinforce with food or toys at all; you just keep going. Maybe for two exercise or maybe for an entire run through.
When in doubt, it’s pretty safe to assume that the dog is avoiding work, so make that set-up worthwhile for your dog! You can do that by decreasing the value of whatever happened immediately before, increasing the value of the work that is about to follow, or acclimating your dog to continuous chains before reinforcement happens, but regardless, listen to your dog, because if you’re seeing this in training you’re likely to see it in the ring. And while you can ignore it in training and talk the dog into cooperating, that doesn’t work nearly as well within a competition.
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from “The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.
. . . “If I ordered a general,” he would say, by way of example, “if I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.”
. . . “May I sit down?” came now a timid inquiry from the little prince.
. . . “I order you to do so,” the king answered him, and majestically gathered in a fold of his ermine mantle.
. . . “If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded. “The general, or myself?”
. . . “You,” said the little prince firmly.
. . . “Exactly. One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform,” the king went on. “Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.”
Wow – no way I can match a quote from the Little Prince! But, regardless, the topic of building “setting up” into my training routine is so timely — thank you for some ways to think about analyzing difficulties and even more important avoiding them!
I have a lab x GSD who will sit on a set up ( for hw ) but won’t look at me and will sometimes stay sitting there when I move off . she also will if stressed jump on my back and hump me . her whole attuide is not good to working especially hw ! she will do a lovely retrieve with a dumbell then on present spits it on the floor . she has a great hold in static and will run out for the dumbell , just loosing it on present ! any ideas ???
You have a complex issue that is going to take some doing to solve.
A good place to start is here in Engagement class: https://fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/4338
seeing u in the UK with ruby in November, I will read the engagement book that u have written , I wasn’t sure if it was engagement or motivation problem. thanks
good luck. If you can do the class online, it’s going to be a richer experience than the book – but work with what you have!