Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Training Tips: Showing Dogs, Teach to Focus on You, Clicker Training

A friend recently asked me about training her show dog to look at her and not focus on or try to grab the bait. There are many steps to training a show dog to free stack and show herself. Here are some basic training tips and a suggestion of how to apply them to this one step.

There are lots of ways to train anything - if one approach doesn't work for you or for one dog you can make up another way as long as you understand the principles. Basically, behaviors that are reinforced are likely to be repeated. The beauty of the clicker - used well - is that it marks the moment in a clear, concise "language". So you only need a second of the good behavior or something that is closer to the desired behavior than what you are getting to begin. You reinforce that and build on it. Think of the click as a camera shutter - take a picture of the moment you want to capture. We've all taken lots of crummy pictures in a row with one or two great ones depending on the exact snap of the camera. Click the clicker as if you were taking that great picture - the one when the dog is doing what you want, even if it only lasts a split second. Catch it with the clicker, then give the treat. You can't deliver a treat or say "good dog" with the same accuracy as you can click and the click becomes extremely meaningful to the dogs -- and they love it because it is so clear. Look at my photos. The picture on the left was what was happening only a few seconds before the picture on the right. The sweet puppy sitting politely would be the one you want to capture with the clicker. It's all about your timing.

Try this for redirecting a dog's focus - put the treats on a table within arm's reach. Problem dog will look at the treats. Wait until she looks at you instead, even if just for a second - click. Then give her one of those treats. It won't take long before she only looks at you and does not bother looking at the treats anymore because looking at the treats gets her nothing. Looking at you gets her clicks and treats.

Work up to taking a treat from the table and holding it in your hand and wait for her to make eye contact. Leave your hand by your side, not up by your face. Don't move it away from her. Close your fist around the treat and don't let her take it. Bump her if you want or just wait until she backs off for a second and looks at you - click and give her the treat. You can repeat that many times a day in all different situations, not just while working on show baiting. She will quickly learn that looking at the treat does not get her anything (if you make sure it doesn't) and trying to take the treat should NEVER result in her getting one. Really, that is just rude and disrespectful anyway, so she should learn that regardless of showing. Trying to take food from your hand gets nothing. As soon as she back her nose away the hand opens and treat is delivered. Ask for a little longer time of not touching before you deliver the click so she learns to maintain the backed off behavior. Build slowly on lots of little successes, lots of repetition. You want to add a short delay fairly soon in the process or you will inadvertently teach her that bumping your hand is what you want. Keep you final goal in mind, then dissect it into little steps. Start with the simplest little step and build up to your goal. Don't worry about what else she is doing while you are working on this - sitting, standing, wagging - doesn't matter. You are only working on getting her focus and nose off of the treat.

You can only teach one thing at a time. You can work on different things, but break up the session so she doesn't get confused. Don't try to work on tail wagging, perfect stacking, eye contact and bait attention all at once. Work on tail wagging, take a little break, then work on eye contact and forget about what the tail is doing. Later you can work on perfect foot placement, but forget about where her tail and eyes are during that session. After she learns each piece you can put it all together. You can make showing fun for her by teaching these things, then giving them to her as little jobs for which she will earn that bait she so dearly wants. She will have more fun and be more focused if she understands how to play the game and knows that she can get that reward by working for you and giving you "the right answers". You are giving her control. You are also giving her knowledge. That is much more exciting to a dog than standing there trying to dive for bait and getting kneed in the chest. It also presents a prettier picture to the judge.

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