Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Setting Criteria

Confession: I rush my dogs. I am not a patient trainer. I'm a lot better than I used to be, but I still rush. I still sometimes expect Jun the genius to jump from step one to finished products in minutes. But I'm learning.

So, I haven't had many clear goals for the dogs lately, since none of them are in any sports right now and we have no competitions to work for. Which creates an even worse situation for my rushing problems because I don't know what I'm specifically training for and have no clear goals for myself. I bounce back and forth from one thing to another and don't finish things. But in the last couple days I've been setting some more concrete goals and breaking some things down for my dogs in smaller baby steps.

I am teaching Jun a "go-out", obedience style (just for the hell of it, since I doubt we'll ever compete in real obedience). Now, I've done a ton of targeting with Jun, but I've never taught an obedience go-out and I really have no idea what I'm doing, so as usual, I'm making it up as I go along.

At first, I started with targeting a duct-tape square on the floor. Then I jumped straight to going to the duct tape square, targeting it, sitting and waiting. Haha! Yes, the mocking is well deserved. Jun was sort of getting it, but was pretty confused, obviously.

So I sat down (figuratively) and thought about my criteria and the individual components that went into the overall behavior I wanted. To do the behavior properly, I want Jun to (1) go to the target, (2) have a good level of accuracy in hitting the target with a paw, (3) remain on the target for a period of time, (4) sit on command, and (5) do all of this at a distance. Lots of steps I skipped in there. Step 1 is no problem, but 2 and 3 are really tough for Jun, so we've just been working those for the past few days. Jun was not sure how I wanted her to interact with the target--just be somewhere near it? Put a front paw on it? Put all 4 paws on it (that one was pretty comical)? Circle it? Bow on it? Her confusion is understandable, since I hadn't properly conveyed to her what I wanted. We've taken a big step back and are working very closely on hitting the target with one front paw, and standing there until released. And suddenly, with better defined criteria and clear steps to follow, we're making progress.

And oh yeah, at some point we'll have to fade the target. That one will be interesting, and I'll probably have to hit up my obedience peeps for suggestions when that time comes.

Another criteria problem I had last night that I've started working through is the way Elo takes treats. He is a shark and I will not have any fingers left very soon if things continue the way they have been!! Of course I have worked taking treats nicely and he does understand "gentle." But unless I remind him, he tends to snap for it. And even when he's trying to be gentle, he is so concerned about getting the treat into his mouth that he often adds a little snap at the end, just as I'm praising him for taking it so nicely. So last night, we worked on a different method of taking treats, wherein my fingers actually go INTO his mouth slightly. This might seem counterintuitive (and it's not the way either of my other dogs take treats), but it completely avoids the very worrisome (to Elo) possibility that he might not grab the treat firmly enough and it might fall on the floor instead of going into his mouth, thus leading to the little snap at the end that gets inadvertently rewarded too often. This has been working out swimmingly in the two days we've been at it!!

Clearly defined criteria + Clearly defined steps to the finished product = Progress! Imagine that!


  1. Oh, my god. Get out of my brain! Those first two paragraphs are the story of my life, seriously.

    Great post. And great timing- I really need to start doing this.

  2. Yay, I love doing go outs!
    I started Lance with the target method (to a lid, not tape) and while he did start sitting automatically I never expected him to. In the beginning I would click the touch then walk the treat to the target, place it on. Then in later steps I would say good (not my marker word) for the touch and cue sit, walk out and treat on the target.

    We've now switched methods to a foot touch to a wall/gate (no target) and I still say good, sit, walk out and treat. the sit is mainly automatic but it's not part of my criteria when I give them their cue to go out.

    As for fading it I don't have experience with it. I switched to the paw touch because I didnt want to have something to fade and was struggling with it. I know there are some trainers who never fade their target, just use something that is very hard to see at a distance so the dog starts to go out on faith. And they'll do very long go outs and maybe put their target beyond the ring gate. But many always have it out there so the dog keeps faith.

    I also treat Chuck like you do with Elo. not all the time, but he is a shark!

  3. Thanks for the input Laura. I wonder if I'd even be able to fade a target, with Jun being deaf. If she's running out and facing away from me, there is no way for me to call her and have her turn around and face me and sit. This is also the main reason I'm doing a target with a paw vs. her nose and I'm treating her with her head up and facing me. If she's busy looking at the ground for the target or a treat, she won't be looking at me for a sit cue. She's getting pretty good at stepping on the target without looking down for it! It's a fun training exercise and good practice setting criteria and asking for precise behavior, if nothing else.

    Glad to know I'm not the only one who shoves treats down their dog's throat to avoid getting bitten!! I was feeling slightly crazy with that one!