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I was hunting around on my computer today looking for a contact training method for one of my students… specifically I was looking for the “Sternberg Method”, which is just a bit of fun.
As it happens I ran across a blog I wrote maybe nine years ago when my boy Kory was a pup.
At the time I was buoyed by unrequited ambition and expectation. Hindsight really is 20/20. Kory is a clever boy and easy to train. And I’ve had to train him to be a very reliable independent worker as I’ve been cursed with an arthritic condition that prevents me from moving as I once did.
When Kory turned about four years old he developed a slight but persistent lameness. At an agility trial after one or two classes he will favor and carry a back leg. Don’t you know, I’ll pull him for the weekend. It’s an expensive proposition because you know that trial entries are a wicked form of gambling. You can’t ask for your money back because your dog’s gone lame, or five feet of snow has fallen on the roads, or there’s been an earthquake. It’s a greedy bastard economy, to be sure.
After a couple days he’ll be back on four legs showing no symptom of lameness.
These days I content myself with running Kory in league play in our National Dog Agility League franchise. Two or three times a month we’ll go out and run a course or two. And Kory seldom goes lame on me.
Let me share the original blog. See if you can detect my dog training delight as I work with my young dog.
[— 9 years back in time —]
My 2-minute dog trainer (mealtime) lessons with Kory the past couple of days have been an AL1RTO contact performance. Oh, that’s a new acronym: At Least 1 Rear Toe On. I’ve pretty much decided that 1RTO is too granular and 2O2O is too rigid. As a consequence I’ll accept either both back feet on the ramp or just one. Kory has big ol’ feet by the way. I expect that he’ll be growing in to them. He’s now 5 months old.
Kory has never had the full length of a contact obstacle. He’ll get to see contacts only when he has a rock solid AL1RTO working in our training sessions. I’ve taken one of my TDAA 8′ crossover ramps and lifted one end up on a milk crate. It’s set up on a small carpet down in the cool of the basement.
In this training I’m marking with a clicker. After Kory assumes a position that meets my criteria I’ll give him a click. I’ve also given myself permission to click multiple times while he holds position. After one c/t I’ll take a step rotating my position around him. If he holds position he gets another c/t. If he doesn’t hold position he gets my correction… which is to break off, turn my back on him, stop giving him warm praise. It’s completely neutral. And I can’t bring myself to develop a wrong performance marker.
I spent a day physically shaping, helping him find the position by picking up and putting down his feet. Then I spent another day lure shaping, drawing him into position with the offer of a treat. But now we are in free shaping mode alone. I give my command “Bottom” and wait ‘til he sorts through offering a variety of performances to find the one that gets the c/t.
He’s just about got it. He’ll get on the board and pounce his front two feet off and give me a lop eared “is this it?” look. C/T. You betcha it is!
My movement during the training is actually an important element of the training. I don’t want to practice the position by hovering over his head. That would put me too much in the context of the performance. Once he really understands the performance to the extent that he immediately mounts the board and pounces into position I’ll be varying my position and staying in constant motion. You get what you pay for… and this is what I want to own.
The Sternberg Method
As I’ve noted before – I subscribe to the “Sternberg method” for teaching a bottom performance. The handler shapes the dog into position and then rewards and rewards and rewards the dog for being in position. If the dog breaks the position then the handler breaks off giving praise and reward. It’s a very neutral correction.
With the dog in position, the handler will reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog. As Sue Sternberg puts it, “you reward the dog til you think your gonna die!”… and then…
You reward the dog and reward the dog and reward the dog.
[— back to the future —]
Needles to say, I’m still engaged and having fun training my dogs.
Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Visit our web store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, a comprehensive reference to all manner of agility games played for competition and fun around the world.
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