Using targeting in distance skills

One area of training Zora and I have been struggling with consistently is when I’m wanting her to turn away from me and then keep moving forward despite limited movement forward from me.  So after a couple of different approaches that clearly weren’t helping, I shelved this for a few weeks, month.  And thought about it.

I brain stormed, I watched some you tube videos of people and dogs running distance courses, I watched their handling and their dog’s response to said handling, I wrote out what I’ve tried before what hasn’t worked, what has and how.  What skills I’ve introduced to Zora, even ones we haven’t used since she was itty bitty.  Everything I could think of.

And in the course of my processing, I thought, “Hmm, when she was a pup I used her targeting to the pause box to introduce the concept of distance to her.  Why did I stop doing that?”

I stopped doing that because a.  the pause box is heavy and therefore harder to move.  b.  it’s set at 12″ tall and she has to take a running leap to get onto it which limits where I can place it.  c.  It’s 3×3 square so that’s a lot of area for her to target to meaning less precision on how she approaches it.  and d.  I only have one, meaning moving it A LOT (see a. once more).

So I thought, ok what other location type target behaviors have I introduced to her before?  And remember years ago now (geeze, how can I say that with her, I want her to still be an itty bitty baby!  Instead she’s gonna be 3 next month!) during her ‘body awareness skills’ training phase we did some work with an upside down rubber feed bucket on her putting her front feet on it (also did just her rear feet, and sitting on it).  And I thought, “Hmm, those are a lot smaller and easier to move.  I have a couple of those lying around let’s try this.”

Yesterday morning, I tossed one out on the grass and cued, “Mark” and somehow my brilliant little short dog who hasn’t heard that cue in over a year remembered.  Happily tail wagging ran up to the bucket and popped her front feet up on it.  Good girl!  Great!  You remember, perfect!  We did a bit of through a hoop, ‘mark’.  Then a bit of directions with a couple of jumps.  She was happy, tail wagging, thrilled the entire time.  I was thrilled!!!  Finally clarity for my dog!  WooHoo!!!!

Here’s a video clip from our training session this morning with agility equipment.  I’d say this is the most success we’ve had with the switch and drive away concept with her being happy, enthusiastic and clearly it making sense to her what I was wanting.  Yay!

Some of the reasons I like the upside down rubber feed buckets as targets are a. they are readily available and fairly inexpensive.  we picked up a couple more buckets at Tractor Supply this weekend and they were less than $5 each.  b.  the buckets last.  I’ve had a some of mine for many years.  They’ve survived freezing cold, rain, snow, heat, dogs, ducks.  Because they are a thick yet flexible rubber, they don’t crack when water freezes in them like other buckets I’ve used in the past.  The flexible thick rubber also gives them better traction for the dog.  c.  They are small and low enough to the ground to not be too obvious to the dog until they are near it.  unlike the pause box which is large and very visible from a far distance, I like that these targets are just visible enough as the dog approaches to give the dog a nice clear focal point but not so visible that the dog can guess where you are directing them to without really paying attention to your cues.  d.  they give the dog a really clear behavior to do with them that is very clear to the handler if done incorrectly.  Unlike say a bit of rug or plastic lid flat on the ground, which can be hard to know far away what the dog is doing, or a target that requires a nose touch meaning it takes more consistent training for the dog to learn to touch and then stay at the target, 2 front feet up on the bucket until verbally released is a really clear response. and e. they are really great for helping dogs learn to collect in early stage training since you teach them to run straight to the target and front feet up, not run past it then return.  I was first introduced to the idea of using rubber feed buckets for such skills by NADAC gu-ru Sharon Nelson, great use for them!

Teaching a dog this type of behavior is also super helpful outside of agility.  Person at the door, send the dog to their target place.  Dog rushes out the door.  Target place, open door, release, cue 2nd target place positioned right outside the now open door.  Dog struggles with no jumping on people for greetings, cue target behavior pet and greet dog as long as their feet stay on the target.  Nice things about place and location targets are the clarity they give for dogs and handlers, makes it a lot easier to be consistent with criteria I find personally.

Have you played around and used location targets with your dog?  Do you find them helpful as well?

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