Saturday, August 27, 2011


A long, long time ago -- in dog years, at least -- Helen Phillips told me, " Willard, there are a hundred different ways to teach this stuff."  That certainly applies to teaching go-outs (the first half of the directed jumping exercise).

One way that's all the rage around here right now is to get the dog to run out and touch the pole, baby gate, whatever, with his paw. The execution and the commands ("whack it" or "smack it" and the like) are cute and everyone's having a lot of fun, but I don't see dogs learning a tight turn and sit using that method.  It does encourage them to go all the way out but if they sit it's usually in position to reach the pole with a front paw, not squared up to begin the jumping part of the exercise.

I prefer to use my PVC box, a target and a flexi to teach go-outs.  By the way, don't tell me you can't learn to use a flexi.  With my first competition obedience dog, Honeybear, I was the most flexi-resistant person in the history of the sport.  But later I learned to use it, actually with great dexterity and skill.  If I learned to use a flexi, anyone can.  Just do it!

Back to the go-outs and the PVC box.

Itty Bitty Go-Outs
Assuming you have Shep feeling good about being in the box, put a target dead center at the back of the box, inside the box.  I use a white lid about 2.5 inches in diameter.  Put the lid on the ground (or mat) topside up.  I want the treat to be perched on top of the lid, not down inside.  Right from day one I have a pole or baby gate stanchion behind the target.  I want my dog to begin to associate that visual cue with "straight."

Just for orientation purposes I may put my hand in the collar and walk the dog out to the target/treat a few times.  If you have a helper, in the beginning she can point to the treat to help get the dog's attention focused.  He's going to learn where that treat is very quickly.

We start a couple of feet in front of the box.  The closed end is toward us; I want my dog to get comfortable jumping that bar on the way in.  After a little bit of orientation, it's time to get Rover on the flexi.  The flexi is in your right hand.  Get down on his level and give him a line with your left arm extended as far as possible.  Use a mark word; I use "straight."  (I don't care whether the dog is sitting at this point or not.)  Then send him with, "Away!"  Followed almost instantly with, "Get it!"  You want him to learn to get it on your command.  Later he'll learn to differentiate between your command to get it and your command to turn and sit . . . without stealing the treat.

As soon as Rover gets the treat say, "Come!" and give him a little flexi pop to come back. (I did not say yank his head off.)  When he gets back to you, reward him with a treat and lavish praise.  I like to have my dog jump for the treat, it builds enthusiasm.

You're going to be frantically busy at this point, particularly while all this is going on at warp speed at a distance of five or six feet.  And you're going to despair of ever getting the timing down.  Not to worry, as you lengthen the distance it all becomes more manageable.

As you work your way back to the 24-foot length of your flexi, you should be concentrating on two things:  getting Fluffy to wait for your command before tearing out there after the treat, and developing a really good mark.  A good mark is not only essential to straight go-outs, it's also the foundation for the directed retrieve exercise.

Initially don't even think about introducing the turn and sit.  That comes later.

The Turn & Sit
"Abracadabra!" (puff of smoke).  It's later.  You've got your dog doing what's described above with great enthusiasm and at a distance that's as far as the flexi will allow.  (Which is why we use a 24-foot flexi.)

Now put the treat on the target and temporarily put the flexi aside.  Start from the same close-up distance you used initially.  Put your hand in the dog's collar and walk him out to the target.  As you go, you're repeating your go-out command, "Away! Away!"  Don't run, walk. Give him time to think about what he's doing.  Just short of the target, physically turn him and sit him.  As you turn him, say, "Phydeaux, sit!"  Then give him a treat from your hand. This is important:  When you turn him and sit him -- or later when he turns and sits on his own -- he never gets the treat from the target; it must always come from your hand.

As you are marching the dog out to the target/treat, turning him and sitting him, always say the commands:  "Away!" and then, "Phydeaux, sit."  You want to be instilling those commands in his mind, helping him associate those words with the physical actions that accompany them.

In the beginning he may be difficult to turn and sit.  Practice with your hand in his collar until he turns easily and plants.  Praise and give him a treat each time he does it.

Next, every so often do a go-out where you say, "Get it!" and he goes all the way out to the target, snarfs down the treat, turns and comes back to you for another goodie.  Note that in this method the dog never runs out, gets the treat, then turns and sits.  I'm afraid that will result in searching behavior (sniffing the pole prior to sitting) and significant points lost.

This is hard.  And crucial.  So buck-up.

Here's what you want for a well-executed go-out:  You want Muffie to run out there straight as an arrow.  Using the flexi, the box, the target and the treats, you've developed a nice, straight run.  Then you want a tight turn and sit.  That's why you've been practicing those turns and sits in the confines of the box.

Swell. But you also want her to keep going until you tell her to turn and sit.  She must not anticipate.  Must not start thinking,  Ah!  I know what comes next.  I'll turn and sit right now.  That's one of the major problems associated with this exercise.  Which is why you'll spend the next year, maybe more, working on differentiation.

Move in close to the box again, maybe five to seven feet in front.  Spike is on the flexi again, and will be for months.  Now send him, say, "Get it!" and let him get the treat and return to you.  OR  Send him, say, "Spike, sit!" and pop him into a sit just short of the treat.  Remember, he must not turn back  around and steal the treat off the target.  Instead, you should go to him praise and reward.

Now comes the part that works the magic.  You're going to mix get it and sit randomly so that the dog never knows what you're going to tell him to do.  This is hard for him, so he's listening with all the attention he can muster.

Slowly -- very slowly -- increase the distance, which, happily, will give you more time to think and react.  By and by, you'll be able to tell what he's going to do, and you can command the opposite.  If he looks like he's going to turn and sit, you can say, "Get it!"  And vice versa.  Many months out you'll be able to practice this without the flexi . . . using gentle corrections if he goes counter to your command.

Somewhere down the road -- and we're talking many months here -- when Fluffy is doing really well, it's time to begin removing the PVC box.  We remove one piece of PVC pipe at a time.  By now you've discovered that your dog always turns the same direction (she's right-handed or left-handed).  First remove the bar on the side she doesn't turn to; it's no longer playing a significant role.  Sometime later take away the piece on the other side of the box, leaving only the front barrier.  Eventually that goes too, leaving only the target and the treat.

There's more to teaching go-outs -- training for the occasional ring where there's no center pole, correcting crooked go-outs, reorienting the dog who suddenly begins taking the jump on the way out.  And, of course, there's the directed jumping part of the exercise.  But this post is about the use of the PVC box, so we'll save the rest for another time.



  1. This is great to know. We haven't started teaching go-outs much yet, just running out to the target. Basically the Itty Go Outs without the box but that will change! We do use the PVC box to teach fronts though.

  2. PS- I think I might know how to fix your issue with comments.

    Go to Dashboard, then settings, then comments. If the option to "embed under post" is selected, just select either of the other two options and I think that'd fix it for you.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've been unsatisfied with the "food/target on the gate" method. THIS is something I want to try! Although I do have visions of Scorch walking all around the PVC box... we've used some boxes before and he tends to either trample them or try to go in from the side.

    I think we have a new project to work on!