Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Box Work: The Turn & Sit

In my last installment on this subject I mentioned that from time to time I'm using a flexi as I send Presto! -- as if shot from a gun -- on his go-outs.  The flexi, which he's been on every day as he goes about pottying in the backyard, doesn't seem to faze him.  I really don't think he knows it's there.

I've gotten him flexi-comfortable because the flexi will be important in teaching the turn and sit.  But not right in the beginning.

Initially I'll put the flexi aside and we'll go back to our original go-outs starting position, two feet in front of the closed end of the PVC box.  With the treat on the target, I'll put my hand in his collar and walk him out to the target, just as I did when I was orienting him to where the target would be. As I go, I'll be repeating my send-away command, "Away! Away!"  I won't run him out there, we'll walk.  I don't want it to all be a blur; I want him to have time to think about what he's doing.  Just short of the target I'll turn him and sit him.  As I turn him, I'll say, "Presto! sit!"  And I'll give him a treat from my hand.  Very important:  As I 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.

It's important that as I march Presto! out to the target/treat, then turn him and sit him, that I always say, the commands:  "Away!" and then, "Presto! sit!"  I want to be imbedding those commands in his mind, helping him associate those words with the physical responses they should trigger.

I'm expecting that in the beginning Presto! may be a little bit difficult to turn and sit.  Of course the good news is that he's not a mastiff or a great Dane.  I'll practice with my hand in his collar until he turns easily and plants.  As I praise him and give him a treat each time he does it, it should come fairly quickly.

Once he's got it, every so often we'll do a go-out where I say, "Get it!" and he goes all the way out to the target, snarfs down the treat, then turns and runs back to me 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 around prior to sitting) and significant points lost.


Eventually -- many months out -- we'll reach the differentiation stage..  And that's the hard part.

Here's what I'm seeking in terms of a well-executed go-out.  I want Presto! to run out there straight as an arrow (which is the part he's been practicing since he was nine weeks old). Then I want him to do a tight turn and sit.  That's why we've been using the PVC box to teach turn and sits.

Swell.  But I also want him to keep going until I tell him to turn and sit.  He must not anticipate.  Must not start thinking,  Ah, I know what comes next; I'll turn and sit now.  That's one of the major problems associated with the directed jumping exercise.  Which is why Presto! and I will spend a year, maybe more, working on differentiation.

To begin that phase, we'll move in close to the box again, about five to seven feet in front of the raised bar.  Presto! is on the flexi and will be for months.  I'll send him, say, "Get it!" and let him get the treat and return to me.  OR, I'll send him, say, "Presto! sit!" and pop him into a sit just short of the treat.  Remember, he must not turn round and steal the treat off the target.  Instead, I'll hustle out there, praise and reward him.

Now comes the part that works the magic (I hope).  I'm going to mix it up, calling, "Get it!" and, "Sit" randomly so that Presto! never knows what I'm 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 -- I'll increase the distance.  That's good news; now I'll have more time to think and react.  By this time, hundreds of hours into Presto!'s training, I'll know his every thought.  When I send him away, I'll know what he's going to do, and I'll command the opposite.  If his body language tells me he's going to turn and sit, I'll call, "Get it!" and send him on for the treat.  And vice versa.  Many months out I'll be able to practice this without the flexi . . . using gentle corrections if Presto! responds counter to my command.

Looking way ahead -- and we're talking many months here -- when Presto! is doing really well, it'll be time to begin removing the PVC box, one piece at a time.  I already know Presto! is "right-handed."  Meaning he always turns to the right when returning to me.  So first I'll remove the bar on the left-hand side of the box (as I face it).  It's no longer playing a significant role.  Sometime later I'll take away the piece on the other side, the side he turns to, leaving only the front barrier.  Eventually that goes too, leaving only the target and the treat.  I'll eventually fade those.

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.  But this series of posts is about the use of the PVC box, so I'll wait and write about those Excedrin headaches when Presto! and I encounter them.  And we will.



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