Friday, January 17, 2014

From Sit/Down to Emergency Position Stay

I won’t elaborate much how to teach a sit and down, because most of my readers know how to, but very briefly: I lure the sit with a treat in front of the dog’s nose moved over and behind his head. As he follows the treat, the head goes up and the butt down, and the moment he sits I name and reward the behavior.
You could also lure the down from a sit by moving the treat straight down and then out. Most dogs will follow the treat and lower their body into a lie position. Frankly though, I prefer to capture that behavior. There is no such thing as a dog never lying down, but many owners ignore it when it occurs at home, and then try to teach it 2 hours later in the training facility. Start at home, name and reward when your dog naturally lies, and you create a link between the action and the word, and then you can prompt the action with saying the word. 

Your dog knows what a command means when heeds your request immediately 9 out of 10 times, but chances are he’ll only perform in the context he has learned the cue/behavior combination. With sit and down, that is typically the person facing the dog. So the next thing you want to do is teach your dog that the cue still means the same when the context changes, e.g. the dog sitting at each side and behind you, or you standing, walking, sitting or lying on the couch.

Once your dog is not ambiguous what the command means, build in duration. Duration comes next because if your dog can’t hold a position if you are right there, he won’t be able to do it when you are a distance away. 

When we call a dog into action, a higher-pitched, sound-repetitive voice and snappy movements work best.
When we ask a dog to remain at one spot for a bit, it helps to use a non-regimental slooow-looow-staaay tone and congruent, slightly forward leaning with the open palm of your hand toward the dog, body language. No finger pointing. That is rude.
Most dogs will hold the position at least for a couple of seconds; tell him he is a genius and release a treat but not the dog. Neither the verbal praise nor the cookie should become an automatic signal for your dog that he now can get up and do what he wants.
Remind your dog to staaay, and repeat, and so on, incrementally increasing the time before you praise and reward.
Be exuberant, let your dog know how happy you are that he’s got it right and plays by your rules.
Always go to him and reward when he is still in the position you asked. Don’t call him to you and reward, because then you are doing a great job reinforcing the recall, but a lousy job toward mastering the position stay.

Some dogs can’t hold a sit or down even briefly. In that case you are allowed, in the beginning, to hold a treat in front of his nose to help him understand and get a few moments in.
You can repeat your command, and more than once if you have to. Lorna McMasters in “Dancing with Sheepdogs” says that it verbally encourages the dog to keep doing what he is doing with a known word.
When he is about to break, interrupt him, for example with an Ah, remind him to stay, and generously reward him when he does, then release.
If you missed the moment and your dog self-releases, put him calmly back in position. Act normal, breathe, and try again. It’s about trying again and learning, not correcting. If you aim for cooperation, you always want to be appealing rather than repelling.
If it happens often, you are making the mistake of pushing too hard. Adjust the conditions.

When your dog holds a stay for a minute or so without needing a reminder or reward, incorporate distance and walk away, initially facing the dog and only one step, or just leaning back if your pooch is a little scared and particularly  person-dependent. Gradually increase the distance one step at a time; always working at your dog’s feel-good level, and in the beginning shortening the duration before you reward’n’remind.
This is a something you can put in your back pocket regardless what it is you are training: Making one component easier when a new one is added to the exercise prevents that the dog becomes anxious and checks out – physically, mentally or emotionally, because learning with you is too difficult.
Remember different contexts? Before you lengthen the duration again, get your dog, gradually, used to seeing you walk away with your back turned.

Working in the environment is the last part, because obeying around distractions is typically the most difficult part, so you want to make sure the exercise feels familiar and good.
When you take the show on the road, continue to proceed as slowly as you need to set your dog up for success. That includes not coercing a dog into a down, not even with a cookie, in the obedience class if he is too nervous to be in that position in that environment.
Taking your time in the front saves you time in the end because you don’t have to backtrack – Paraphrasing Steve White.
Begin with one step outside your door, then practice in the front yard, the sidewalk, the street corner, parking lots, near a playground or school zone – all the way to, eventually, the dog park.
If your dog can only manage a sit 30 feet away from another dog or person, reinforce that. Tomorrow it will be 25, then 20, until he sits relaxingly while you chat with a neighbor next to you.
Be aware that when animation increases, the degree of distraction does accordingly, so increase the distance with your dog, and stay closer to him for support. Once the animated stimulus is familiar and feels safe, you can decrease the distance to it, increase the duration – the period of time you hang around, and finally the distance between you and your dog.

A sit, down or stand stay is precision work and the dog should remain in the one you asked. However, you must be fair and accommodate your dog’s physical and emotional needs at the moment, and cue the one you believe he will be most comfortable doing - generally, or in that given situation.

With a position stay your dog practices self-control, and he will tire out because waiting and observing while you hide a toy, throw the ball, or handle another dog, is work and focused effort. That kind of mental work blended into physical exercise can prevent that your dog becomes too pumped and frenzied.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, if a dog trusts the exercise to the point where he will hold a position even when something makes him uneasy, you can place and leave your dog anywhere, anytime. That’s the emergency position stay and the benefit is clear: When a loose dog or child, for example, aims toward you, you can deal with the situation before your dog does.
It saved our Aussie twice in a lifetime from biting a child.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again.. Yes Davie was quite the Lady.. But she was good when the time was right!! An excellent Blog..