December 2010

Merry Christmas

We have been working our puppies with Maria Hagström (awesome obedience instructor from Sweden) for two days and we’ve had a lot of fun. If you think obedience is boring, take a look at this video. There’s a lot of playing going on, but also a lot of obedience training with high precision, and even sequencing. Do you think the puppies even notice the difference?

With that, I wish you a Merry Christmas! Please leave a comment if you have something on your mind. I’m off to clean the house and prepare for my parents and brothers arrival tomorrow.

How to get your dog to beg to work!

A lot of people have asked for ideas on how to do if you don’t want to ask your dog to work. In all training, my first goal is that the dog asks me to work with him, not the other way around. One part of this is of course to have great rewards. Developing good toy and food rewards is a really important job to do if you want to have a good working relationship with your dog, but it usually doesn’t fix the problem in itself. A lot of high drive dogs that are easy to reward are still relying on the handler to tell them to work and are easily distracted from their work.

I use shaping when I teach my dogs new things. Shaping relies on the dogs own initiative and I don’t use lures or promts to get behavior. This is a huge benefit if you want your dog to beg to work. The dog will learn to beg you to reward him by offering behavior right from the start. In addition, the dog that is used to shaping will learn to come back from not getting rewarded and to keep offering behavior. This will make it easier to work on longer sequences without rewards.

Doing a lot of shaping with your dog is really good, but it is also important to keep this attitude when you combine behaviors to exercises and exercises to sequences. With my puppies, I do a lot of training where my goal is to reward the dog for spontaneously following me and begging to work. I play tug with the dog (or use another good, active reward), snatch the toy from the dog, hide it and walk away. When the dog catches up and gives attention, the play resumes. As the dog gets more experienced, I will wait for longer before I give the reward back to the dog.

In all training, even when preparing for trials (or in a trial!), the dog has to make the first move to get the game to start. Coming to heel position should be automatic for the dog, I don’t even have a cue for it with my two-year-old dog. To start an exercise, the dog has to come to heel and give attention. It is so easy to start nagging the dog when the training starts to look more like obedience trials and less like shaping tricks. The trick is to keep the same division of responsibility all the way. Make sure that you never use cues when the dog doesn’t ask for them. Cues should not be “commands”, they should act like green lights and reinforce good behavior.

Good luck with training and please comment if you have any questions.


A few people asked me to write something about go-outs, so I’ll give it a try.

In FCI obedience, we have the send to a square. This is a good video that shows you how the exercise is done in the elite class. The dog is sent to a marker 10 meters (33′) in front of the handler where he is asked to stand. He is then sent abpout 23 meters (75′) to the left or right to a square made up by four marker cones. The outer limits of the square is marked with a visible line. The dog is told to stand in the square, then to lie down. The whole dog has to be inside the square to get points on the exercise. The handler walks towards the dog, turns to the side and then back to the start. About 10 meters from the start, the handler recalls the dog and the dog comes to heel. In the lower classes (class II and III) here in Sweden, the dog is sent straight ahead of the handler to the square. The Square is 10 meters away in class II and 25 meters away in class III.

In North America, the send out is across the ring, about 12 meters or 40 feet. (If I have read the regulations right, please correct me if I’m wrong). This is a good video of how the exercise is done. When the dog reaches the end of the ring, he is asked to sit and is then directed to either the left or the right jump, coming back towards the handler. When the dog is back at the handlers side, the exercise will be done again, this time doing the other jump.

I start working on send-outs early with young dogs. I want them to be comfortable and have fun with running full speed away from me. To get them started, I teach them to target a big mat (I often use car mats as they are a good size) with their paws and work on going out to the target. I want to focus more on the running out than on the targeting and try to place the reward in front of the dog. Always clicking and treating as the dog is targeting and turning towards the handler can create a dog that is always thinking about stopping, because all the value is in that behavior. When the target goes away, the dog will often stop short. I don’t use the target for much else than to make the puppy love running a long distance away from me, so I’m ok with the dog just running over the target. I try to mostly reward with a toy thrown over the dogs head as he is running away. I also leave the dog standing in front of me and send him to the target left or right, as in the send to square in elite class.

As I work on targeting, I also teach the dog to load when I restrain him by holding his collar (this can also be taught in other situations, like when doing crate games or teaching the dog to “get it”). When the target is out of the picture, the signal for the dog to go out will be me loading the dog by holding his collar.

Next step is to get the same behavior without a target. To get this, you can try different things. You could start by using the target and then taking it away in the same session. If the dog is excited and understands the collar load, he will probably start to go out even when the target is taken away. Reward him starting the go-out by throwing a toy over his head. You could also work on this while you’re out walking with your dog off leash. If your dog behaves likes to run straight forward when you release him after a recall, you could reward this with a thrown toy. After a few repetitions, add the collar grab and let the dog load before releasing him. Reward him for starting on a go-out and gradually increase the distance. Another way of getting the behavior is to throw a ball to the dog on a straight line, until the dog starts to anticipate the throw and runs away from you before you throw the ball. When the dog is getting the idea, start restraining him by the collar and work on longer and longer distances before you throw the ball.

All of these methods require that you have good mechanical skills. It is very easy to teach if you convince the dog right away that the easiest way to get the toy is to keep staring ahead. A lot of dogs have already learned to always look back at you in anticipation of the toy. This makes training a lot harder and I wold recommend that you keep the target for a longer time, so that you get a lot of repetitions where you can throw the toy over the dogs head without him ever looking back at you. You will probably need to stay close to the target and also sometimes reward the dog for actually targeting, so that he keeps his focus forward.

When I have a good send out to nothing, I add the square right in front of me and reward the dog for running straight through it. I then run to the square and play with the dog in the middle. I move the square a lot so that the dog is not just running on the same line over and over, and I make sure to vary the distance to the square all of the time. It usually doesn’t take long before you can see the dog getting excited by the sight of the square.

The dog also needs to know a good stop and a good down at a distance. This is something I train separatly, it’s a nice thing to work on while out for walk with the dog off leash.

There are a lot more things to say about the send to square, but I can’t write too long today, so this short text will have to do for now. What about the North American go-out then? Well. You can surely benefit from teaching your dog to run away from you in a straight line, but I would think that the easiest way to teach it is to teach the dog to just target the fence that marks the edges of the ring. It’s always there and it’s not a very long send. Combined with a well generalized “sit”, I don’t think you need to put much effort in to get a really nice performance.

Good luck with training and please comment below if you have any questions or comments.

Training for competition

Thank you for all the interesting ideas you gave me in yesterday’s blog. My plan for today was to make a video about teaching the dog to heel, but it’s been snowing all day so I’ll do it some other time. I really think you need to see a video to get the idea. A few of the people commenting yesterday said that keeping the dog focused and driven in a trial was the biggest issue for them, so that is what I will address today.

Teaching the exercises for competitive obedience might be hard some times, but the real challenge is to get the dog to perform as well in trials as he is in training. I would say that about fifty percent of training should be preparing the dog for competition, as opposed to just working on details in the exercises. There are different factors that make competitions much more challenging than training, and the first step is to identify them. Here are some things that I find makes the difference:

Lack of reinforcement. This is probably the most important point. We love to reward our dogs and we do it a lot in training. In a trial, the dog has to work for up to fifteen minutes without any food or toys. Most dogs quickly get the difference between training and competition and that’s when we start to call them “ring wise”.Start to let your dog do more than one behavior before he gets rewarded early in your training and increase the time and effort he has to do between rewards gradually. Ideally, your dog should be used to working for longer periods of time in training than you ever ask for him in a trial.

Lack of sequencing. This is related to lack of reinforcement, but brings another aspect to it. Doing many exercises after another without rewarding in between brings out weaknesses that you won’t see if you’re always working one exercise at a time. This is where you go to a trial and don’t understand why your dog made a misstake – “it’s never happened in training”. Make sure that you try all exercises in a sequence with other exercises before it. Make note of any mistakes and fix them before you try the sequence again.

Division of responsibility. When training, I always consider what I want my responsibilities to be, and what responsibilities I lay on the dog. In the end, everything that happens is my responsibility, but I need to train my dog to take care of a lot of things. I can’t do everything for my dog in a trial, but many trainers still take all the responsibility in training. They are always helping the dog out and they never teach the dog to be an active part in training.When I train my dogs, I have the division of responsibility in my mind.

The most important thing is that I never ask my dog to work with me. My dog has to ask me to work with him. I don’t ask him to look at me or to come to heel. The dog has to take responsibility for those things if he wants to work. A trainer that is always asking the dog to work, regardless of if she does it with lures, cues or corrections, will create a lazy dog that knows that he can engage in other things (looking around, sniffing, lagging), because the handler will always tell him when it is important that he shows interest.

Make sure that you have great rewards that your dog loves, and teach him to beg for them. Let your dog be active in asking you to work with him and reward him for taking initiative.

Distractions and new environments. Of course, distractions can be a big difference between training and competition. Make sure that you include anything that could disturb you or your dog in your training.

Before, between and after exercises. Most people only train the exercises and never think of everything else that goes on in a trial. Many dogs (and handlers) don’t know that to do between exercises, or how to get into the ring to start up in a nice way, which causes the dog to loose focus. Make sure that you include entering the ring and transportations between exercises in your training for competition.

Warm up here, perform there. Many dogs are fine as long as they have checked a new place out and have gotten a few rewards in that place. In a trial, you need to warm up away from the ring and then be ready to walk to a new spot and perform right away. Make sure that you do this often in training. Warm your dog up on the parking lot, then walk onto the grass (or warm up in one area of the training hall and then move to a new area) and let the dog follow you for a little while before you reward.

Don’t ask your dog to come with you, reward him if he chooses to (and if he doesn’t, evaluate how much your dog is willing to work for his reward and think about how often your dog asks you to work vs. the other way around). Gradually increase the amount of time your dog has to work in the “ring” before you reward, but don’t always make it harder. Surprise your dog with an early reward once in a while.

I’m sure that you can come up with more ideas. Please post a comment if you do, or if you have any questions. Training for competitions is a massive theme to cover in one blog post, so this is just a scratch on the surface. The most important things to remember is to train your dog for trials, not just exercises. Make your training look like competition a lot and train your dog to a level where the exercises feel easy at a trial and the dog is used to work for longer periods of time without rewards. And make sure that you make your dog feel like a champion every time you finish a trial or a competition-like training. There should always be a great reward for the dog in the end.

Let me know what you think!

Obedience Challenges

I know that a lot of people that read this blog are interested in how to use clicker training for obedience. I will try to write about how to train different exercises and how to problem solve, but I would love to get some input from you. First of all – I need to know if you’re interested in knowing more about clicker training for obedience. I’m also interested to hear what challenges you face when training for obedience trials. Tell me your problems, and I’ll try to give you solutions based on clicker training in this blog.

Epic playing in the snow today

Introducing Epic!

It’s about time to present my new puppy. He is a border collie named Epic and he is from our first own litter of puppies, born on August 3rd. His mother is Squid’s mother Fly and his father is named Killiebrae Hemp (bred by Derek Scrimgeour in England, living in Norway). I have really loved the puppies I have seen from Hemp, both in agility and herding. So far, Epic looks like everything I wanted from this combination. He is very friendly and outgoing and a lot of fun to work with. He relaxes well at home and is very focused on his work even with distractions. He is keen on sheep and shows great talent, but he’s just met the sheep a couple of times. I will start training him on sheep within a few months.

Two weeks ago (we still have a lot of snow…)

End of october

Six weeks old