How a Weak Foundation Undermines Your Training

Lets go train the puppy to do a tunnel! How can that possibly go wrong?

Well, the blue text in this hypothetical transcript of a private lesson shows the training trajectory you want to be on.

The orange text represents the situation that an owner puts themselves in if they move forward with training and insufficient foundation skills.

Ready/Steady? Here we go....

Instructor: .Does your puppy walk nicely up to the practice area on a loose leash?


Instructor: great! you are about to do what you hope they find super fun with lots of play and treats - what a nice reward for their self control


Instructor: OK well just be aware that teaching to walk nicely on a leash may not get any easier once they know how awesomely fun agility is.

Instructor: Did you bring your toys with you?


Instructor: great, performing a tunnel is an acceleration behavior best rewarded with a moving toy - ideally thrown as if they flushed a pheasant out of the tunnel so the puppy learns to blast through as fast as they can go

Ummm... he won’t bring the toy back so I can just keep him on leash right?

Instructor: Well I would rather not just so we don't risk it getting caught up on something or under his feet.

Instructor: What if I hold his collar and you can go to the end of the tunnel with your toy instead of throwing it and just play a nice game of tug.

Ummm .... he doesn’t really like anyone holding his collar right now and I don’t know if he will be happy

Instructor: You can just put him in a stay and then recall him through Ummm... I’m not sure if he will stay...

Also he doesn't tug.

Maybe we could use treats instead?

Instructor: well... you can hold his leash and we can put a target plate down with cookies on it and then you can see if he wants to leave you and go through and then just step on his leash when he gets to the other side before he finishes his cookies.

I can always go back and teach him with toys right to get the speed and focus right?

I can see if he wants a toy and if he doesn’t I can always give him a treat right?

Instructor: well sort of. We aren't really rewarding the way we would like, not really setting up for independence, not really balancing the impulse control and drive, and accidentally getting ahead of the training - all so we could get the puppy into the tunnel. What we should be working on is building the reinforcement, impulse control, stay, recall, fetch and other foundation skills that would enable this training to be super effective.

Instructor: Is your puppy focused and ready to get started?


Instructor: great, we don’t want tunnels to become more rewarding than you - even though we want the dog to love performing all agility behaviors so they give it their best effort.


Instructor: Ok well just be aware that training him to want to pay attention to you later on after he knows how fun it is to do tunnels might make that job tougher than it already is.

Instructor: Woo Hoo! the puppy went through his first tunnel, is he ready to try again?

Yes, you are about to rehearse moderately fast tunnels using a lure and treats and are teaching him generally to work for treats.

No, he’s sniffing the target plate looking for more cookies while he learns to ignore his name and a recall cue.

Instructor: Thats understandable, try calling his name to get his attention

Woo hoo! the puppy is learning that its your job to keep his attention while he hunts for cookies

Uh oh!Didn’t work, just grab his leash and bring him back to the tunnel entrance

Woo hoo! the puppy has just learned that ignoring mom gets him a chance to run through tunnels and earn treats.

Instructor: The puppy seems distracted, maybe we should put him in his crate for a minute while we figure out how to help him. Does the puppy rest nicely in his crate?


Instructor: great, he can mentally recharge before you ask him to do more “work”


Instructor: Ok well, next time you come to class you can work on crate behaviors while everyone else starts weaves....

To be continued....

Note: This is just a hypothetical scenario of how training can be hampered by a weak foundation. No puppies were harmed in the creation of this scenario. Any resemblance to actual puppies or handlers is purely coincidental. But keep in mind, next week, this handler is going to want to just try the weaves and the next week.... Before you know it, the puppy is a young dog that sort of knows how to do obstacles, but the behaviors have holes in them and the foundation still isn't built.

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