Running contact foundation using a 4-foot target

Given that lots of students are interested in running contacts on the A-frame, I am trying to find some good foundation exercises (away from equipment) that can help with that process. In this case, I am building on a table behavior. This is a 15 minute video, only cut at breaks to show the whole process. Despite all my training mistakes, I do end up in a pretty good spot and this is a great illustration of why I train away from equipment until I have perfected my approach and I have worked through most of the frustrations for my poor dog.

Here is my premise: Many dogs run happily up onto a table and when super excited they keep on going after placing some feet on it, so my thought is, couldn't I make that a deliberate behavior? What you see in this video is the very first time I am playing with the idea.

Set Up. I have taken my table which has a PVC frame for legs and flipped it around to put the legs on top. This makes an aide that could be moved onto equipment. It is no different than using stride regulators on the A-frame and on the exit of the A-frame (which is a technique I already use)- but it does give handlers a skill they could build in the living room and backyard. The idea behind the table below the PVC is that I can hear the striding. If it was on the ground, I would have to watch and perhaps accidentally build in some body language.

The first step is just to see what Echo offers to get her comfortable with the set up. As soon as she is putting herself back into the box with her toy (I call it a ritualized restart), that tells me that she wants to play. I am looking for all 4 feet in the box on the way by. This is not a true open-strided behavior as she has to shorten her strides to get all 4 feet in.

Progress is going pretty well until I make it look more like an agility behavior and then her stopped contact thinking kicks in. Her behavior of getting into the box gets so strong I can't get her back out again without a release.

You can see that I am using different approaches to let her work through offering to step out of the box after she goes into it. The one thing I do not want to do is get ahead of her and build her thinking that she is trying to get to me, What I needed to do is not let her keep going back to the box after she gets her toy - remember she is learning all the time!

Then I get out Ceilidh and try working with treats and more movement. You can see her going through the same stages. Getting comfortable, offering, ritual restart, trying table behaviors, trying stopped contact behaviors, thinking I am maybe proofing the release... She is working so hard to not follow through on her momentum. But you notice I entice her to not go back into the box after she has shown me the ritualized restart.

Finally I have the idea to get her too excited to be able to stop in order to create the behavior I want to reward. I am figuring out what technique makes sense to a dog (or this dog anyway). It only took me 11 minutes!!!! This is why I am doing the training on something like the A-frame (with the low jumps as stride regulators) but NOT an A-frame.

The thing I was worried about with Echo was that if I got ahead of her she would be trying to get to me - so I test with Ceilidh, does the box override getting to me? No - when I stand well past it and release her with speed she makes no attempt to step in the box. Ok, good to know. I need to work up to that. Each time, I try to do something slightly different. Different relative position, different energy coming from me, different handling on the exit out of the box. When I get to a pretty good one, I stop.

At about 14 minutes in, I get Echo out again. She has has a chance to rest in the crate and think about. the games we were just playing (latent learning) - and I have learned more from working with Ceilidh. First thing you will notice is that I don't let her go stand inside the box and try to manage her so she doesn't go back in. Next you will notice that I am using more movement than I did on the first session.

Again, notice that as soon as I put a jump into it, her mindset changes from "oh we are playing a new game" to "this is agility, must be a stop" Notice also that going back through the box is "different" and she bounces right through. Finally I am learning again, don't put the jump and handling Into the picture yet-duh! Go the other direction on it since she hasn't generalized the agility idea to the other way. Aha! Now we are getting somewhere and I can introduce a little bit of handling without triggering the stop and the session is done.

This is a long training session but is an illustration of working through a lot of the training ideas that I use.