The "Second Action" - Leaving The Handler

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

We've finished the "first action," coming toward the handler, and we've also covered some variations useful for problem solving. Now, in the "second action," the dog will learn to move away from the handler to turn off mild stimulation. This motion is the foundation for corrections you might need during the retrieve exercises, the send-away, and a refusal to jump.

Start by Introducing a "Place" to Stay

Partially enclosing your platform with an ex-pen will help make the target "place" look familiar to the dog and will speed learning.

It's important to use a visually identifiable target to make it easy for the dog to learn to move away from the handler. A small raised platform works well, because the beginning dog can easily identify that the action of stepping down off of it causes the collar to "turn on." A piece of plywood about 20 by 30 inches, and raised up about 4 inches, works well for most obedience dogs. Some carpet fastened to it will give the dog secure footing.

Start by teaching the dog to stay on the platform. Placing an exercise pen around three sides of the platform will help the dog understand what you want in the beginning. Fold the ex-pen to be barely larger than the platform. As an alternative, you can place a wire dog crate on the platform, about a foot back from the edge. Putting "wings" on the sides of the opening to the pen or crate also helps guide the dog.

It's best to use a long line and a helper at first, to guide the dog away from you and back onto the platform. If you don't have a helper, you can run the line around a post and back to you. Use a low-level variable intensity plug, and continuous stimulation.

Have the dog walk onto the platform a few times until he's comfortable with the set-up. Then back away from the opening of the pen to give him an opportunity to leave.

A helper with a long line can gently guide the beginning dog away from the handler and onto the platform.

As soon as the dog's front foot steps down off the platform, press the button and give him a command which means to enter the ex-pen (we'll assume here that your command is "Kennel"). If needed, the helper should use the line to guide the dog back onto the platform. Release the button as his front feet touch the platform. You want him to identify the edge of the platform as his boundary. Praise him calmly, and repeat this step until you see the dog start to leave the platform and then change his mind. Praise him for his correct choice.

If you are using a crate on the platform, be sure you don't correct the dog for just stepping out of the crate. Press the button only when a front foot contacts the ground.

Let the dog relax on the platform for a minute. Then take his collar and lead him from the platform. (You can call the dog off the platform instead of leading him, but don't use the collar to reinforce a command to come. If he's unsure, just lead him off.)

Repeat this sequence a few times until you see that the dog understands to stay on the platform. When he demonstrates this understanding, you can begin sending him to the platform from a distance.

Sending the Dog Away from You

Now the dog is ready to learn to move toward the platform to turn off stimulation. You should continue to use the ex-pen or crate, and the long line and helper when you introduce this.

Start by walking toward the platform, with the dog at your side. When you and the dog are about four feet from the platform, press the button and tell the dog "Kennel." Release the button when the dog's front feet step onto the platform. The helper can use the line to guide the dog if necessary.

After several repetitions, stop moving forward as you send the dog. It will be easier for the dog if you position him so that he's closer to the platform than he is to you. Press the button just as you command "Kennel," and release the button as the dog's front feet step onto the platform. If the dog doesn't go, take a step or two toward the platform to help get him started. After a few repetitions, you can start the dog from the heel position and he'll know to head for the platform.

Now gradually increase the distance between the dog and the platform. When you do this, you must make one important change in your timing. When you send the dog from more than six feet away, release the button the moment he leaves your side. Be prepared to press the button again and repeat your command if he doesn't go all the way to the platform on the first command.

As soon as the dog will go to the platform and there is slack in the line, (you are no longer guiding the dog onto the platform) remove the long line. Then gradually phase out the use of the ex pen. If you are using a dog crate instead of an ex-pen, you should move it right behind the platform before finally removing it. (Be sure you don't leave the ex-pen or crate where the dog can see it as you continue the lesson, as the beginning dog will be confused by seeing two possible targets.)

Increase distance gradually over several sessions, until you are sending the dog from about 50 feet away from the platform. Send him to it from several directions. Whenever you set up for a new session, be sure the dog knows where the platform is before you start sending him to it.

Phase out use of the collar with each command

After several short sessions, you'll see the dog becoming quick and positive in his response to the "Kennel" command. At this time, cease using stimulation with the first command. You want the dog to believe that by moving quickly when he hears your command, he can avoid the stimulation entirely.

In other words, once the dog is responding quickly to your command, you should use the collar only if he doesn't go on the first command, doesn't go all the way, or gets off the platform before you release him.

The Go-Out

If you wish, you can use the "chaining" process described in Part 5 in order to replace the "Kennel" command with your go-out command. Now you can use the platform as a beginning go-out target.

When the dog arrives at the platform, tell him "Sit." When he turns around and sits, praise and release him and then toss a toy for a fun retrieve. If he is not a toy lover, run to him, give him a treat, and release him with lots of praise. You can make his going to the platform into an exciting game, where he gets a play retrieve or treat after arriving and sitting.

By using a platform that is narrower than it is wide, you'll pattern the dog naturally to a tight turn and sit. By making yourself the source of the fun reward, you'll have the dog's attention riveted on you after he stops, instead of investigating the go-out target to find the goodie.

The dog's knowledge of staying on the platform to keep the collar turned off will prevent any creeping forward, so you can put a lot of excitement into this game and really build a dog's enthusiasm for it without getting any bad habits. And, since you never reward him until he sits, you'll always get a prompt sit instead of something else at the end of the go-out.

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