Correcting during Exercises

"Problem-Solving" with the First Action

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

In our last article we finished teaching the dog the first action of the Three-Action Introduction, coming to the handler. We'll now cover some ways to use what the dog has learned.

Using a Remote Trainer during obedience exercises

The use of a remote trainer has some distinct advantages over leash and long line corrections. Odd as it sounds, use of a remote trainer seems more "natural" to the dog than the mechanical alternatives.

First of all, corrections with a remote trainer can always be perfectly timed. The dog associates them with his own choices, and therefore learns what choices he wants to make. Delayed corrections rob a dog of the opportunity to quickly make the associations he needs for learning.

Second, because the dog wears the collar throughout a training session, the correction is available without breaking up a lesson by snapping on a long line or leash. Dogs become acutely sensitive to these actions by the trainer, and become "different dogs" with the line or leash attached. And since the collar does not tangle, it can be used easily during any exercise, including jumping. It is simply always there, available instantly if needed. And, of course, it does not run out of range at 30 or 40 feet like a long line does.

Third, unlike the hand, arm and upper body movements needed to give a leash or long line correction, there is no handler motion ("body language") associated with pressing the transmitter button. Dogs quickly associate handler body language with correction and depend on it as a cue to behave. In the ring, when body language isn't there, obedience starts to get sloppy. With an electric collar, your demeanor can be the same in training as it is in the ring, so the dog learns to pay attention all the time.

Also, many obedience dogs see that here-comes-a-correction body language as an indication of the handler's displeasure. This perception can make a stubborn or independent dog "brace" himself for the correction and resist it. The same body language, on the other hand, will cause a sensitive dog to behave submissively. With a properly-used remote trainer, no handler body language is associated with the correction. Consequently, dogs at both ends of the "temperament spectrum" often do better with remote trainer corrections than with other types of corrections.

Dogs learn so quickly with electronic collars that their proper use can make the corrective aspect of training much less negative for the dog than the traditional alternatives. Of course, NO corrective tool, be it electronic collar or any other device, should be used in place of praise, fun, play and other positive reinforcers during the training process.

There are some things to be aware of when using a remote trainer instead of traditional methods of correction. We continually emphasize: teach the dog how to turn off the collar by responding to known commands before using the collar in the actual exercises. This progression prevents a confused dog.

The usefulness of the remote trainer becomes very apparent when you can incorporate its use into your regular training sessions. However, to achieve this goal, it's best if the dog already understands how to respond to the corrections you might use. This is very important, because simply applying the mild discomfort may not in itself inform the dog of what sort of motion is needed to turn it off. (By comparison, some mechanical corrections may tend automatically to put the dog into the motion that is desired--popping a leash upward for "sit," forward for "come," etc.)

Another thing to be aware of (which happens with all types of corrections, but is more dramatic with corrections from remote trainers) is that initially dogs have a natural tendency to relate a correction to the exact place where it happened. For example, if you correct the dog with the collar for a slow recall, and then repeat the recall over the exact same path, the dog--although now coming quickly to avoid a correction--may arc around the place where he felt the correction. Sometimes, this can create a problem, but one that's easy to avoid once you're aware of it. For example, in the recall situation described above, you would simply repeat your recall in a different part of the training area, and eliminate the issue.

Using the "First Action" for problem-solving

So much for general advice. Here are some of the ways you can put your dog's understanding of the "first action" to use in the obedience exercises.

  • Preventing slow recalls
  • Preventing anticipation of the drop in the Drop on Recall
  • The Utility recall signal
  • Preventing a loop in the retrieve exercises

We'll discuss the first three now, and cover eliminating the loop in the next article.

Preventing slow recalls

Our last article described a teaching sequence called "Adding Momentum to the Recall." This procedure prepares a dog to understand that speeding up turns off the collar. It should be taught before you use the collar to add speed to a recall.

Once your dog knows how to speed up to turn off the collar, apply stimulation as you give a second recall command whenever the dog comes in too slowly. You can use this technique to ensure a quick return, even over short distances such as when returning from the article pile, coming back with the utility glove, or after dropping in the drop on recall.

Timing, however, is crucial. You must be ready to press the button during any situation in which your dog may come too slowly. He won't learn your expectations from a delayed correction. "Be prepared" should be your motto if your dog has already acquired the bad habit of lackadaisical recalls.

Preventing anticipation in the drop on recall

Using the collar for "down" is not covered until the third action--stopping and becoming stationary. However, many problems in the drop on recall exercise are really recall problems, not drop problems. The dog feels in conflict over being asked to come, then not come, then come-- "Gosh, Mom, just what do you want?"

Because the drop is a submissive posture, many dogs respond to the conflict they feel in the exercise by starting to do submissive-type recalls. The distressed trainer invariably reacts with disapproval to the dog's new, slinky recall style, and the dog, reading the mood, becomes even more submissive and slinky.

A quick, mild correction with the remote trainer for anticipating or slowing down can prevent worry and confusion from building up in your dog and preserve his confidence. Your use of mild stimulation at the right moment lets him know that there is only one way to perform a recall--promptly.

Have the transmitter in your hand so you can correct immediately. You want the dog to think "Slowing down turns on the collar." As soon as the dog slows down, repeat your recall command as you press the button; release the button right away.

Most dogs will benefit if the trainer maintains an "up" mood during this exercise. So act delighted with your dog even though you corrected the anticipation. The softer the dog, the more important it is that you let the collar do the correcting and you remain the "good guy."

The Utility Recall Signal -- The Power of "Chaining"

The electronic collar provides an excellent method for teaching a dog that a new command means the same as an old one. The process used is called "chaining."

Once your dog knows the first action with the remote trainer--coming toward the handler--you can quickly teach him to identify a signal as a substitute for the verbal command to come. Begin by preceding the recall command with the utility signal a few times without stimulation in order to familiarize the dog with the signal. Then start applying mild stimulation after giving the signal, but just before you give the verbal command to come.

Because the dog has already learned that the stimulation is something he can avoid (by coming), he will begin to "volunteer" the recall response when he sees the signal. Give lots of praise for this decision. The signal informs the dog that a reinforced verbal command is about to happen. You are basically letting the dog anticipate a correction, and rewarding him by allowing him to avoid stimulation when he comes on your signal.

Once the dog knows that responding to your recall signal avoids stimulation, it's easy to proof this portion of the signal exercise. Just use normal proofing situations, gradually increasing the level of distraction. Any time the dog misses the signal (always his choice to do so!) just give a cheerful verbal command combined with mild stimulation.

Maintaining attention at a distance when working the utility recall signal is a non-issue with a remote trainer. After very little proofing, the dog will choose to keep his eyes on you in case you decide to signal him to come.

Coming in the Next Article

Our next article will cover using the collar in the retrieve exercises to eliminate loops after the pick-up.

First Appeared in:
Front & Finish

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