13 July 2008

Training Fronts

With clicker training, it is important to break behaviors into pieces, especially when fine-tuning them. A "front" isn't a cued behavior but a piece that is coupled onto other things, like come and retrieve. It is trained separately to fine-tune the positioning in a way the dog and trainer can understand.

The final goal is to have the dog approach the trainer to sit dead center in a formal sit position (with the hips tucked appropriately and the body straight) then make eye contact with the trainer. That's what I understand anyway. It only needs to be really really perfect if you intend to compete in obedience, but working on the exactness is also good practice for perfecting other behaviors.

To do this in an easy-to-understand and positive way, the Levels Book developer provided this diagram. The A line runs right under the tips of my toes out to both sides. The C line is dead center perpendicular to the A line--it goes out in front of me from right between my feet. The B lines are half way in between A and C on both sides. Adding extra lines in between is a help for shaping the behavior slowly.

To be able to see these lines while training, I set myself up so the line between the two carpets is between my toes. To make my A or B lines as needed, I cut a long piece of white string and taped it onto the floor. The picture to the right shows Molly between my strings, which are placed about half way between B and C.

Now Molly picked all this up very quickly. In our first short training session, I had Molly in between lines halfway between B and C and making eye contact most of the time.

After in our second session, I have her with some part of her body over the C line, making eye contact, and lying down. A down is Molly's "default" behavior--what she does when she isn't sure what we want from her--so I will need to shape the down into a sit in our next session.

But to pass Level 3, she only needs to have her body over the line and making eye contact 3 times in a row out of 5 tries. She could probably pass that here in the living room now, but I'd like to try in a few other locations before I consider the test passed. We're also having fun doing it!

I've also spent some time thinking about exactly what I wanted as a front when I consider my mobility issues and service dog work. I talked it through with other level training people (many of whom have SDs) and considered the pros and cons of different possible ideas. I decided to train the dead center front with eye contact as the program describes. I don't plan to do any competing with her, so the points of this training are to learn to train that way and to control where she should be in SD work. With Molly fronting dead center and making eye contact, she will be easy to reach when I am on crutches or walking, the behavior works well with my DH as well, and she is focused and ready for other commands. I can always follow with a "paws up" onto my lap or the arm rests of the chair to be able to reach her better or reach an item better.

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