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If you've been in my sport classes at dogWISE or my online classes at FENZI DOG SPORTS ACADEMY you're most likely beginning to notice how the skills or behaviours you're learning inter-twine and

complement each other. Have you noticed yet just how many, many little pieces there are in an exercise?

Let's take the PIVOT Perch we use to teach our dogs rear-end awareness. Yes, here we explained to your dog your rear just doesn't follow the front feet, it can actually move a little more independently in both directions. We first did this by getting our dogs magnetized and stepping up on the perch, then lining up center FRONT to our body, then we moved into INDEPENDANT PIVOTS - the one with our arm extended above the perch and the dog learning to rotate a full 360 degrees around the perch.

From there we moved the perch to HEEL POSITION and began our 180 pivots in heel while maintaining a straight parallel position - asking our dogs to move with us and maintain a parallel position as we stepped around the perch.In the meantime, we also introduced platforms where the rear-end movement we started could be further enhanced in the various positions we place the platforms. We first started out with magnetizing to both sit and long platforms with us in varying positions/distances, then eventually brought the sit or the long platform directly in front and/or into heel position.

When the platform(s) were in HEEL position we began angle tosses around the clock by first starting tosses straight back and then progressing around the clock until our dogs were coming from a toss directly out front - the prior work with the pivot perch enhanced our dog's ability to swing their rears into position as they returned and came into heel. Then platforms were placed in FRONT position, we again began tossing the reset cookies in varying angles, beginning first with straight out front at 12 o'clock and then going around the clock in both directions - each time our dogs came back to a close front position and because they came from angles they needed to swing and adjust their rears to line up straight center front. Remember that pivot perch line up front exercise? Yup, it complements the front position.

We then moved on to introducing the AROUND Finish and the LEFT Swing Finish - both of which also require some of that rear-end awareness. At first, we used a lure to introduce the hand signal movement, then we introduced the verbal cues and finally re-introduced the platforms to create precision in position (sit or stand) - further capitalizing on all that rear-end awareness work. In both these finishes, we could even use two platforms; one in front and one to the side to further indicate position - both starting and ending position - to our dogs to create further clarity.

With the CONE or FLY exercise, we started distance work sends for use on the send to the VERTICAL Target. Although handler requirements for movement or non-movement are different within the two exercises the actual signals to send out and around or send a distance to touch a vertical target are pretty much identical. Any distance we worked prior with the platforms certainly assisted when we began asking or sending our dogs to go and work away from us. PLUS we could also use the FINISH behaviours to easily reset our dogs for the next repetitions.

The TOUCH to target behaviour as used in the VERTICAL TARGET exercise was, YUP, you guessed it, useful not only for sending the dog to go touch a vertical target but in preparation for work with SCENT ARTICLES where we wished our dog to go out and away from us into the scent pile and indicate with a quick touch or more of an indication as with the DURATION NOSE target some of you worked on. We'd even have gone for a tiny pickup but it wasn't necessary at this stage in training. The TOUCH to a vertical target at a distance is also the prep work for Directed Jumping as in Obedience Utility; send the dog a specific distance, ask for a sit, then give signals for directed jumping.

Starting to see a pattern? My bet is you have often been thinking you're not as far ahead as you thought on teaching each individual exercise. But if you take a moment and really truly assess, let's say honestly, assess your dog's understanding you'll be surprised at just how close you are to now being able to begin polishing some of those skills/behaviours and getting complete exercises. If you've been diligent about your assessments i.e. 80-90% correct at each stage before increasing criteria then you're well on your way. If you've been lumping and jumping and possibly getting inconsistencies in performance then it might be time to consider more ABC's in your process. Splitting each step even further than you already are.

If you've been wondering why we don't just teach the FULL exercise (otherwise known as LUMPING) or jump right in and make the final behaviour happen here's why. All the different pieces are just like the letters of the alphabet, your ABCs. You have to learn your ABCs before you can spell DOG, put words together in a sentence, write a paragraph and then finally write that University thesis. So it is with training a behaviour - each behaviour no matter how small can be broken down into multiple ABC pieces and so they should be. WHY? How would you know exactly where your problem was if you didn't break down an exercise? At what point did your dog NOT understand? What did you gloss over or move too quickly through that would bring clarity to your dog?

Without taking each behaviour and breaking it down to the ABC's you have no way to determine exactly where your explanation to your dog broke down and when you should move forward or even backward with criteria - it's too blurry. When things are blurry you have to start again from the beginning and that runs the risk of frustrating or depleting enthusiasm from your dog. How so? Because you're going to end up doing the exact same thing all over again and that get's boring and actually increases your work 10 fold and you'll get stuck - not able to move past a certain point.

However, with an ABC approach, you know every step of the way whether your dog is understanding and thus only need to go back to where they were last successful, stick there a little longer and then move forward on their success. Instead of raising criteria too high or changing a piece of the skill too greatly always consider slicing criteria even smaller i.e. make a smaller change for success, get success then continue on forward. The distraction you added was too much, then slice it even smaller to help your dog be successful.

Asking your dog to write a University thesis after they've just learned a smattering of ABCs is like taking a new driver once around the school parking lot and then saying "ok you seem to know what you're doing let's take a run on the highway" Yeah NO, even you could see that would be a disaster, but we do it all the time with our dogs. We often make assumptions about what our dogs are truly understanding and then wonder why things fall apart when we increase criteria. It's always the ABCs that come bite us in the butt - get those solid, build on the individual pieces and everything else starts to fall into place and pretty soon you have a FINAL PRODUCT that is solid.

ONE LAST PIECE OF ADVICE - Remember never to "test" your dogs. If you test your dog with the mindset to see IF they can do it, you'll be placing them in a situation they're probably not ready for - you'll be setting them up for failure. When we're testing we're never testing our dog, we're actually testing ourselves and the training we've provided. Be sure, be confident that you have provided the training your dog will need to succeed in the task you're asking of them and in the particular scenario. Don't test to see IF they'll do it. Be sure they CAN DO IT . If they make a mistake its not a failure, it's a learning opportunity and information that will guide additional training/learning you need to provide for them. Go back to your ABC's and never blame the dog.


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