Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If I only knew then, what I know now.

The agility blogosphere is taking on a topic challenge. The , "If I knew then..." question.

I'm going to focus on foundation impulse control. I think it is the one thing that newbies just don't understand (I sure didn't) and do not spend enough time with this basic skill.

The idea is to ensure that your dog understands that it is their choice.  That if they choose wisely the rewards will fall from the heavens and they will be happy.  Making the incorrect choice (lack of impulse control) the consequence is lack of reward and possibly a time out. I never understood how important this was, I just wanted to do obstacles.

Many people today equate impulse control with "crate games."  Susan Garrett started the crate games craze, but often once the dog reaches a certain age, I see handlers stopping their impulse control games and the dog no longer is rewarded for the basic rules we gave them as puppies.

Example A:
  • You open sliding glass door and dog darts out, runs around the back yard, tongue out, tail wagging. Totally rewarded for darting out.
  • You ask the dog to sit and put your hand on the door, dog acts like they are going to dart, remove hand. Hand back on, door opens, dog goes to dart out, door closes. Reward is removed. Dog sits, door opens, you treat the dog with food reward and then release the dog to go out, dog runs around the back yard, tongue out, tail wagging. Just rewarded for impulse control.
Example B:
  • Julie walks in the ring, walks to the line with her dog, barely gets the leash off, and the dog darts out and has completed 5 obstacles while Julie is yelling the dogs name. Dog totally got rewarded for running and playing without the handler.
  • Julie walks in the ring, walks to the line with her dog, dog starts to act like he is going to take off, Julie walks back out of the ring. Repeat until dog can sit. Dog gets rewarded for sitting.


Four dogs barking at the gate when I open the door or four dogs laying down nicely at the gate when I open the door.  I know which one I'd like to have, well for most guests. 

Impulse control bleeds into all aspects of agility. Startline stays, tight turns, coming to you at the end of a run, walking to the line, exiting the ring, etc. If your dog understands that making the incorrect choice has a consequence of reward being removed, they will learn to acknowledge your participation and leadership in the game of agility.

The hardest aspect of this is controlling the environment so the dog is not rewarded by things you had not anticipated.

Working on the idea that "It is your choice" you can play all kinds of games teaching the dogs behaviors of control as you go. 
  • Using food in the hand, dog gets food reward when he ignores food.
  • All crate games are ways to reward good behavior.
  • Playing with a toy, taking the toy out of the dogs mouth, waiting for a down, reward for more play.
  • Start line stays, go back and reward with food or toy. 
Reward, reward, reward.  Dogs must have value for controlling their behavior.  Adult dogs as well as young dogs.  I believe the It's your choice rules should be in effect the entire life of the dog.

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6 comments:

Kathy said...

FANTASTIC POST and I am hanging my head because we normally do well but the barking at the door thing, someone has been a little lax and lasy working on that, hahahahh, perhaps that someone could be me. Selfcontrol is definitely something when I started that I had no clue about....I remember thinking WHY would I care if the dogs sit when I open the door, I can totally manage it and what was the value of a dog not darting out of a crate, yea it seemed like helpful at times but I had no clue how that all fit into the big picture, but definitely a great lesson!

Agility Gurl said...

I am one of those that tends to forget to reward the small stuff- the stuff the dog 'oughta know'. Thanks for the reminder!

Nancy and Stewie JRT said...

Very good post and very true. That was not something that talked about much when my dog was a pup. We now do crates games now and we both enjoy them very much.

Celeste said...

Great post!

Elf said...

Great reminder of something really important. I still try to reward boost at the start line after leading out (in practice at home and in class) by tossing the toy behind her and then releasing, by coming back and playing tug, stuff like that. I'm so glad that I did a ton of that at the start line early on and that I've continued to do it. I love having a reliable start line stay.

Nancy said...

Thank you for writing this on Impulse Control - my current favorite topic (why didn't I think of that!!!!). I love working with dogs and handlers on these kinds of issues as you can always see that they have a MAJOR hole in their foundation. Some of them have even done Crate Games, but as you said they quit the games. People don't think of this as a foundation GAME for life. They believe that if you work through the steps, then POOF - you magically have Impulse Control. Thanks again for the great post. And I'm really glad to discover your blog. That's the cool thing about this blogger Action day is that I am also discovering lots of talented bloggers.