Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shaping Obstacle Performance

With my young fellow, Beckett, I back trained, for the first time, the contact obstacles. Ceilidh and Tucker were trained by just having them learn the obstacles with the contact criteria coming afterwards. For Tucker, there never was two on two off; he just did running contacts. For Ceilidh, who began to jump over the contact zone, it required some retraining and we had different criteria for the contact obstacles. The A-frame was a running contact as her natural jump off point was in the contact zone and we trained for a complete stop in the contact zone on the dog walk and the teeter.

An interesting thing happened with Beckett. I had back trained the contact zone behaviour and I used the word "target" with a target dish for that behaviour.  I didn't start using the obstacle name (frame, walk-it and teeter) until we were doing the complete obstacle.  Shortly afterwards Beckett started to stop far short of the contact zone especially on the A-frame where he began to stay right at the top of the A-frame and the only way he would come down was to put his target or a treat down. I thought perhaps I had progressed too quickly with complete obstacle performance and started some additional back training. When I just asked him to "target" he would and when the target was in place, he would perform the full contact obstacle correctly but once the target was removed, he would again stop at the top of the A-frame or on the down ramp of the dog walk. The teeter wasn't as bad as his stopping point was four paws in the contact zone.

In class last Saturday, my instructor, Jeannie suggested making the target progressively smaller and not use the "target" command at all. So last night in my other agility class, Viv and I tried shaping the behaviour without the "target" command and by just waiting until he offered the "two on two off" contact behaviour. We started on the dog walk with the target in place at first. The first time, Becket stopped just as he started the down ramp of the dog walk but moved progressively down the ramp. Each time we repeated the obstacle, he moved further down the down ramp before stopping until finally he was coming right to the end of the dog walk.  On the A-frame, it took quite a bit longer for him to come down and Viv and I had to move away from the frame and wait him out but in the end he was coming down from the top to his contact position. He still isn't driving to the contact position so that will be something we have to continue to work on. 

I found it very interesting (and a bit frustrating) that he appeared to know what the "target" command was if that's all I asked him to do and knew the obstacle command as well but that using both commands caused him to stop where he was as soon as the "target" command was given. What goes through their minds is somewhat of a mystery to me. I hope we can repeat last night's obstacle performance and continue to "shape" the behaviour I want.  Now if we could just learn to weave!! But that's another story.

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