From "A" to "B" - Clicker-style "go-outs"
Whether you call it a go-out, a "send out" or an "A to B," it is essentially the same behavior -- the dog moves away from the handler to another location. When competing in agility, field trials, obedience or herding competitions, a solid go-out is both a necessity for competition and an important tool for teaching. To get started crafting your "A to B", clicker style, you need three things: a target, a clicker and "wrong". So far, we have covered the clicker and the target, but we haven't talked about the third ingredient -- "wrong."
For the dog, learning is primarily a matter of repeating behaviors that "pay off" and skipping those that don't. The faster your dog can identify what works and what doesn't, the faster the behavior is mastered. Ultimately, developing a signal that clearly identifies errors is as important to clicker training as the clicker itself. Whether you choose to use a sound or a word, you just need to make sure that the meaning of your signal is clear - end of repetition, no chance for a reinforcement.
Once we have signals that mean correct and incorrect, the pattern looks like this. When the dog performs a behavior correctly, we click and treat. If the dog makes an error, we say "wrong" and have a miniature time out. The real essence of this process is to provide two distinct consequences for a given behavior.
Note: You don't have to use the word "wrong" as your signal - you can say "cold", (As in the "Hot or Cold" game we played as kids.) or make any sound you want - as long as it won't be confused with any other signal you use and isn't the least bit harsh. The sound should be completely neutral. ) Just as the timing of the click is critical in telling the dog which behaviors to repeat, the timing of "wrong" tells the animal what not to repeat.
Getting from A to B:
In the last article, we set up a simple, indoor go-out as a way of teaching targeting. While you could teach your dog to target just about anything, having particular targets that are reserved only for training is a good idea. For outdoor work you can find a practical target at your nearest Wal-Mart, or sporting goods shop. Good outdoor targets can easily be assembled with two readily available items -- inexpensive target arrows and a few practice golf balls -- the kind that look like miniature wiffle balls. If you shop around, you can get 6 of each for less than $15. Take one of the little plastic golf balls and shove an arrow through two aligned holes. Slide the ball up the shaft until it is near the feathers. Now you have a target that will stick into the ground and be visible for about 100 yards.
The next step in using your remote target is to teach the dog that these odd-looking things are really "way-cool." Take one of the arrows and hold it up so the feathers and ball are up in the air. Now rotate the arrow downward and offer the ball-end of the target to your dog. Say "touch" and hold your breath for a second. If you did your homework this month, your dog should immediately bump the ball with his nose. Repeat this three to four times or until your dog will bump the ball consistently.
Next, stick the arrow into the ground and slide the ball up or down the shaft to match the height of your dog's nose. Stand close to the arrow and say "touch". Wait for a moment to see what your dog does. If the dog bumps the ball, click and treat. If the dog doesn't bump the ball, remove the arrow from the ground and offer the ball-end again. Take a couple of minutes to get several successful repetitions. Now retry the arrow in the ground. If you get a good bump, click and treat. Try to get several repetitions.
Once the dog will move his head to bump the stick it's time to start adding some distance to the equation. You will notice that there is a definite pattern developing.
1) You say "touch"
2) The dog turns and moves to bump the target.
3) You click at the exact instant the dog's nose touches the ball.
4) The dog returns to your location.
5) You offer a treat.
The simplest way to increase the distance the dog must travel is to literally add another step - backward. On each repetition, after you say "touch", your dog will turn and head back to the target. While the dog is heading away from you, take a step backward. Over a series of repetitions, your distance to the target will gradually increase. By taking small steps, you will allow the dog to slowly get comfortable with the increased requirements. Your goal for the first couple of sessions should be to create go-outs of between 10 feet and 10 yards, depending on the size and temperament of the dog. Increase the distance, cautiously, until you can get several repetitions in a row at about 10 yards away from the target.
Using "wrong", right.
Now that we have a 10 yard go-out, it's time to start cleaning it up a little. If your dog is normal, some of the go-outs will be a little crooked and others will fall a little short of actually touching the target. This is the time to bring out our third tool -- "wrong."
After a successful repetition, call your dog over and put him in a sit. Now release the dog and say "touch." (If you followed last weeks' column, your dog should already know this cue.) As the dog moves toward the target, look for any deviation or hesitation. At the instant the dog starts to make an error, such as "bellying out" or stopping short, say "wrong" -- this terminates the repetition. Remember, it is the timing of "wrong" that tells the dog what he did that spoiled his chance for a treat. If you say "wrong", three or four seconds after the dog makes the mistake, it will take you much longer to teach the lesson.
At this stage of the training, you should be able to get your dog to go to a stationary target at a distance of about 10 yards. This is the foundation that allows you to get fancy later on. Make sure to practice this simple version of your go-out. Next month we will start increasing the complexity by adding a command, removing the target and teaching directed movements.
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