Teaching the 2on2off

It's always a good idea to have a plan when training dogs. It helps you to think about every aspect of the behavior you want. Before the training actually starts you'll know which behavior you'll reward, what you will ignore and you'll always know what the next step is.

I want my dogs to perform a nose touch once they're in 2on2off position. There are several reasons for this; It gives the dog a job to do once in position. It cultivates a dog that keeps it's head low while driving into position which should minimize any chance of jumping.

I shape my dog to do a nose touch on the palm of my hand. When my dog is successfully touching my palm several times with a great intensity I add a target. Some doesn't like nose touch contacts because they've seen dogs hammering their nose into the ground so hard it made their nose bleed. Remember what you reward is was you get; so don't reward the dog for slamming it's nose into your palm - reward only sensible nose touches.

At first I hold the target in my hand so there is a resemblance to the exercise done previously. Then I place it on the floor between the front legs of my dog. I use a small, transparent plastic target. The transparency makes it easier to fade because you avoid the dog getting visually locked on the target. When you place it on the floor you might want to use a bit of duck tape on the back of the target so it sticks to the floor otherwise the dog will push it around and you really want to teach a stationary position. Don't let the dog run to target! This will cultivate a dog stopping at target with all it's weight of it's shoulders.

Simultaneously I teach the basic 2on2off position on a flight of stairs. Start at the bottom and lure the dog on to the stairs and reward for front feet on the ground and hind feet on the last step. Eventually I expect the dog to be able get into position without any help. At this stage I work on the stationary position and the release.

Why use the stairs and not real obstacles? I want my dog's obstacle performance to be flawless and by using the stairs they get a chance to make all the initial mistakes on something that doesn't resemblance agility obstacles. The stairs also help to teach a proper weight shift.

Before I combine the two elements, nose touch and 2on2off position, I want my dog to hold position during distractions and only leave position on release cue. I also want several nose touches on target on the ground. When the dog meets criteria on both behaviors I'll add the target to the 2on2off position on the stairs.

There's a couple of things worth keeping in mind during the initial training:

  • Don't add a cue to begin with. If you add a cue to an incomplete behavior you risk labeling that behavior which may affect your training further on. I do have a cue on the nose target.
  • 80 % success rate tells you when to add to your criteria. If your dog is only touching your hand successfully 6 out 10 times (60%) it's too early to add the target.
  • Placement of reward. This is really critical because you want to avoid the dog curling into you and you don't want the dog to be reliant on your position in order to perform correctly either. You want to reward correct behavior quickly and with a good precision. I like to use my manners minder in the initial nose touch training, because I can reward the dog regardless of my position and it tends to keep the dog straight.
  • Environment. My dog's performance should be the same anytime and anywhere. Generalize the behavior from the beginning by changing the environment and stairs. 

When adding the target to the stairs get the dog into position and place the target between it's front feet and reward nose touch on target.

Notice that I haven't back chained the stairs yet. This is to avoid the visual lock on target. When my dog is performing above the 80% success rate it is time to fade target. Don't just get the dog into position and expect it to tap it's nose on the ground. Get the dog in position and ask for a touch on the target. While you reward it slip the target, unnoticed, out of sight. The dog should now offer to touch the ground. As you reward the correct behavior slide the target in between the dog's paws again and reward for nose touch on target. Do this until the dog it successfully offering to touch the ground in the absence of target.

When target it faded you can back chain the stairs. You want speed and accuracy. Back chain one step at the time and keep an eye on your success rate. Once you've back chained 5-7 steps the behavior is now ready for real obstacles. Once I start back chaining I make sure to use every possible body position - my dog should drive into 2on2off regardless of my position. 

You might want to start out with a lowered dog walk with the dog in 2on2off position. Reward successful nose touches. Then begin to back chain as you did on the stairs.

Once you've back chained the whole dog walk and started sequencing don't forget to maintain criteria/behavior, proof releases (I'll write a post on the subject) and reward correct behavior!