Targetting. Part III

Originally appeared in the September 1998 ESAA Newsletter

When Spot is able to go-out, turn and sit with his target hidden, you are ready to proceed to Step 7.

Step 7. The Variable Distance go-out.

Most of the go-out training I have discussed so far is a variation on the basic method used by many obedience trainers. However, I think that what I will describe next is a bit different. Many trainers pattern train the go-out, i.e. the dog always sees the same picture. For example, the dog may always be lined up opposite a line of "baby gates". On the go-out command, the dog is expected to run in a straight line all the way to the gates. Often trainers will put a target just on the other side of the gate or even put a target or food on the gate itself, and the dog is taught to always go all the way to the gate. I trained this way when I competed in a region where obedience rings were always enclosed with baby gates. However, I got a rude awakening when I moved to the Pacific Northwest and found that all sorts of barriers were used for enclosing obedience rings -- gates, curtains, ropes, surveyor's tape, etc. My old method for training the go-out to a gate was no longer appropriate for what the dog might be asked to do in a competition. Sending a dog towards a curtain or a wall is fairly similar to the baby gate scenario, but sending the dog towards a rope or strand of orange tape is quite a different challenge -- the ring seems open ended to the dog! UKC obedience also provided me with another challenge -- the dog does a go-out in two different exercises, the Directed Marked Retrieve and the Directed Jumping. In the Directed Marked Retrieve, the dog only goes half way across the ring before having to turn and sit. After the sit, the handler directs the dog to retrieve a glove behind the dog or to the dog's left or right. This retrieving exercise is performed prior to the Directed Jumping exercise in which the dog goes all the way across the ring before turning and sitting. For these reasons when doing a go-out, I want my dogs to "run away" in a straight line until instructed to do something else (usually a turn and sit). Thus, I incorporate variable distance go-outs into my training.;

Here's how to start the process. Set up your go-out as usual. After you have sent Spot on a couple of nice long go-outs that end with the turn and sit, you will ask him to do a short go-out. Give your go out command and then immediately tell him to turn and sit. Be right behind Spot to help him execute your unusual request. Remember, you have spent quite some time programming him to go a long distance before stopping so this will be confusing. Give lots of praise and a good treat for Spot's compliance. Do another short go-out and then revert to full length go-outs. Be patient. You may need to take Spot out to the target a couple of times. It will probably take a few sessions before Spot begins to figure out that while he is going toward the target he should listen for further instructions. Although his go-outs will fall apart for a short time, when he finally gets the picture, his go-outs will be much more solid.

Targeting For Technofreaks

Do you find those little plastic target lids boring? Then try out this alternative -- the laser pointer. Laser pointers look like cute little pens that send out a fairly concentrated beam of red light. These devices can be obtained for $20-$30. If you do purchase a laser pointer, please read the instructions before playing with it. The laser beam can cause damage if pointed directly into the eye of a person or animal. I have used a laser pointer with my dogs for about two years and have found the device to be safe to use. I am careful always to point the beam away from the dog.

With that disclaimer, let's look at how the laser beam can be used as a target. When I first read about the use of a laser pointer as a target, I was a bit skeptical since the beam is red and research indicates that dogs don't see the color red very well. I was surprised at how easily a dog can detect the red spot even at a distance. The key to using a laser pointer as a training aid is teaching the dog to touch the red dot. This is a relatively simple task. Have Spot do sit stay (or have a helper restrain him). Drop a treat on the floor. As you tell Spot to look (you have already taught this as described in Targeting . Part I.), shine the beam on the treat, and let Spot get the treat. After a few trials, change the order by shining the beam on the floor, having the dog look and then drop the treat on the red dot. When Spot has associated the red dot with a treat, have him look, touch the red dot and then feed him a treat. That's all there is to it. Soon you should be able to shine the beam on anything -- a wall, a glove, a dumbbell, an agility obstacle contact, etc.-- and have Spot run to it and touch it! I used this to show the students in our local elementary school science club how positive reinforcement can be used in animal training. In about ten minutes, the dog was running around the room touching the objects on which we shone the pointer. This dog had never used a laser pointer, had never done any organized obedience training but had done some target training for agility. We combined food with a clicker for reinforcing the touching behavior. It was a fun demonstration and impressive too!

Where do we go from here? The only responses I have gotten about future topics for this column have asked for some information about agility. So I'll put on my agility hat for a few columns. As a coming attraction, those of you who live in the Boston area might check out the North American Dog Agility Championships that will be held in Topsfield, MA September 24-27. This competition will showcase about 175 of the top agility dogs from the U.S. and Canada (entry is by qualification only). If you want to see some great agility, this would be place. Contact me if you want more information.

Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Arlene Courtney,
Last Modified November 4, 1998