TABLE SHOWING & CLICKER TRAINING:
Putting my Champion dog on a table looks something like this: Bend over the dog – already a threatening position so the dog ducks. Stick my butt up in the air, grab the dog by the ruff with my right hand before it can back away, further capture with my left arm by squishing her butt up into her ears, lift her up and PLOP her on the table. If we are lucky neither one of us bangs into the table on the way there. We aren’t always lucky. . .
Mission accomplished, dog is on the table – wait, the judge is coming. Start grabbing and placing legs – there are 4 of them you know and they are all attached to invisible strings, place one and another moves. Oh well, don’t have time for that, good enough – the judge is HERE – grab the head, pry open the mouth if you can catch it and pray no one gets bit in the process.
OK, the examination is done, whew, all parties heave a huge sigh of relief. Now we have to get the darned dog off the table which can look like: A: Dog is so relieved to be done with THAT process that she LEAPS off the table running into me or the judge and sends the table rocking – or B: Grab the dog again as above and PLOP her on the floor, jerk on the leash and head off running for the down and back.
I am sad to say this is a fairly accurate description of my past show ring behavior.
I vow to never do that to my dog again.
Here is what I want the picture to look like: When I kneel down the dog places her head at my right hand and her butt at my left so I can gracefully and without struggle, pick her up and set her on the table. No plopping involved.
On the table the dog free stacks the exact same way she does on the floor – she does it just fine on the floor there is no reason she can’t also stack herself on a table.
I want to be able to stand back, out of the way so the judge can look at my dog. When my right hand is placed under the dog’s muzzle, the head relaxes into the hand and can then be moved anywhere needed. I can then grasp the upper lips just behind the nose leather and present the bite to the judge myself.
When the examination is finished my dog will be released from the table to jump down without panic and be mentally ready to move on to the next task.
TRAINING NOTES: DAY 1:
I have 4 show dogs in various stages of training and handling comfort levels. Now that I am actually paying attention to my dogs’ table behavior, my first observation is that NONE of them are comfortable on the table. OK, fix that first. Dog on the table = click treat until they are looking forward to the treat and not worrying about the table. My criteria is stand (NOT stack – just stand up, only toes touching the table – that is ALL!) and c/t. By itself that took about 5 minutes each.
Then we played ‘catch the Aussie head’ for a while . . . ANY giving of the head to the hand got c/t. Then trying to move the head with slight finger pressure caused more rounds of ‘Catch the Aussie head’. Back up, head touches hand = c/t.
Because I like to move things along quickly and I am a ‘Lumper’, I start messing with rear legs trying to place them. This caused rounds of ‘pull on the Aussie leg for a while’. Oh good grief. Too much, too fast and I don’t want to ‘place’ legs anyway! I forgot – old habits die hard. I do want the dog comfortable with ANY touching/handling on the table but need to concentrate on the giving of the head – the rest will follow. I have been actually training ‘table’ for a grand total of 15 minutes per dog and I want the finished product already. I am nuts.
Table Release: My release from the table is ‘Free’ and I am allowing them to jump down however is comfortable for each individual. I trust that experience will hone that skill. I want them to jump down because I believe my dogs can accomplish this much more gracefully than I can lift them down – as long as the table and landing surfaces are safe of course. These are all agility dogs who can leap from the top of the highest A-frame without regard for any contact zone! They can jump down from a table. The key here is that no jumping from the table happens unless the release is given. I can’t even count how many times the boy dog jumped off the table today and had to be put back on. No punishment, but no release to do other things either. The more difficult the struggle, the more lasting the lesson. . .
Today is the day I realized I have to catch my dogs in order to get them on the table in the first place. Small room, no leash, 1 table and any Aussie I own can run circles around me in a 6 x 10 foot area. So I stopped to decide what I want this picture to look like. I knelt down in a ladylike manner, (snort!) held my right palm thumb up, pinky down and c/t for nose touches. Nose touches palm, click and toss treat so we can do it again. As the touches became more deliberate I began tossing the treats to my left and slightly behind me so the dog could come into the touch in the position I am aiming for. This worked really well. No cue yet other than the kneeling and the open palm which are cues in their own right.
Observations: All 4 dogs were more comfortable on the table today than yesterday. My most clicker savvy dog who knows how to offer behaviors threw herself into a stack as soon as she realized she was getting c/t only for stand. God I love that dog!
The puppy realized that treats happen on the table and replaced yesterday’s frightened shaking with actual spinning circles on the table top just to prove it is fun up here! I call that success. My first goal was comfort on the table. No I don’t want spinning circles on a show table but who cares? We aren’t showing tomorrow and my first step is done in 2 short sessions. Yeah!
Today the boy dog only jumped off the table 1 time without permission! Another success!
PLAN: To avoid the struggle to get on the table tomorrow we are going to practice the ‘loading’ position in another location. A different room, outside, wherever is comfortable. I think this is going to be handy when going to the vet’s, getting into a tub, maybe loading in a vehicle also. . . Then we will just get on the table as best we can to work on head relaxation.
DAY #3: Today was a total wash. I must have been giddy with the success of day 1 and 2 and pushed everything way too far, way too fast. Stick with me folks, I do this for a living! All dogs got extra treats and hugs because Mom was a Jerk! We went swimming instead of further table training today. . . .
DAY #4: Today was awesome. Hand touches at the ‘loading’ position were immediate and enthusiastic. The wigglebutts were still moved out too far for me to easily reach so I lured them into the proper position – 2 x each dog and they were standing exactly where I need them to for easy pick-up. The puppy and the worry-wart of the bunch of course had to jump in my lap a couple times and knock me over backwards – NOT the graceful maneuver we are looking for! But once they figured out the correct response that behavior stopped. Plus, free puppy kisses make me smile which keeps training light and fun. If we are having fun and the dog is having fun, training happens faster and with more enthusiasm by all parties.
On the table: Aussie heads were willingly placed in my right hand and some sideways movement with slight finger pressure was managed. If struggle ensued then the pressure and/or movement was too much for this time and the pressure was released. Each little Aussie head then moved right back into my hand. Yes!
Since clicker training in a stationary position is approximately 80% click timing and 20% treat placement, I took advantage of both. We aren’t ready for leg placement until we have control of the head. But the edge of the table is being crowded and lots of hunching/bunching up of bodies is happening. Not something I want to encourage. So, while the heads were getting clicked for giving to the hand and sideways movement – the treats were placed under the chin to move the feet back. The dog follows the treat from his nose down and back towards his chest and his feet automatically start to move backwards. This also begins the signal I will use later for ‘back’ both on and off the table.
OBSERVATION: No dog has jumped off the table without permission. I have been automatically treating after the release from the table so now each dog is jumping down and immediately looking at ME to ask what is next?? Perfect show ring behavior! Isn’t it nice when a plan works??
* Approximately 5-10 minutes only per dog is being spent on this each day.
* I am working with the table facing a mirror – it helps me to stand straighter and not hover over the dog – I want the dog to be able to stand and work independently from me.
It has taken 4 days to get 4 dogs reasonably comfortable with loading, being on the table and unloading. No I do not consider this a ‘finished’ behavior. Since dogs do not generalize well, we have to practice our new skills in other locations, under different conditions and yes, even at shows. Especially at shows. What usually happens is we humans get to the ultimate destination that we were training for – forget everything we have taught our dogs, behave in a totally different manner and then expect our dogs to perform the same as they do at home. It is extremely important for the handler to maintain a behavior that looks something like normal to give the dog a clear picture of what is expected.
We often train with something close to mechanical repetition. With the use of a clicker and the freedom on both ends of the leash to experiment – training becomes fun and a real means of communication. It transcends the ‘language’ barrier.
These are the steps for any training activity/behavior.
Recognize that there is a problem/weakness in a behavior/activity AND exactly what that weakness is. (I wanted to train a comfortable, confident table behavior – but couldn’t even get the dogs on the table properly.)
Form a clear vision of what you want the behavior to look like start to finish. Write it down. It will change as you accept less or receive more behaviors and you lose the ‘picture’ as you go along. We need a reference point so we know when we have surpassed it! J
RECOGNIZE SUCCESS AT EVERY LEVEL. This is more difficult than you think. We humans want the finished product NOW. Each of the steps that are completed successfully on the way – IS a success – and not incidentally makes the finished behavior happen quicker.
The most difficult thing in the world for me to do is to STOP when there is a fairly major success or breakthrough. It is so much fun to recognize success that we want to do it over and over. Very few dogs can do this on the first success/breakthrough of any behavior. If we do stop however, on the next session the dog can usually pick up at the success point and move even further ahead and with even more enthusiasm. Stopping is worth it – but difficult.
Be a ‘splitter’, not a ‘lumper’. A goal of free stacking on a table is comprised of many, much smaller behaviors. Comfort on the table, stand, movement of the rear, movement of the front, touching the head, showing the bite. That may even be ‘lumping’. Movement of the rear: There are 2 rear legs; ultimately if only one moves that isn’t full movement of the rear. It is up to you to recognize how much your dog can manage in one session.
Last but definitely not least – Enjoy the ride. Your dog loves every moment spent with you. If training is a chore to you, it will be to him also. I always ask my dogs if they are ready to go PLAY??!! This causes loads of enthusiastic circling, hopping, dancing behaviors. THAT is my training goal on any given day.
Thanks for listening!