Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wax On, Wax Off

Did you ever watch the original "Karate Kid" movie, where Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel how to clean the fence while teaching him about life and defense tactics?  He demonstrates how to use the right hand in a clockwise fashion, sweeping from right to left and the left hand moving in an opposite manner.  While it can effectively be used to block strikes, this "wax on, wax off" movement is demonstrates how to move your hands when teaching your dog to do inside and outside spins.

Why teach spins? 
  • can serve to warm up the dog before vigorous exercise
  • creates flexibility
  • keeps the dog engaged as you move between exercises
Spins can be performed on the right side or the left side ultimately, and while moving.  If you execute a spin and then continue moving forward the dog learns to move fluidly into the heel position and move forward out of an active behavior.

So how to do it?  First, your dog must understand the concept of driving into the hand for food and also following the movement of the hand with food.  This is slightly different from teaching a "touch" and release, as we want the dog to stay in contact with our hand, and in pursuit of the food.  For your hand movement, you begin with the hands close to the body.  If you start by reaching out, your arms simply are not long enough unless you have a tiny puppy, to extend through the spin.  With your right hand you will sweep clockwise to the left, starting with the hand on the right side of your body.  This is the entice the dog to be in pursuit of the hand and food as it begins the spin.  Initially, do not expect a full spin.  Instead, mark and reward at the halfway mark and when the dog is performing this correctly, ask for more.  The food is released when the behavior is marked... the dog is pursuing the food but not eating as it moves through the spin.

With the left hand you begin with the hand at your left side, and sweep close to the body from left to right.  When the dog is learning, sweep that hand across the front of your body all the way from one side to the other before moving it away from your body to begin the spin.  The dog's behavior will tell you if your hand is too far away or if you are moving too quickly for the level it is at.  When you begin, if you move too quickly, the dog will likely follow only that first jerk of the hand and then be lost. Just slow down and try it again.

The nice thing about teaching spins is that it is all for fun.  No leash or collar necessary, no corrections and if you screw up, the worst thing that will happen is that the dog gets extra treats...

Once the dog understands the behavior, you can always put a name to it and turn it into an on-demand trick.  Any time you add a word to a behavior, the word comes first, delivered from a neutral position and THEN you add the physical cue.  If your dog begins to spin as a frustration or displacement behavior, you will want to introduce more stabilizing exercises such as teaching "positions".