Yesterday I worked on the "finish" with Cooper. I have practiced shaping a straight return to heel or finish while standing still and luring Cooper with food behind me. This is something that Greg Doud showed us on one of his last visits. He noted that one problem in teaching the finish is that people teach it by stepping back or moving and then this needs to be phased out, as the dog looks to you to move to cue it. Now when Greg teaches the finish, he stands still and lures the dog with food to his right side and then brings the dog in straight to the middle of your butt. Oh what the heck... to your butt crack! Yes, that is correct. What this teaches the dog is how to come into the straight position that you will want with the finished product. With the food at your butt, you step sideways, keeping the dog in your hand with food. Moving to the right is easiest for the dog initially. The dog learns to keep his body straight. The next step is to bring the dog all the way to your left side using the food lure and to step sideways, beginning to the right again. The idea of shaping this without going through the step-back, etc, simplifies the event.
One thing I wanted to "test" with Cooper was whether he understood to move to the finish position without luring. For this, I used the tug toy and when Cooper would move to come around me after the command, I would mark it and then throw the toy forward and to my right. The reason for that was so that he wrapped tightly around me on the return. A couple times my timing was off, and I released him before he had completed the return and he popped back out on the right side to grab the toy. My bad. Initially, he would hang up there in front, running through his repertoire of positions, trying to figure out what exactly I wanted. He sat, downed, barked, moved backwards.... it was enough to make me laugh at his anticipation! When he would figure things out and move to the finish, I would mark it and throw the toy. Happy, happy! Naturally, the next stage is the one where he figures out that this "finish" thing is what gets the reward so I might just as well get a head start on it, before the command! Once he showed me that he was understanding this and anticipating the command, it was time to ask him to show a little restraint and wait for the command. I would have him sit in front of me and instead of asking him to finish, would say "gooood" and then "yes" to release/reward so that he was also being rewarded for waiting. Such a difficult thing for Cooper-man!
The learning process is fun like that. Shaping the behavior, watching the light bulb come on..... do remember to recognize the stage where the dog starts to anticipate and try to please you. Don't be angry or frustrated; recognize it for what it is, part of the learning process. Smile!
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