I’m having a great time with Kory in trick training. At this point he’s a boy who will offer behaviors and sort out the clues he gets from me until he figures out just about anything. So beginning yesterday I set a box out and told him “Feets!” He doesn’t hold bad English against me at all.

So what I wanted him to do is put his front two feet up on the box. At first I just rewarded him for pawing at the box. And then I raised the criteria to setting a single paw on top of the box. And finally I just waited until he put both feet up on the box.

Oh, what a clever boy he is. By the time I was about two thirds through his meal on the introduction (one kibble at a time, mind you). He was pretty much planted with his front two feet on the box.

I am reminded of what I tell my students who struggle to teach their dogs the bottom position on a contact, or the weave poles, or even just a down on the table. If you want the dog to learn a thing he must think about it, and then offer what he believes is the correct answer. So the dog trainer/handler who is constantly luring or shaping is actually retarding the dog’s ability to learn it.

And so my sessions with Kory tend to be a study in asking him to be the scientist and innovator. My true shaping comes from recognizing the granular little bits that add up to the overall performance while being careful to raise the criteria to the end behavior as we go along. When I introduce a new behavior he might spaz out a little bit, bark and maybe even lay down and scratch while he ponders through it… eventually he will offer a host of behaviors until something starts to add up for him. The training game is a delight.

Training Retreat

This is the third consecutive week of camp work. But this is a private and closed camp. It is more of a training retreat than anything else. I work with the group for only four hours every day. And they have their own agenda and full run of the property for the balance of the day.

A short day for me means that I have more time for chores. This afternoon I put a coat of Thompson’s water seal on the back deck, finishing up the job that I started the weekend before last. And just in time too. During dinner we got hit by a front that dumped what amounted to the annual rainfall of Phoenix, Arizona. It also dumped big chunks of ice for about a half an hour. As they say in the south… it looks like rain, but it hurts like hail. I’m a little worried about what kind of beating my young tomato plants took during the onslaught.


A very basic exercise that I do is this interesting tunnel to dogwalk configuration. What many handlers will do in the transition from pipe tunnel to dogwalk is run to the exit of the pipe tunnel to flap their arms around and micro-manage the dog getting up onto the dogwalk. But I’m a fair believer that a dog is not a bad manager of his own feet if we just give good information. So I ask my students to step behind the entry to the pipe tunnel, and then lift their arm and tell the dog to “walk up!” as he comes out of the pipe tunnel. This has an extraordinarily high success rate for dogs whose handlers wouldn’t have considered doing any such thing.

However I find that it has about a 10% fail rate among dogs being introduced for the first time. And it’s one of those things that if my dog doesn’t do it naturally, then I would endeavor to teach it.

And if you really thing about it, it’s usually more important for the handler to attend the dog on the descent than on the ascent.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at www.dogagility.org/store.


3 Responses to “Feets!”

  1. Lora Says:

    My question with that handling choice is what about small dogs? They cannot possibly see over the tunnel and DW as they emerge from the pipe tunnel and will have to take several strides in order to find the handler. As they search, those several strides may take them in an unpredictable trajectory, possibly making entry to the DW awkward or impossible. A larger dog will 1) be able to see the handler sooner just by physically being able to see over the up ramp of the DW and 2) will have a larger stride coming out of the tunnel and thus a more predictable trajectory between exit of the tunnel and locating the handler. I still choose to meet my dogs near the exit of the pipe tunnel where they have a better chance of actually seeing my non-flapping arm cuing the DW.

  2. budhouston Says:

    The real question Lora is which end of the dogwalk is better graced by your presence… the ascent or the descent?

    Your arguments about the differences in big dogs and little dogs are interesting. But mostly you miss the real point. That the dog is perfectly capable of choosing where to put his own feet without being under close supervision.


  3. Jean Says:

    A lot of times when walking a course I hear complains about an ugly approach to the dog walk,teeter or aframe. There is a big advantage to training a dog to straighten up his approach on his own.

    I have been searching every where for anything you have written on the use of arms and indicating the dogs path. You could save me a lot of time as I keep getting side tracked by something else you have written and just have to go out and try it.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: