Putting a Patient Edge on Kory

I’m turning a bit of a corner with Kory dog. In the first six months of his life I’ve been pretty much the committed 2-minute dog trainer using meals and treats to shape basic skills. Now I’ve got to turn the program so that he understands those “basic” skills when presented with stimulating circumstance.


Truly he’s not a terribly food driven dog. He likes a bit of cheese or a succulent bit of meat. Though he’ll routinely turn his nose up at dinner kibble (so unlike a Sheltie is he!)

Toys… toys are another matter altogether. Immediately with a tug toy or a ball he’s just about over the top stimulation-wise. So our training program must be geared to make that just about the opposite. Do you want the toy? Show me what you can do.

Starting with the Door

I’ve established a fairly basic rule with Kory. He doesn’t get to charge through doors without permission. If I approach a door he may approach it. I have two basic responses for him. “Back up”… means I’m going through the door and he’s just plain not invited. If I tell him to “sit”, however, that means he’s going to get to go with me. I’ll open the door and walk out; and then, when I’m good and ready I’ll tell him “okay.”

Dogs are creatures of rules. If you establish no rules then you don’t have much right to expect the dog to do what you “wish” he would do. You get what you pay for.

A Jump and Tunnel Drill

You know, a funny thing, If I had a piece of string cheese in my hand and I told Kory to “Sit” he’d plop right back on his butt and smartly accept a click, and a bit of warm praise along with the bit of string cheese.

But now the rules are different. I have his favorite tug toy in hand. And I tell him to “Sit”… and lord knows he’s never heard such a word in his life and couldn’t imagine that he’d engage in any such contrary activity what with the tug toy apparent and all.

And so I wait.


Kory engages in a variety of preoccupations. He looks around. He bobs his head a couple of times. He stares at me waiting for the inevitable toss. And when it doesn’t come he looks back at his tail. For awhile he doesn’t seem to be studying anything except maybe something in the back of his head. And, after about a minute or so he offers a sit.

“Yah! Good boy!” I toss the toy and tell him “Jump!”

After the “Reward Routine” we repeat this. We do it several times actually. And as I had hoped, each time he sits more promptly as he begins to understand that the entire key to the game even beginning is his willingness to offer that one behavior that he knows for string cheese… no matter how incongruous it seems to be with the tug toy.


I add a bit of complexity to the performance by sequencing the pipe tunnel and jump together. By now I’ve already faded the lure of tossing the toy ahead of him and give a simple point and step towards the jump on the exit of the pipe tunnel.

Lest we forget, the object lesson is that he will sit until I release him. And the game will not begin until he sits.

In the meantime I am fascinated by the observation that the obstacles themselves are not rewarding and stimulating to him as we work and play. It’s all about the reward with the toy. Don’t get me wrong. He charges the work with perfect energy and gusto for a 6 month old pup and needs no overt coaxing to understand what “tunnel” means or what “jump” means.


I like this sequence better because it’s fun to give the toy a well timed toss into his line of departure from the chute so that he comes out accelerating to get the toy. During our entire working session today he never broke a stay once I got him in a sit. He’s figured out quick enough that only my verbal release gives permission to engage in the game and hasn’t so much as tested me on the notion.


I even played with this sequence once or twice. It meant I had to take a lead-out to be forward of him for a Front Cross and allowed me to test his innate understanding of my rotation. Of course I aid the conversation with a basic habit in my arms… up for obstacle focus, and down for handler focus. He didn’t even think about the wrong end of the tunnel, and zipped by me through the rotation like he’s been doing it his whole life.

The Reward Routine

I’d read something that Scott Lucken a fly-ball guy wrote several years ago that the game with the toy is the dog’s game. Of course we’d all like “retrieve”… but the dog’s game might be “keep away” or it might be “tug and never let go”. With this in mind I’m not a bit mental about Kory’s game with the toy.

The tug that I’m using is little more than a very long sock with a tennis ball in the end of it (though it’s dressed up quite fancy and has a coil of stretch cord through the length of the “sock”.) What Kory will do is run around the building with it for awhile, shaking it fiercely. I’m especially tickled when he has it held just so that he bats himself on both sides of his own head with the tennis ball (and BC’s are supposed to be smart!)

In the Reward Routine I let him run around with it for awhile amusing himself. Now we have a chain of interesting commands and interactions. I tell him “Bring it!” He’ll trot it over to me. And his reward for bringing it is that we’ll have a long game of tug. After awhile I’ll tell him to “Drop it!” He has to let go. I have this little aversive trick that I do if he doesn’t immediately let go… wiggling my forefinger into his mouth so that it’s uncomfortable to continue holding on; though frankly I don’t have to use that much because he gets the command.

If there’s a downside to this Reward Routine it is that a considerable amount of time is spent between repetitions of whatever skill we are working on. You know, there just ain’t no sense in being in a big ol’ hurry.



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.

8 Responses to “Putting a Patient Edge on Kory”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Kory’s starting to look like a gangly teenager Bud! Your description of his toy obsession is similiar to my Elvis’ frisbee obsession. Elvis is my most toy driven dog by far. Presley is my food driven boy.
    I like this jump tunnel exercise and will try it with Elvis. He’s almost 2 already.
    Enjoy reading your training with Kory bits; gives me ideas for Elvis.
    They sure grow up quickly, seems I just got Elvis but I’ve had him since he was 5 months old.


    • budhouston Says:

      They sure do grow up quickly enough. I have too few pictures of Kory as a developing puppy. Other people notice his grown better than I do. You know, I back-tracked and bought Marsha a very nice digital camera for her birthday. Partly I was feeling guilty about getting her a load of gravel for the driveway for her last birthday; partly I figured I could always borrow the camera. Expect more pictures of Kory. The camera also does U-Tube ready video. I’m going to try to do a bit of that too.

      Let me know how it’s working out with Elvis. I think we’ll be looking for great things from that boy.


  2. Amanda Says:

    Kory is definitely all gangly teenager now! He’s still an adorable boy, though. Glad you are having such a ball with him.

    See you next weekend in Washingtonville. Are you bringing Kory with you? I’d love to meet him!

    Amanda and Tika

    • budhouston Says:

      I really can’t bring Kory with next weekend. I have this terrible mission of conducting too many classes in too short a time… and so I couldn’t pay any attention to my dog at all. I’ll leave him here to torment Marsha (who has little patience for the boy).


  3. Bailey Says:

    Bailey (Lab) and Kory are birds of a feather. Unfortunatly, I neglected to train a solid release of the toy and 5 years later still need to resort to the finger in the mouth. If I am not holding the other end (which he says means tug ) and tell him to sit, he will, after some thought,drop the toy.

    I think he is telling me he would rather tug then retrieve. I can throw his toy anywhere on the field and he will work through what ever sequence until I release him to the toy. He races to the toy and back to me and then the process of trying to get him to give it up begins.

    Not only does it eat up time,it really looks strange to others to have a guy who only releases a toy with a sit cue.

    Is there any hope of training a give or drop it at this stage of the game?

    • budhouston Says:

      One can always hope…

      But you know, it is what it is. It is a disruptive reward but it is so completely motivating that it’s nonetheless an excellent training tool.


  4. Jean Says:

    Bailey says thanks. We spent the last two days playing “misdirection” and he aced it even when I moved the tunnel within 13 feet of the AF. Why sweat the small stuff.

    On second thought, I think I will try putting the tug at the tunnel opening…see if he takes the #5 jump with temptation staring him in the face.

    Its only 80 degrees in San Diego but I obviously have had too much sun.
    By the way, I loved the bowling ball analogy. I have screwed up a similar section of a course and not realized why. Wont make that mistake again.

    • budhouston Says:

      I love it when people actually set up the exercises I design and play them out. This is a fun exercise. As a teacher it allows me to do what teachers do… point out the obvious.

      San Diego… I remember when there was like two people in that town doing agility… Gail Huston and Robyn Brock. That was a long time ago. I don’t think I’d even recognize the players any more.

      Ah dang. It’s like the guy wrote… You can never go home again.


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