Back Up Day One – Visualization and Strategy

Training a dog for any task begins with a visualization of the performance. Let’s say, for example, that we want to teach the dog to back-up. The visualization is fairly straight-forward… the dog will begin walking backwards. But just to put a bit more granularity to the vision, let’s say you will want the dog to continue backing up until you give a cue to back up no more. Oh, this is a bit more complex. But at least we have the vision.

This is the lesson object for the next week or so with my boy Kory. I will also have to devise a methodology for the introduction of the behavior and steps for reasonable incremental progress.

Clearly the performance will have to be shaped. In most dog behaviors I can resort either to prompted shaping and free shaping. Prompted shaping implies that I might introduce the behavior by using a lure or some inducement like a target. When teaching the unambiguous finish position on a contact obstacle, for example, some people might use a target at the bottom of the ramp.

To tell you the truth I foresee a considerable difficulty with prompted shaping of a Back Up performance. When using a target the dog is inclined to lead with his nose, which is pretty much contrary to the performance I’m trying to teach.

Free shaping on the other hand means that I’ll be waiting for Kory to begin the action of moving backwards of his own free will. At first I’ll give him a click and reward for offering even the most subtle movement backwards. Dog trainers tend to be impatient with the free shaping method as takes time and all of the initiative is in the dog’s court. And Kory will be offering a considerable library of reference performances trying to find out what earns the click and reward. But I’m going to take the long view. I figure that free shaped learning is most solid.

I’ll try to keep detailed notes of every training session to keep track of Kory’s progress. Any fine details we need to work on will evolve from the notes.

Today’s Tasks

I have to catch up with reviewing teacup courses. I have a wicked stretch coming up in my calendar beginning in about three weeks and will have so little time for several months that I’ll start falling down at the task. I reckon that I would like this job to evolve into the sort of thing that I return courses the same day I receive them. In order to catch up I’ll have to work down through the lot that I have in my TO DO basket for the TDAA.

The hardest part of TDAA course review is always the games. It’s not enough to look at the pleasant placement of obstacles on the field. I have to completely get my head around the judges briefing to be sure that he or she understands the game, knows how it will be played and scored, and how dogs will earn qualifying scores and placements. This is far more complex than it sounds. In most venues they have three or four standard games that they play and so it’s easy for everyone to get on the same page with how those games are played. But in the TDAA we have dozens and dozens of different games and we are constantly reinventing that wheel.



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at


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