Houston’s Table Training Protocol

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. ~ Gertrude Stein

One of the obstacles most likely to drag on the overall performance in agility competition is the table. While the table should essentially be considered a 5‑second performance, in truth the performance sometimes takes much longer than five seconds and may result in a Non Qualifying score because of time wasted or performance faults.


Difficulty with the table performance is typically a training issue. As in many performances trouble at the table is caused by not understanding the element of the table performance to which the dog’s trainer’s attention should be applied. Like many performance training puzzles in dog agility, we can achieve better results if the basic statement of training objective has been posed with sufficient granularity.

Five Elements for Training the Table Performance

In the table below lists five distinct elements for training the table performance.

1st Element ~ The approach

Desired performance – The very first task in the training of the table is to make the dog keen not only to get up on the table, but to seek it out. When the handler cues the table the dog should move unwaveringly to the table, without having to be led there by the handler, and promptly get up onto the obstacle.

Problem Indicators – The dog will bypass the table as though it does not exist; or, will go sniffing or wandering off, finding almost anything more interesting than the approach to the table.

Training Remedy –This is accomplished this in a very basic way… the dog is lavishly rewarded for getting on the table when directed to do so. Repeat this over and over again.

Proofing – The handler should allow the dog to seek out the table without being led there. Even in the early steps this should be a progressive sending exercise. The training task is complete when the dog keenly drives to the table without overt manipulation or coaxing by the handler.

Notes – Avoid making the table a place where momma gets mental! Never create a negative association with the table (or any agility obstacle).

2nd Element ~ Attention to the handler

Desired performance – When the dog gets onto the table he gives immediate attention to the handler in anticipation of the next instruction.

Problem Indicators – After getting onto the table the dog will sniff or stare off into space for long moments; or may dismount the table to go wandering off as though on a break.

Training Remedy –The handler puts dog on the table and simply waits until the dog makes eye contact, whereupon the dog immediately gets praise and reward. Repeat this over and over again.

Proofing – The training task is complete when the dog is keen to the game and tends to whirl about to give attention to his handler every time he gets onto the table.

Notes – Avoid any kind of obedience performance while charging the attention step. An obedience performance is very poor reward for attention.

3rd Element ~ Assuming the position

Desired performance – When the handler cues the performance the dog quickly assumes the correct position.

Problem Indicators – The dog does not assume the correct position, will give play bows when the handler asks for a down, or will lie down when the handler asks for a sit; or the handler must hover over the dog, repeating a command or making extreme gestures to get the dog into position.

Training Remedy – When teaching a down the trainer places a bit of food in his fist and drops the fist to the table, giving the command to “lie down!” When the dog gets into a down position the trainer immediately opens his fist to allow the dog to take the treat. When teaching a sit the trainer places a bit of food in his fist and rocks it past the dog’s ear, giving the command to “sit!” When the dog sits the trainer immediately opens his fist to allow the dog to take the treat. In these simple training steps is that the dog will quickly learn the game and will endeavor to teach the handler to open his fist promptly! The dog’s trainer must transition from lure to reward as soon as possible. That means the trainer stops holding a bit of food in his hand and will instead rely on praise and reward to make the training point. When the trainer makes the transition to simple reward he should also work to put distance between himself and the dog and vary his position when giving the dog the command to assume an obedience position.

Proofing – The training task is complete when the dog readily and quickly assumes the correct obedience position when cued to do so by the handler without regards to the handler’s proximity.

Notes – Avoid harsh and aversive obedience training methods. Avoid two-part performances; in other words, if the performance is a “down” the handler should not ask the dog to sit first, and then lie down. If the dog competes in a venue that requires only a down the training steps should contemplate a seamless performance in which the dog gets up onto the table and lies down.

4th Element ~ Maintaining the position

Desired performance – The dog will remain in the required obedience position for however long the handler demands without the handler repeating the command and whether or not the handler changes his own position (or otherwise twitches) during the performance.

Problem Indicators – The dog breaks the position without cue from the handler; or the dog will hold the position until the handler shows the slightest movement requiring the handler to hover suspiciously over the dog without twitching through the entire performance

Training Remedy –A “stay” command is incorporated into the performance after the dog has actually learned to assume the required position. Note that this training can be given to the dog away from the table. Consider this method… make the training a meal-time task. The trainer puts the dog on one side, and his food dish on the other. After putting him in his obedience position the trainer will give the command to “stay!” While the dog stays the trainer till reach across his body, taking one kibble at a time to give to the dog. If the dog breaks the position, the trainer will put the kibble back in the bowl, and place the dog back into position. The dog quickly learns that he must work for his meal. As the training progresses the bowl will be placed at greater and greater distances so that the dog must wait while the trainer moves back and forth between himself and the food bowl. Again, if the dog breaks position the handler will very casually put the food back into the bowl and return to the dog to put him back in position. It shouldn’t take too long before the trainer is shuttling the dog’s food a kibble at a time from one side of the room to the other while the dog patiently waits (works) for his food.

Proofing – The training task is complete when the dog the dog consistently maintains the required obedience position while the handler moves in any direction and to any distance.

Notes – In general the trainer should avoid repeating an obedience command. It’s okay to give the command to “stay” in an authoritative voice; however, the command should not be harsh or strident. The correction for a dog breaking his stay should be neutral, and matter-of-fact. The true correction for the dog is the small detail that he earned neither praise nor reward.

5th Element ~ The release

Desired performance – The dog immediately dismounts the table—with energy and enthusiasm—when given a release cue by his handler.

Problem Indicators – After being given a release cue the dog continues to languish upon the table or leaves the table listlessly, with low-energy.

Training Remedy –If dog is keen for a game with a toy, the toy might be a better reward in this training step than food. During the table count the trainer wants to build up a tension and expectation in the dog… a bit of electricity for the release. Play a game of “Ready! Set! Go!” … releasing the dog on the “Go!” word. Immediately whoop & holler and give the dog a game with the toy. If the dog breaks position in his anticipation with for the game, make the correction quite neutral, simply returning to dog to his position on the table to retry the training step.

Proofing – The training task is done when the dog consistently dismounts the table full of energy and excitement.

Notes – The release from the table should be a verbal cue.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available on the Country Dream Web Store.

3 Responses to “Houston’s Table Training Protocol”

  1. Mary Says:

    This is a great article. I wish I had this information when I was training the table. I am having big problems with the 3rd element- assuming the position. My dog quickly assumes the table position at home, but at a trial takes lots of time before he gets into position. Very frustrating because he can do it fast at times.

    • budhouston Says:

      It truly sounds like a “generalization” problem. You might really try to get your dog to other training centers and in different environments where you can apply training remedy to the table.

      Also an interesting phenomenon, I don’t know if it’s true in your case, but often the handler fails to recreate the condition that is found in a trial when practicing at home. For example are you deferring the reward? Or, do you often lure to position (eg with a food treat) when practicing at home?


  2. Mary Says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions. While I don’t use food as a lure, I have been instantly rewarding a fast position at home. I will try to delay the reward and also try to to get to other training centers.

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