Broken Stay ~ an Anticipation Error

One of the protocols that we use at our training center is geared to reduce the likelihood of the broken-stay anticipation error. If a dog breaks the start-line stay it is not that he doesn’t understand the obedience position; and it is not that he doesn’t understand the Stay! The dog is anticipating the handler’s directive to begin. It is more of a missed guess than a dog being “bad”.

Also, it should be clear to the dog’s trainer that the error is taught to the dog by the handler / trainer. So we can scarcely blame the dog at all.

The routine that the handler uses and teaches to the dog for starting a sequence builds in the dog over time a predictable outcome: The handler faces the dog in the direction of the course; The dog will do the obstacles immediately in front of him; The handler will heap a variety physical cues leading up to the release.

The routine for training the dog for a start-line stay establishes a palpable tension; the greater the drive in the dog the more high-strung and precarious that tension.

What we’re going to attempt to do is reduce the tension and the anticipation by breaking the routine of the release. The objective is to remove the certainty and predictability of the direction of the start. Sounds simple right?

In this drawing the handler has set the dog not precisely facing any obstacle, but suggests the start as he leaves the dog towards the winged jump. Note  however that the handler doesn’t release the dog at all, but circles the jump and returns to the dog to praise and reward.

Now the handler leads out, circling around the tire, to return to the dog to praise and reward the stay. The first lead-out was dog on left. This lead-out is dog on right. The handler/trainer wants to mix these variables.

I want to throw in this little bit.., so that the training protocol isn’t entirely predictable. Now the handler takes a lead-out around another obstacle (the pipe tunnel in this case) and assumes a posture between the obstacles… and calls the dog for a game of tug. This is a very intentional part of the training protocol that suggests to the dog that we might not be doing an obstacle at all.

We want to practice this false start quite a bit with a young high-drive dog. The intention is to avoid making the obstacles self-rewarding for the dog. The handler must be the key focus from the dog. The handler must be the most rewarding thing about what the dog is doing on course.

Now, the handler leaves the dog facing in the original direction and takes a lead-out around the tire; without any intention of releasing to the tire. Instead the handler crosses over and releases to an entirely different obstacle. Note the red “X” on the course. This is the point at which the handler gives the verbal release.

The crux of the training method is to introduce the uncertainty of the first obstacle. And so the protocol should involve to a great extent on including that uncertainty so that the dog doesn’t get wise and has no real reason to anticipate the release.

About the Start

I try to teach my students to remove from the release all of the physical cues. Many handlers have an exaggerated physical twitch in the release; a snapping or jerking of the arm, bending over slightly, a turn of the head. To a clever dog these physical cues become a part of the signal to the release. And the dog is really not wrong when he reads these physical cues in the handler. The real problem is that if you’ve taught the dog to release on a twitch… then you’re asking the dog to release at unpredictable times because it is the nature of human movement that we are (to the dog’s point of view)… twitchy.

Post Script

The training protocol I’ve described here was developed by Marsha Houston a  superb dog trainer who has a canny ability to break down basic performance training into discrete granular bits. I hope that I’ve done her training protocol justice here.

I’m a bit of a lazy dog trainer myself. What I mean by that is that I am not  obsessive compulsive in my training. You’ll never see me out there pounding my dog over and over on full height jumps in order to develop the dog’s compensatory understanding of my cues and movement.

However, I’m fully aware that you cannot own a skill with a dog unless you take the steps to train it. The difference between the weekend warrior and the serious dog trainer is that the serious trainer will understand that a given training protocol must be reinforced over a long span of time. We’re going to measure that span of time into a unit I’ll call “dog’s age”.

The serious dog trainer must be consistent in response and hold to specific criteria.

I’ll see you in competition.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

You have two coins in your pocket that add up to 30 cents. One of them is not a nickel. What are the two coins?

The first correct answer posted as a reply to this blog post wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special03” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

7 Responses to “Broken Stay ~ an Anticipation Error”

  1. Jenn Says:

    A quarter and a nickle. It says one of the coins isn’t a nickle – not that neither coin is. 🙂

    • Jenn Says:

      whoops – nickel, not nickle.

    • budhouston Says:

      Okay Jenn, you win. I was looking forward to days and days of mind-numbing bafflement. But you got it straight away. Well done… it’s true, the quarter is not a nickel.


      • Adrienne Says:

        That would’ve been my answer too. Do you ever watch “Scrubs”? Funny show. A whole sub-plot revolved around this question.

        By the way, your question calls for the other *two* coins. Oops. 🙂

  2. courtenay Says:

    If one wins this contest, can they ask for an older version of the Joker’s notebook? Since I already have March, if I won, could I get Feb or Jan’s book?

  3. budhouston Says:

    Note: This training protocol was edited and updated on March 16 to fix an important element that was overlooked in the first draft.


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