Social Distancing ~ Lesson Plan #4 ~ Named Obstacle Discrimination

This is a lesson plan that ideally requires an A-frame (or dogwalk) and a pipe tunnel. But, don’t you know, if you have a small space and not a lot of big agility equipment, the basics of the training can be satisfied with a box with the ends knocked out (as a substitute for the tunnel)… and a board on brick (as a substitute for a contact obstacle.

I published much of this lesson plan less than a year ago. But then… a year ago most people weren’t confined to home with the prospect of or the ambition for actually doing homework.

This is the Named Obstacle Discrimination. The basic idea is that you can teach a dog the names of the obstacles and subsequently rely on the “name” you use in your verbal conversation with your dog to designate what obstacle the dog should perform.

That’s the theory, anyhow.

 

Our training discussion for the next several days are based on the NDAL April 2020 Masters league course, in which we play a game called “the Box Game.”

The Box Game is the invention of USDAA judge, Brian McGunigle. Brian conceived this game for a USDAA Starter/Novice-only trial held by ARFF in Massachusetts in 1999. People said they had fun running the game. One of the club members later reported to Brian to say they had subsequently used it in class for training.

The course, you’ll note, is of my own design. It’s not a terribly easy game to design because on balance the handler should be able to solve the distance riddle working exclusively inside the box; and equally solve the distance riddle by never stepping inside the box. In either case the dog will earn 20 bonus points (without regard to performance faults).

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The Box Game is scored Time, Plus Faults, Less Bonus.

I have already run this game with my boy Kory. His run went like this:

 

Teaching Named Obstacle Discrimination

I have tried here to arrange below recordings I have done while teaching the Named Obstacle Discrimination to my dogs. These should demonstrate the simple praise and reward methodology. I refrain, as much as possible from editing out small failures because, in real life, small failures are a part of the training adventure.

I’m hoping that you will appreciate pictures, and I will spare you the theory and lecture.

You know, I remember the first time I ever saw a tunnel under an A-frame. It was at the USDAA Nationals in Houston Texas in 1993 on a course designed by Kenneth Tatsch. My boy, Winston the Wonder Dog, took the wrong-course obstacle. <sigh>

I went home determined to solve the riddle of to the “obstacle discrimination”. And frankly, I studied and developed some very reliable handling solutions.

At the end of the day, turns out, it shouldn’t be a matter of handling at all. What if I were to actually teach my dog the names of the obstacles so I didn’t have to handle at all. Instead, I could just give my dog the information and trust in training.

Dog Training Riddle

Having arrived at the wild notion that we will teach the dog the names of the obstacles the dog trainer has to figure out the methodology.

First the Tunnel

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We start with the tunnel with the handler blocking approach the A-frame. Give a strong “Tunnel” command and release the dog. Praise and reward, so long as the dog goes in the tunnel.

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In very small incremental steps the handler begins each rep slightly farther from the tunnel. This takes the handler out of a blocking position. The training will rely on the very basic training principle; the dog get’s praised and rewarded when he gets it right. But when the dog gets it wrong the trainer very neutrally denies both praise and reward.

While the drawings above are nice and neat, I would be remiss not to share some of the painful beginnings of the dog training journey. It’s not all perfect and pretty, to be sure. Keep statistics. Over time the numbers will lift your spirits.

The following video comes from meal-time training.

This video is a bit of a training mix. It illustrates a dogged training approach to our Named obstacle discrimination journey.

Move on to the A-frame

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After fairly mastering the tunnel, the same method needs to be applied to the A‑frame. Initially the handler positions the dog directly in front of the A-frame while taking a blocking position on the tunnel.

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Again, very gradually move back the starting position so that the tunnel is exposed as a wrong-course option. Be mindful that you only praise and reward successful tries.

Mixing and Random Alternating

Up to a point you concentrate on one obstacle or another. The repetition gives immediate reinforcement. But the dog might be cleverly extracting reward from her trainer. So, before too long you have to ask the question… do you know what it is I’m asking for.

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This is a good time to begin keeping statistics on rate of success. You know that if you’re working around the 50% mark you should probably go back to a previous step for remediation. But if that number rises, you know you’re on the right track.

This exercise is a bit like throwing horse shoes. We introduce the approach to the A-frame/tunnel with a jump to establish movement. And then we ask the question… “do you know what I’m asking you to do?”

Increasing Distance

Don’t be too happy and content with simple tests of your training. What you really want to do when training Named Obstacle Discrimination is to test the skill from a fair distance. The whole point of the training was to have confidence in your dog’s understanding of which obstacle to take without the handler being in the middle of the picture micro-managing that performance.

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What I would like to do here is stay behind the dotted line while my dog works forward. From a fair distance, I can ask the question… “do you know what I’m asking?”

This exercise has a couple prerequisite skills… notably, left and right.

While Cedar had a successful workout, demonstrated by the video, I am very aware that skills like this need constant reinforcement and refreshment.

Editor’s Note: There were several other recordings of this training series. To present them here would have dragged the story down a bit with the repetitive nature of dog training. That being said, look at these pictures and videos as an overview. It is worthwhile to note, however, that the entire training endeavor took less than three weeks with daily practice.

Proofing

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This was an NDAL league play game back in August of 2015. It’s a distance gamble kind of game. The dog earns bonus points for working the dog at a distance. Obviously, this demands proofing of “Named Obstacle” discrimination.

My boy Kory had a pretty good showing. And I feel no embarrassment that I designed a game for league play that tests a skill that I take pains to teach my dogs.

In retrospect, I’m amazed that Kory could hear my commands with all the barking (my other dogs) in the background.

Plans for Tomorrow

The lesson plan for the April 60×90 Masters game suggest quite a few training . missions. I’ll try to demonstrate several of them before I put this game away and work on the next game. Although the National Dog Agility League has pretty much come to a complete stop…

I will continue to run the league courses.

The April 2020 National Dog Agility League games and courses have been published here:

 

https://wp.me/p2Pu8l-dj

If you have the capacity to put these courses up in your back yard, I would be delighted to include your dog’s results (and youtube video?) in the historical results.

 

Follow NDAL on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TopDogAgilityPlayers/

Read the NDAL blog: https://topdogagilityplayers.wordpress.com/

 

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Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston Houston.Bud@gmail.com. Visit our web store: www.dogagility.org/newstore. You’ll find in the web store The Book of Agility Games, a comprehensive reference to all manner of agility games played for competition and fun around the world.


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