Oppositional Feeding – Fixing a Latent Drop

CJ and the Jam-min’ Aussies hung out at the Disc Dog Bed and Breakfast a few weeks ago – all the way from LA… pretty sweet, eh?

We had a fantastic time. What awesome little dogs! One of the things on the agenda was addressing Sydney’s latent Drop on the run. One of the more frustrating issues a freestyle disc dogger can face is an awesome athlete who doesn’t like to drop or habitually drops late. Nothing kills flow like a late or non-existent drop.

Oppositional Feeding for Drop

We like to use Oppositional FeedingOppositional Feeding is the opposite of Directional Feeding. The handler throws a disc in the opposite direction that the dog is moving. Oppositional Feeding is a flatwork and training technique used to slow dogs down and make them think and also to build distance on the cued Drop. Oppositional Feeding is primarily used on dogs with too much drive that... to fix many Drop issues with high drive dogs. In the case of a latent drop or a dog that habitually retrieves to the handler, the reward placement of Oppositional Feeding creates a competing interest and gives the dog a reason to be “out there” instead of racing back to the handler.

We also like to use Oppositional Feeding for dogs that are really aggressive and run hard. Dogs that run too hard cannot leap well and have trouble leaping safely. These dogs tend to pressure their handler as well. Sydney & Melbourne definitely put the pressure on CJ. They are drivey little dogs!

Prompt Switch

Knowing that Sydney has trouble with this skill, we start out by using a Prompt Switch. A Prompt SwitchA Prompt Switch is a technique for changing the cue or signal for a behavior. The new/weak cue is given, verbally or physically followed immediately by the old/strong cue. Then the behavior happens. This sequence is repeated many times and then offer the new/weak cue and the behavior will happen. This technique is helpful when you identify an unintentional signal... is a technique for changing the cue (prompt) for a behavior to something new. Whether it is just creating a new word for your cue, or altering or changing the cue entirely, the Prompt Switch is an impressive tool.

For example. Let’s say you want to change your cue for sit,”Sit,” to,”Broccoli”? How do you do that?

Just say or do the new cue, in this case, “Broccoli.” This new cue is immediately followed by the old or strong cue,”Sit.” The idea is to pair the two cues. The new cue then the old cue. “Brocoli, Sit.” Boom, Pow!

More than a few reps of pairing “Broccoli… Sit,” and the strong or old cue,”Sit,” is removed. Just cue,”Broccoli,” and wait. The dog will sit quite quickly in order to make the cookie happen.

In the Oppositional Feeding lesson we’re essentially pairing the Drop cue with the release of the disc. “Aus”(drop cue) and the Disc flies… rinse & repeat. The thrown disc is a cue (or a signal) to drop. Because the flying disc is likely to make the drop happen – this is the strong cue.

TakeA Take is a cued Bite that replicates the placement and timing of a throw. Usually used with overs, vaults, and flips, the Take is a powerful teaching tool for creating habitual leaping and commitment to flying targets. Takes allow the handler great latitude in placing discs. Just pop it out there sharply and hold it; it’s easy to place... the weak cue, “Aus” (“Out” “Drop” etc) and follow it immediately by a thrown disc. Once the dog starts to take the cue, you should see it happen — the dog drops on the verbal in anticipation of the throw — or there has been enough reinforcement to make the behavior highly likely, test or proof your work by shifting to consequent reinforcement of the cued Drop.

Consequent Reinforcement

Once the Drop is likely to happen we move on to consequent reinforcement of the Drop cue. Sydney drops and then the disc is thrown. This is the normal way of doing things, behavior (Drop) affects consequence (Throw) add the Positive MarkerA Positive Marker is a signal that is used to communicate the exact instant that a behavior is correct and that predicts a positive consequence. A click of the clicker is a Positive Marker in clicker training. A verbal Positive Marker is also commonly used,”Yes!” being the most popular. Usage of a Positive Marker great speeds up learning and also... to prove that the cued Drop makes the throw happen, and that’s just good dog training.

If you go consequent too early it will most likely fail. It is important for the Prompt Switch to be working and well reinforced before going consequent.

Teeth Off at a Distance

After throwing the disc out there over the dog’s head, he dog may or may not drop the disc. MarkShort for “Positive Marker”, a Mark is a word or signal given at the exact moment a desired behavior is performed. It’s like a clicker. Mark can also mean the act of marking behaviors. “Did you Mark that?” asks if the positive marker was given to tell the dog he was correct. When playing disc it is important to Mark... the drop when it happens, even if it happens after the first disc has been missed and is lying on the ground, and reinforce with another throw.

Very frequently, a dog will not drop and will watch or chase the disc with the caught disc still in his mouth. That’s fine. Just wait for any teeth off and fire out another throw. Teeth off at a distance is the criteria.

At first glance this looks like failure,”My dog did not drop the first disc for the throw…,” but if you look again, a bit more closely after a few reps of the dog dropping on top of thrown disc, all the discs are about 15-20 yards away, right where the first disc landed. All the discs have been dropped 30 yards away. This is amazing for some dogs.

If you reinforce this long distance Drop, it will be more likely to happen in the future.