Foundation on the Fly – Shaping the Give with a Single Toy

Hops and I were working on creating a WaitWaiting on cue and situationally is extremely important for disc dog freestyle training. The competition field might not see too much waiting going on as everything is supposed to be happening in flow, but on the training field there probably is not a more important skill than a Wait. A Wait is critical for flipping and vaulting.... More with a Bite and it became clear that the tugs I was using were damaged and were causing a problem. I switched to this single tug and ran into an issue. Hops does not have a strong GiveThe Give is a retrieve to the hand. A cued Give is a foundational skill that is not super useful in the actual performance of disc dog freestyle, and has huge applications for training and skills development . A Give is distinctly different from a Drop because of the localized nature of the skill. Give only happens in the hand,... More behavior.

He’s a Jack, Give is not the most fun work in the world. I’ve isolated and done a tiny bit of work on the skill with Hops, but when confronted with a training situation where we had to rely on the Give (single toy), we needed to do some Foundation on the Fly.

Cuing the Give

Initially, I started out Cuing the Give, in hopes that Hops would be able to perform the skill. Well, that didn’t work so well…

Actually, it will work, cuing Give, providing a Dead FishA Fish is a leaping catch that ends with the dog passing the disc back to the handler before landing back on the ground. The basic idea is catch and release, Fishing is easily accomplished from most any Gainer Flip and many other freestyle moves that take place on or around the handler. .... More for the dog to tug on, and reinforcing well will definitely teach a dog to give. But it won’t do it in 5 minutes.

Shaping the Give

ShapingShaping is a learning technique where successive approximation and a Positive Marker are used to teach behaviors and communicate concepts. Successive approximation essentially means continually closer to the target behavior. So Shaping is a learning technique where you continually get closer and closer to the target behavior using a Positive Marker to tell the dog when she is right. It... More the Give with a single toy has 3 steps:

  1. Capture the Give and 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... More with 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... More
  2. Capture the Give and Mark with Give Cue
  3. Cue the Give and Mark with Yes

Step 1 – Capture the Give and Mark with Positive Marker

When the dog is tuggingBitework is an activity or a game that consists of biting and dropping a toy on cue. Cued Bites and cued Drops (and Gives) can be used to teach and reinforce many behaviors. Bitework is the framework to use to create a high rate of reinforcement and the repetition necessary to teach and hone skills. There are 3 rules in... More, we’re going to provide a real lame tugging partner. We call this a Dead Fish TugThe dead fish tug is just a super boring game of  tug from your dog’s perspective. It takes two to tug on something. Tugging is only fun if the other side plays the game. If the handler refuses to engage the tug ceases to be exciting. Then the dog drops the disc. Purposefully create a stark contrast between a healthy... More. It’s lame. A couple of times during this video you can see the tension on the toy decrease – you can see how lame the tug is.

This decrease in the tension makes if far more likely that the dog will initially Give the toy. The Positive Marker isolates the behavior and the Bite reinforcement makes it more likely to happen again.

At this stage, it is very important that we give the reinforcement every time the dog gives. We are reinforcing the Give behavior, nothing more.

Step 2 – Capture the Give and Mark with Give Cue

The next step is to Capture the Give and mark with the Give Cue. It sounds a little wacky, but it’s really great for attaching value directly to the Give Cue.

Step 3 – Cuing the Give and Marking with Positive Marker

The final step is to get tugging, reduce the intensity with that Dead Fish Tug, then say the Give Cue and stick to the Dead Fish tug. Mark with a Positive Marker and reinforce with a Bite.

Remember Rule #1 when playing this game!


  1. Zachary

    It seems as though you are giving Hops mixed messages. You are saying “mine” as a drop cue yet you take it away from him and that get’s his prey drive going again. I’m not sure if there is a way around this or not, just observing.

    Also, why do you not use correction more often? It will help considering he already knows what he’s supposed to do.


    1. Ron Watson Post author

      You are not quite on the ball here with your assessment, Zachary.

      A Drop is different from a Give or “Mine”.

      Not having distinction between Give and Drop is a big deal. Give is “in the hand” or “Drop, while sharing,” and Drop is to “Drop it where ever you may be.”

      There is a precursor to the verbal “Mine” cue, and that is the slack tension on the shared toy, so the game is already getting lame before I cue “Mine”. The compliance with the “Mine” cue ramps the game back up – the reinforcement is more biting.

      I hope this makes sense, it’s a HUGE deal. Rewarding with energy levels of the game – good performance = more biting and dropping, poor performance = less biting and dropping.

      As far as corrections, this really gets into an interesting area. You think Hops understands his job here. He was with us for 3 months. 1 month of no real playing because I had to film class stuff with him, and I wanted a green dog – so no work at that time, and 2 months of getting his feet under him as a member of our pack.

      He did not understand the “Mine” cue, and had only received the opportunity to Give a handful of times before this session.

      Corrections inhibit behavior. They don’t create more. I don’t like to work with corrections in games like this because I want the dog to feel free to act in these situations – many of the coolest tricks/sequences I’ve created have happened because of our dogs’ creativity and their lack of fear to “give it a shot”. Corrections make it more likely that behaviors will be avoided instead of performed.

      Again, hope this makes sense.

  2. Zachary

    Why can’t drop be both for in hand and not in hand? I’m using it for both and I don’t see a problem. I just treat it as a release cue wherever they may be.

    Good point on the corrections. There are various reasons for using and not using corrections. As long as corrections do not instill fear in the dog so much that they are afraid to do a certain thing. Corrections should ONLY come after the dog knows better.

    So we teach the dog the right thing to do.
    Then when we are certain, and only certain, do we implement the sparing use of corrections.

    Thus corrections can be seen as the other side of the boundary (Praise being one of them) to guide the dog to do the right thing. It is only to help the dog better understand (It should never confuse them or cause them to fear acting a certain way) and provide a dissatisfaction upon the wrong action during a particular cue.

    It helps guard the easily erasable nature of cues during the learning stage. If we are very careful cuing a particular action (let’s say the drop, for example), there may still be a time when we fail to predict what the dog will do. Then should we use a correction? In my opinion, it helps them put “two and two” together. Done properly, they’ll be like.. “ooh, I get it now!”


    1. Ron Watson Post author

      A Drop and Give are totally different behaviors. To the hand vs out of your mouth, totally different concepts. I used to think that it was OK to conflate them. I have found that understanding and being able to perform both provides superior performance.

      As far as corrections go, I’ll leave you with this:

      The only one who knows what is being corrected is the dog.

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