Zappa is a 17 week old puppy who has never played disc. This is a typical introductory puppy training session for us, meaning it is anything but typical. The concepts used are all standard: Working off the Drop, Unsolicited eye contact or Attention is a great way to hook up with a dog. If you have something the dog wants he should give eye contact in order to More for Next is an important feature in a fast paced game. Everything hinges upon Next. If you like the game, then Next is important to you. When a dog loves to More, Shaping 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. More Engagement, and Reinforcing with Action, but the application of them is based upon what the puppy gives and what the situation demands. Be sure to catch the voiceover or it won’t make much sense… I’ll lay out some more stuff below.
When I posted this video at first, Apryl gave me a hard time because she thought nobody would get it. And I get that. There are a lot of things going on here and the situation demanded many shifts in Criteria is a key concept of dog training. Criteria is what exactly the handler is looking for out of the dog at any given time as a metric for success. More and focus. So I whipped up the voiceover to try to make sense of this wackiness.
There is really only 1 goal in this session: Make playing with the disc a super fun and super exciting operation. As long as that happens, I’m cool.
Many people want to teach The Dog is a player archetype defined by The Dog. There are always a few canine athletes that really separate themselves from the pack. Many great disc dog teams have More from the get go; they want a map to getting and teaching the behaviors. So they focus on criteria for the sake of teaching and getting the skills. This focus sets up a situation where the game of disc, from it’s inception, can be boring a loaded with performance Pressure comes in many forms in dog training. Positional Pressure, Performance Pressure, Environmental Pressure, the Plane of the handler’s body. Pressure is a fact. How you wield it or leverage More, for both dog and handler.
The reason this session looks wonky to dog trainers is that, while I’m focused on legit criteria like Bite, Drop, The 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 More, Attention, and Reorientation, I’m not trying to teach them nor am I trying to get them.
The only focus here is to let him realize that playing with discs is an epic and exciting experience.
Creating and Reinforcing With a Drop Cue
To start off with, Zappa does not have a Drop. He has no clue what “Aus” means. And yet I immediately reinforced with it. How does that work?
Dropping the disc is something that I can bank on. It will happen. It’s 100% a given. Puppies lose focus rather quickly. So I simply give the cue and wait… The repetition and consequent chain plus the marker will make meaning out of the Drop cue rather quickly.
So I give the cue and Waiting 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 More for the teeth to come off as an excuse to fire out another disc.
This often results in a surprised response from the dog, and that’s great when it comes to my ultimate goal – making disc exciting and fun. “OOOOoooh! It’s running away… YAY!”
Leveraging Excitement and Expectation Towards Attention
After a few exciting rollers, markers, and drops, Zappa is in it. He’s digging the game. He doesn’t know how it’s being played or how it’s working, but it’s fun. He’s in it and willing to dedicate a bit of effort to figuring out what’s happening and why.
Once that happens, Attention is a given. I like to leverage the expectation of a A Cookie is traditionally thought of as a food treat given as positive reinforcement. In that definition, a cookie is a discrete piece of food reinforcement. In many dog training More after a marker to get Attention. So I cue the Drop, Short 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 More the teeth off and wait…
Zappa is expecting something awesome to happen and when it doesn’t he looks to me. Initially I can A 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 More some low level, ambient or side eye attention, but I’m going to shape that into good Unsolicited eye contact or Attention is a great way to hook up with a dog. If you have something the dog wants he should give eye contact in order to More as quickly as I can.
Generating excitement and expectation of excitement is key to reinforcing engagement.
Dealing with Downtime – Be an Opportunity, Not an Obligation
Zappa is not obligated to play with me. He can do whatever he wants. Not badgering the dog to engage is a huge key to engagement. As long as I establish interaction with me and the discs an exciting opportunity, he’s going to hook up with me.
When he checks out, I’m just going to chill. And he is going to check out given his age and the fact that there were cookies all An Over is any leaping catch that happens over top of the handler’s body. Overs are usually named by the part of the body over which the dog flies, i.e More out there from a previous training session Apryl had with a client, so I’m just waiting for those cookie crumbs to play out and for him to get bored with them.
When he does, I’m going to pounce on interaction with him. This type of management and interaction is free shaping engagement – anything that leads to engagement is fair game – and when I get it, I’m going to reinforce it with a The Roller is a great throw for reinforcing a dog with a disc. Instead of flying through the air like a wing, the Roller rolls on the ground like a More, bite, praise, and a pregnant pause if he expects something.
Shaping engagement rather than molding it or insisting that it happens guarantees that I, and the discs, will be looked at as an opportunity, and are far more likely to be taken as a cookie than they would be if I were trying to get him to play disc with me.