Many handlers struggle with disc dog skills simply because they think that their only cookie in this game is “the Disc”. The disc is a cookie, but it is not the cookie. THE cookie that is most important in the game of disc is Next. It is far better to have your disc dog working for Next than the disc. So, how does that look and how does that work?
An Excerpt From the Art of K9Disc
The Biggest Mistake is Making it All About the Disc
The biggest mistake that disc dog handlers make is thinking that the disc is THE cookie, or the only cookie – that the disc is the only thing the dog wants. Once he’s got it, the game is over.
If you think your dog is only working for the disc, you are selling yourself short. Discs are worth nothing without the handler making them do neat stuff. A disc without the action that a handler puts on it is nothing better than a piece of plastic.
The disc is only as good as the handler makes it, and the game of disc doesn’t happen without the action of the handler. You are the cookie and you control the action and access to the cookie.
Making it all about the disc and treating the disc as your only cookie means it is likely that the dog will not give you the disc or that the dog will take the disc and run away. This transfers the power and leverage of disc play to the dog and the disc. The dog winds up playing disc with you or playing you for the disc. If the disc is the cookie, the one who has it controls the action.
The Second Biggest Mistake is Turning Next Into an Obligation
The second biggest mistake is giving Next away or turning Next into an obligation. This is a semantical argument, it’s in how you think about it and how you present it. There is a BIG difference between,”That’s nice… Now… Go around…” and,”Whoa!!! That’s AWESOME! Get around and go get it!”
Next needs to be an opportunity. Ideally Next is an earned opportunity and the dog understands the behavior that earned it. No behavior? No Next. Do a behavior and get access to next.
This simple idea is extremely powerful and extremely motivating. It is the difference between creating a secondary reinforcer and turning a desired behavior into an unintended punishment.
A command is not a cookie, but a cue might be… It depends on what it leads to and how it is offered.
It’s Never About This Cookie, It’s About the Next Cookie
Cookies are good, but the only cookie that really matters, right now is the next one. If the disc is the only cookie and the dog has it, what good is the next one?
Reinforcing with Next
A Bite, Roller or throw can be more than a target to chase or a disc to catch. It can be thrown out as a cookie. Place a marker before it and deliver it with some attitude, and they become more like a cookie. If you think it is a cookie and treat it like one, it will become one. Then your dog will want the next one. Fire out rollers and offer exciting bites as cookies for desired behaviors and your dog will want to work to make the next one happen.
Suggested Non-Disc Cookies
Become the cookie! Activate yourself as a cookie. Mark the desired behavior and spring into action. Your dog will dig it.
Mark the desired behavior and freeze for a moment as if something exciting is going to happen. Then do something exciting. This is how fun things happen.
A Pose is a promise of a disc to come. It is both a pregnant pause and a promise that something exciting is going to happen. If a Pose happens sharply after a marker, it will be a powerful cookie.
Set Up Move
A Set Up Move offered sharply and excitedly after a bonafide behavior has been marked can be a great cookie. Just make sure it doesn’t feel like you’re asking the dog to do something. Present it as an opportunity to make something happen and follow it up with excitement.
Team Movement and Flow
A flurry of Team Movement and Flow after a marked behavior is a great cookie – this is the game we are here to play. If the dog earns this action through a bonafide behavior, it will reinforce that bonafide behavior.