Establish the Game
Before we get started working on skills and behaviors we need to establish a game. The pace and desire to play this game must be installed before the game is used to teach.
This is where many handlers blow it. They don’t add enough value to the concepts in play, Bite and Drop, and they don’t cultivate a fast paced game that the dog wants to play.
Try to cultivate a game that a dog loves to play and is good at before trying to teach lessons with the game.
Experience Infinite Success!
The game that we’re going to set up is pictured above. Ask for a bite, mark it when it happens “Yes!”. Reinforce with a short tug and let him win. Once the dog has won the toy, call the drop. When the drop happens, mark,”Yes!” and reward with a bite… and repeat.
This creates a reward loop. The dog can’t help but be successful. Bite — Yes! … Drop — Yes!… Bite — Yes! … Drop —Yes!… Bite — Yes! … etc. Everything is Bite! and Drop, and Yes!, Yes!, Yes!.
This reward loop enables the handler to get a very high rate of reinforcement (CPM) and deliver a very clear understanding of the bite and drop behaviors through reward and repetition.
Kiva has an issue with dropping too quickly, and Apryl does a great job here of setting up a great reward loop that contrasts very nicely with the downtime for dropping without the cue. It is this contrast that leads to a strong retrieve and the purposeful push of the toy into Apryl’s hand.
Then Play with the Slack
While Apryl is waiting for Kiva to hold the toy a bit longer, she is essentially waiting to give the drop cue. She’s increasing the slack at the bottom right of the diagram, increasing the time between the cued Bite and cued Drop. As a result of increasing the slack, giving the dog more time, the dog winds up carrying the toy. Of course that cannot happen without the historical value placed the biting and dropping behaviors and the consequent relationship between the them.
Notice that during the downtime that Kiva doesn’t check out or disengage from Apryl. The reason that Kiva stays engaged is because he really likes this bite and drop game. I mean, who wouldn’t! Apryl has worked hard to create a great game and when things are working right, “Whoo-hoo! is it a good time!” When Kiva drops early, it’s not such a good time. That stark contrast that did such a great job altering Kiva’s behavior can only be set up if the game moves at a fast pace, has a strong reward history, and is consequent.