Targeting Dog Agility Skills Improvement

Don't Focus on Problems!
When something happens that is not to your liking, don't dwell on it. Instead identify a TFI  -- target for improvement.

When you focus on problems, you just get more of them. So focus on solutions! Identify a TFI. It is amazing how a simple shift in your thinking can bring rich rewards. Give it a try and see for yourself!

To get you started I have some Progress Checks below so you can make sure you understand this important principle.

Progress Check #1 . I don't know if this is true, but let's imagine that your dog is having trouble hitting contacts during trials. Which of the following would be good to say to a friend. (Check your answer below)

a) My dog is always getting disqualified for missing the contact zones.
b) My dog is sometimes coming off the dog walk too soon.
c) Both
d) Neither

If you say a) or b) you are focusing on the problem not on a solution!  So the last choice is correct.

Progress Check #2

See if you can turn the negative statement above into a TFI (Target for Improvement).
What could you say to a friend about the contact issue, that would not be phrases in a negative way?
Check your answer below.

I'm excited because I've identified a TFI, a target for improvement for Fido --: hitting the contact zones!  I'm going to search the Internet for methods of teaching that skill and cuing it properly! It's my main TFI for this month!

It seems we can all improvement hitting contacts. Even those competing at the highest level, sometimes get dinged for missed contacts.

There are many different approaches to hitting contacts. Below are some methods you may want to try. I don't believe there is one perfect solution to this challenge;

Comments on BREE - Contact zone training video

I think this approach is very good, although some would criticize it as "luring" the dog and not "reinforcing" the contact behavior.

Luring Smuring. It doesn't matter. The important thing is to help the dog exhibit the behavior. Once the behavior starts to happen on its own, you can always offer a reinforcer after the dog shows the behavior. 

I did not like the throwing of treats on the grass because this might encourage sniffing behavior -- better to throw the treats into a bowl or just have them in a bowl ahead of time. 

A next step, not shown in the video would be to place a treat bowl behind another obstacle, so that the dog needs to hit the contact and then run to get his or her reward. If the dog fails to hit the contact, the dog should not be allowed to get the reward.  Below you can see how I used this method with Magic Momo.

Comments on "Introducing 2-on, 2-off contact"

I like this method because you can train your dog in the house without any expensive dog walk, A-frame, or teeter equipment.  I've had great results with indoor training -- and it is so convenient.  Of course, extra training on real equipment is also needed. 

Notice how the trainer is using a clicker to mark the correct behavior and reinforce the dog immediately -- before she gives the dog a primary reinforcer.  To learn more about clickers, please see Clicker Training Exposed.
Please see the video below showing how to use a Treat Bowl to reinforce good contact behavior.
Using A Treat Bowl to Train Contacts

A good way to reinforce contacts is to place a treat at the bottom of a Dog Walk or A-Frame. Don't worry about whether you are reinforcing or luring or bribing your dog (as some well-meaning trainer might call this method. )

The idea is to prompt the behavior and then gradually remove the food reinforcer  It doesn't matter much how you prompt the behavior as long as it is fun for the dog. 

Start with the bowl right at the contact zone,.Notice how I run past the Dog Walk and A-Frame; this helps the dog avoid creeping down to the contact zone. 

Notice, too, how I  move the treat bowl gradually further and further down the line in a short, easy agility course. This is called fading the prompt.

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