By Deborah Jones, Ph.D., copyright 2001
Unfortunately, I have recently found myself
somewhat incapacitated with an ankle injury. Not from doing agility,
but simply from walking out the back door! Of course, I was right
in the middle of a heavy show schedule as I’m halfway through
Copper’s MX, and that came to a screeching halt. I tried
having someone else run him for me, figuring he’d enjoy
the chance to get out and play, but that didn’t work very
well. Apparently, he believes I am a necessary component to the
While I certainly didn’t feel much desire
to engage in any type of exercise, my dogs did not agree. They
didn’t mind laying around the house for a few days, but
started to get bored fairly quickly. I decided that, in self-defense,
I needed to keep them occupied.
Luckily, because I am a relatively lazy trainer,
I had already designed some training exercises that require very
little effort on the part of the handler. I call it ‘couch
training’. The beauty of ‘couch training’ is
that the dog does all the work. All I needed was a clicker, along
with treats and toys for reinforcers. If I had been more mobile
I could have put two of the dogs away while working with the third.
Instead, I had the two non-working dogs practice stays while the
third one trained. The dogs were randomly rewarded with a treat
tossed at them for staying. They could then move to a different
place in the room for another stay. I would only work for a few
minutes at a time with each dog, then switch.
These exercises are easiest with a dog who is
already experienced with clicker training, but they can be done
even with novice clicker dogs. Make sure your dog understands
the click/treat or toy connection before you begin teaching specific
behaviors. Most of these exercises are useful as warm-ups and
cool-downs for obedience and agility.
Some ‘couch training’ exercises
Treat Recalls. Toss a treat
and encourage your dog to chase after it and to ‘get it!’
Click when your dog reaches and eats the treat. Then call him
back to you, showing him another treat. Click and treat when he
Fronts. Start by tossing a
treat as in a treat recall. When you call your dog back to you,
use a treat to lure him into a front position (sitting straight
in front of your feet, looking up at your face) when he returns.
The handler can be sitting for this exercise. Hold the treat just
in front of and centered between your knees.
Left side/Right side. Toss
a treat as in a treat recall. Then ask your dog to come and touch
your left or right hand (held out at your side). If you can sit
in a chair you can ask the dog to move into a basic heel position
on one side or the other.
Distance Sits & Downs.
Toss a treat as in a treat recall. When your dog finishes the
treat and turns back towards you, give either a sit or down verbal
cue and hand signal. When your dog responds, click and toss a
treat off to the side and BEHIND your dog. Don’t worry if
your dog returns to your before he responds. Continue always throwing
the treat behind the dog after the click. He’ll soon figure
out that it’s better to respond quickly at a distance than
to return to you, as the treat is always delivered at a distance.
Spin (left & right). Use
a treat to lure your dog into a spin to either the left or the
right (work on teaching one direction at a time and give each
a different verbal cue). When your dog begins to follow the lure,
click and give him the treat. You should soon be able to lose
the lure and simply use the hand motion to induce the spin.
*Synchronized spins are fun when working
with more than one dog. I ask all three dogs to spin. Those who
comply quickly and in unison each get a treat, those who don’t
Back-up. Hold a toy that your
dog loves to chase. Show it to him and just wait. When he makes
any movement, no matter how small, backwards, click and throw
the toy behind him. As your dog gets the idea, require more and
more backwards movement before you click and toss the toy.
Look Back. The ‘look
back’ is actually a ½ spin. You want your dog to
turn 180 degrees and then move in that direction. I teach this
by tossing a toy over the dog’s head and directly behind
him. When your dog begins to anticipate the toss and turn before
you’ve actually throw the toy, you can add a verbal “look
back” cue. This is a very handy cue to use when you want
your dog to turn and take the agility obstacle directly behind
Touch/Target. Once your dog
has learned to target, you can start generalizing the idea and
apply it to any number of objects. The go-out in the Utility class
of obedience can be taught as a ‘touch the target at a distance’
exercise. Start by showing your dog objects that are fairly close,
use a hand signal to focus your dog’s attention on the object,
then send him to ‘go touch’. Try sending your dog
down a hallway to a target at the end. I’ve also used the
stakes in the garden fence in the back yard as targets.
Speak. Teaching your dog to
speak can be very positive. If you get the behavior on cue you
can use ask your dog to speak in situations when you want him
to loosen up and get more excited. I teach speak by getting the
dog slightly frustrated, then waiting for him to make some noise
that I can reinforce. For example, toss a favorite toy for your
dog a couple of times until he’s excited about the game.
Then simply hold the toy and tease him with it “do you want
this?! Do you?!” Most dogs will try a number of behaviors,
eventually becoming vocal. Reinforce this by throwing the toy
and starting the game again.
Give me 5. The basis of this
trick is teaching your dog to touch your hand with his paw. This
is a basic targeting behavior. It works best if the dog is sitting
first. Reinforce any paw movement at first, then more and more
movement, then moving the paw closer to your hand. I have taught
‘give me 5’ with one paw, then ‘other 5’
with the other paw, then ‘10’ with both paws at once.
Sneeze. This is a behavior
that you have to capture in order to train it. I suppose you could
find some way to compel the dog to sneeze, but that doesn’t
seem very nice. I discovered that my little dog was likely to
sneeze when he first looked upward. This gave me a chance to catch
and reinforce the behavior a couple of times. Somehow, I trained
him to sneeze while I'm eating at the table. Probably because
he knows that I’ll give him a bit of my dinner if he does.
Now I’m working on getting the sneeze in other settings.
Who’s First? With more
than one dog you can practice speedy responses to cues. Give a
cue for a behavior that is well-known to all the dogs (sit, down,
spin, etc.) and reinforce the first dog to respond. Then give
a different cue and continue the game. It’s amazing how
much they will speed up their responses when they see another
dog getting goodies!
I had some suggestions from members of the Clean
Run e-mail list about training while somewhat immobile as well.
Lauralyn Johnson from Orange, CA
suggests teaching your dog a “go” cue. Hold the dog
by the collar and get him excited by verbally ‘revving’
him up. Then throw a toy and release the dog, encouraging him
to “go” and get the toy. Lauralyn also suggested teaching
“out” in the same way; throwing the toy laterally
away from the dog. She also suggested sitting in a chair without
arms so that you can practice having the dog move around behind
you to switch sides.
Noreen Scelzo of Newbury, MA
suggested a training activity typically called ‘101 things
to do with a box’. Using boxes of different sizes and shapes,
you can reinforce your dog for a number of behaviors such as 2
feet in the box, back feet in the box, sit in the box, put your
head in the box, etc. I really liked Noreen’s suggestion
to “go to the package store and buy a case or two of beer
and wine. Drink the contents and leave the boxes all over the
house.” Now THAT’S a training method I can live with!
Robin Ohrt from CT suggested
teaching the dog to weave through your legs. If you have the space,
Robin also suggested putting a very low jump in the living room
and teaching your dog to go jump, then wrap around the posts on
one side or the other and then return to you.
Carol Mock from Columbus, OH
mentioned teaching target discrimination. This is an exercise
in which you have two similar targets: one is designated as hot,
the other cold. You reinforce the dog for going to and touching
the hot target, and ignore him for going to the other. (This is
actually how I begin teaching scent discrimination). Carol also
suggested teaching your dog to discriminate agility obstacles
by name. If you have equipment set up in your back yard this is
something you can do without having to move around too much. Send
your dog to different obstacles with hand signals and verbal cues
I’d like to thank each of them for taking
the time to send their great ideas.
When you are a bit more mobile, but not back
to running, you have more options. This is where I am now. You
can practice start line and table stays. This is also a good time
to practice sending to the table from increasing distances. Tight
jumping sequences are also doable with a slower handler. Tight
discriminations can be practiced with the handler in a number
of different positions around the jumps/obstacles. Going back
to some basic moves and groundwork can only strengthen your performance
when it’s possible to run again.
These ideas are good not only for handlers
with injuries/illnesses, but also for those long winter months
when the weather limits our activities. Many of these exercises
can also work for training in apartments and other small spaces.
I’ve found that my injury hasn’t forced me to stop
training; it’s forced me to train more creatively.
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