Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wobble Board/Clicker/Distance Training

My old wabble board, and Winnie Pooch
New puppies provide fresh opportunities to play "guessing games", what Susan Garrett calls "It's Yer Choice" games, and push those games to their limit.  These last few days, with a 13.5 week old papillon I'm calling Winnie Pooch, aka Honey Bear, I set up my wobble board outdoors, and we've had a blast playing the guessing game and videoing the process (see videos below).
Underneath, a stack of 3 wood pieces
screwed to the board,
slightly off center.

For those who don't know, a wobble board is just a short plank or 2' to 3' square board with 3-5" of something (wood, pvc pipe) affixed under it that makes it wobble whenever the dog hops on.  It's used in Agility to desensitize green dogs to a moving surface under their feet, in preparation for the see saw. You can purchase fancy ones, but my homemade wobble board is made out of scrap wood--old, weathered, and beat up--and it's worked just fine for years.

In a nutshell, the GUESSING GAME is when the dog does something you're looking for without you asking for it, you CLICK then TREAT. Dog does it again -- CLICK, TREAT. Repeat 10 to 30 times. Dogs LOVE the challenge of trying to figure out what they did that got them a treat, and puppies seem to catch on more quickly than adult dogs. I wrote earlier about how to play guessing games which I won't repeat here, but it's important to do it right.
WOBBLE BOARD/CLICKER TRAINING: To start, you may have to lure the dog to pay attention to the board, then CLICK, TREAT when they put a tentative paw on the board, eventually 2 paws, then all 4 paws. Papillons, however, don't show the slightest fear and jump right on and dance around.  Every few days you can advance the guessing game by CLICK, TREATing only when they do things like:
  • sit or down on the board
  • enter from the high end of the board
  • keep only 2 back feet on the board
  • jump off the board 
  • etc
It's important that they be trying to figure out what you want rather than you telling them, but be sure and wait until they master the previous exercise.  You'll know when things become routine -- their performance becomes blaze' and they act "entitled" to a treat without thinking. The beauty of clicker training, you can increase your distance from the board by several yards and still deliver the "treat" at the moment the desired behavior takes place.

I videoed 3 days in succession of Winnie Pooch running from me to the board.  At first he was distracted by everything and making wide haphazard circles around the yard (major distractions), but by Day 3 his performance was phenomenal, running straight to the board again and again from over 40 feet away!  Training sessions lasted only so long as the puppy invited me to play.  I kept my clicker and jar of treats on the table at all times so the game could commence any time he offered the desired behavior.  Here's a composite video over 3 days.  I only videoed a few sessions of the many that took place.

Gosh golly, this is so much fun! Honey Bear, you be smokin'!

I didn't video the steps of introducing Winnie (i.e. Honey Bear) to the board and couldn't repeat them since he was already familiar with the board, but there are lots of YouTube videos on the first steps.  I haven't seen any on the distance work we've accomplished.

Later I had John video me introducing the game to Maxie.  Surprisingly, due to 3 years of me training him NOT to take an obstacle unless I indicate it, he was unwilling to get on the board until I gave a signal, then increasingly unwilling as I moved further away. Well, well, well!  I had no idea I had trained the "wait for my signal" skill so well, and I suppose it would NOT BE WISE to "untrain" it.  I sure don't want him "guessing" in the competition ring.  Here's a video of that session, which is fascinating in its own frustrating way!

Upwards and onward!

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