Position Changes: Ditching the Prop
I've been thinking about position changes lately as I continue to work on Zumi's stand at a distance for the new AKC cue discrimination exercise, and as I teach my TEAM classes.
I prefer to teach position changes with targets of various types. Typically I use front foot targets or rear foot targets to help isolate the dog's feet that I want to keep still.
My dog's sit to stand is a kickback stand where the front feet remain still so I can use a front foot target. The dog keeps their front feet on a small target and learns that they only get the reward when they keep their front feet on the target as they move into a stand.
Or I can use a rear foot target for their down to sit where I want the dog's rear feet remaining still and the dog pushing up with their front feet.
Students may use other props such platforms to help remind the dog to change position without any forward movement.
When to Get Rid of the Prop
One of the common questions I get from students is when can they get rid of the prop for position changes. Students are eager to prove that their dog "knows" it and doesn't need a prop anymore!
Often they get get rid of the prop early on and then gradually start seeing issue crop up with the dog moving too much when they add distance, or the dog changing styles such as going from a foldback down to the dreaded butt first style down!
For many reasons I prefer to keep the prop that I'm using for quite a while. I don't want the dog learning to perform it one way with the prop and another way without!
By sometimes using it and sometimes not using it, the dog is focusing too much on the prop itself as the cue to do the behavior and not actually developing the strong habit of only performing in one consistent way to your cue.
The first thing I work on before fading the prop is challenging the dog to perform the position change in different circumstances.
Can the dog still perform if food is held in front of them? Can they do it if food is on the ground? Food directly above their head? Food behind them? What if I toss a cookie before cuing the behavior?
Here Catalina works on some zen proofing games where I hold food out in front of her:
Can the dog perform correctly if I'm doing weird things like sitting on the ground, lying on the ground, turning my back? The TEAM 3 tests fun variations of handler proofing!
Here I work with Zumi on her stand with different proofs. I make it easier for her by only working the stand cue and not mixing it up with the different possible position changes!
Distance I build up slowly and after I already have consistent responses with different proofs.
Before getting rid of the prop I want a minimum of 10ft and more than likely I will build up to the full 40+ft I need in utility.
Alternative Behaviors that Support Distance
Along with the dog correctly performing the position change cue at a distance, I want to have other behaviors in my pocket that will encourage the dog to remain at a distance from me.
In other words, when the prop IS eventually taken away, do I have a ways of rewarding or cuing other behaviors that will prevent the dog from thinking about moving to me?
My favorite behaviors for this are
Send the dog back to their reward placed behind them. The dog should have a special marker cue that lets them know they are released to their reward behind them.
Cue the dog to back up between position changes. The dog needs to know a backup cue and be able to backup when they are already 10+ft away from me!
Cue the dog to do a reverse send back to some other target behind them like their go out spot, or flying around a cone. The dog does the position change and then is told to turn around and go do the other target behavior before they get their reward.
I need these other behaviors solid before I work with them on position changes and without a target!
Here Vito and Zumi demonstrate the backup and the reverse sends after their position changes. You can see Vito moves too much on his stand to down and should go back to having a target!
Introduction to Different Props
I know, you want want to get rid of your prop, not add in a new one!
But I like switching up what type of prop I'm using for the position change before getting rid of one completely.
Going from a single prop type to no prop should be fine for many dogs if you wait to do it until you have done a lot of proofing and have built up distance.
But for dogs who were a retrain (like Zumi I switched her stand from a rear foot still stand when at a distance to a front foot still stand) or for dogs who you tried to take away the target and saw some issues, I want to make sure the dog isn't focusing too much on the prop as the cue to do the position change with the criteria you want.
Other props I will introduce that should help the dog remain at a distance but allow more freedom for errors or just give it a different look are:
- A different looking front foot (or rear foot) target such as a food bowl, a small plank of wood, a folded towel...
- Platforms or a pvc box
- A bar on the ground. Or just a leash on the ground in front of the dog!
- A mat or completely flat target
I really want to get rid of using a prop for Zumi's stand cue at a distance. But I can't rush it. Especially since I completely changed her style of standing, she will need a prop for an extra long time to prevent her from reverting back. Right now I'm still needing to use various front foot targets or some type of bar in front of her, especially when working on handler proofing.
I know if I'm patient and resist the urge to "test" her knowledge without the prop then that day when I finally do take the prop away I won't have to worry!