Teaching "Front"

I have to train a more precise and more consistent “front” position with Elsie before I can trial her and keep my dignity intact. I saw a great video on youtube, and thought I’d give it a shot with this method. The two parallel lines of tape on the floor is for my own visual sense of criteria and I simply shape from there. I find the hardest part about shaping my dog to a location relative to myself is my own tendency to try to move things with my mind – “Almost… aaaaaalmost… I’ll pretend that’s right *click*” – which leads me to shape away from the intended position, which results in a sloppy performance all around.

It’s like playing mini-putt. When the ball is nearing the hole I figure that if I lean really far in the direction that I want it to go, often making a sort of creaky “ahhhhhh” noise, the ball will change its course and head toward where I want it to go simply because I thought really hard about where I wanted it to go.  It doesn’t work with mini-putt (usually), and it doesn’t work with dogs. You get what you click. Having this visual information is really helpful to me because I can’t try to move Elsie with my mind and consequently click the almost-right-position.

Notice in the below video her tendency to come in from my left and walk her back end into position.  This is a combination of gravitating to my left anyway (into heel position, because I naughtily haven’t taught side! [heel on the right]) and my history of clicking an almost-front-despite-her-rear-drifting-to-the-left. She will soon start coming into front much straighter and more purposefully because I’ll be for more consistent with my criteria than I have been previously.

Elsie’s movement back and forth at the beginning of this video is because she is trying to figure out how to make me click.  We have been working a lot on backward movement, as well as bows and ‘head-down’, which is what you are seeing here. These behaviours decrease in frequency as she figures out what earns her a click.  Right now, I am looking for all body parts to be with in the bounds of the tape.  As this progresses, I will select for a tighter position, as well as an automatic sit, at which point I will add my cue. I have already been using the cue “front” to mean what I intended as a front, so I will have to be thorough in adding this cue to a behaviour with tighter criteria.  There are as many different opinions on adding cues as there are trainers (“add it only to a finished behaviour”, “change the cue if you change the behaviour”, etc), but I am going to give this a shot and see how it goes. I tend to be a little sloppy when it comes to teaching cues and stimulus control, so I’ll just have to be a little more careful in this process. But that’s another topic all together…

With the helpful visual info that the tape provides, combined with Elsie’s self-taught crotch-targeting, I hope  to end up with some real tight fronts!

(I’ve noticed that my Photobooth program for my computer camera films as a mirror image, so when I say she’s gravitating to my left I’m not crazy… what the video shows is backward!)