Welcome back and kudos to all of you who have worked through Challenge #2 of this series!  In Challenge #3, you will learn how to add multiple context changes to your dog’s training.  Assuming your dog is consistently responding to SIT cues using the parameters laid out in Challenge #2, you’re ready to move forward.  If not, please keep working through Challenge #2  before continuing.  Be sure to post any questions for me below the blog post.

In Challenge #2, we added handler changes one at a time (splitting) versus simultaneously (clumping).  Trainers refer to these changes as “criteria” and we are constantly raising, lowering, or maintaining criteria to keep our learners successful, yet progressing.  The benefits of splitting may not be obvious to you yet, but the concept of splitting will become a useful solution as we continue to add context changes to a simple SIT.

Image by 99mimimi from Pixabay

As we proceed through this series of Challenges, keep in mind that learning and success are never on a straight upward trajectory – there are always ups and downs.  And even the best laid training plan will be thwarted from time to time because not all context changes are under our control.  When life happens, our dog’s earlier training successes may take some steps backward, so you’ll need to (know how to) make adjustments to the environment on the fly. In Challenge #3, we will repeat Challenge #2’s handler changes, but this time we’ll “clump” them, add a novel change, and troubleshoot as necessary. 

Challenge #3
Adding Multiple Context Changes to Challenge #2

Goals

  • To build a consistent response to SIT cue anywhere in the house with multiple (simultaneous) context changes for handler.
  • For the handler to learn how to “split” criteria when and if training falls apart.
  • Your dog continues to learn that you’re always in training mode even if you’re doing other things and treats are not visible.

Add Multiple (simultaneous) Context Changes for Handler

We are intentionally adding changes simultaneously (“clumping”).  This means you may see prior successes temporarily falter.  However, because you have taken the time to properly “split’ criteria before clumping, don’t be surprised if your dog aces Challenge #3!  REMINDER:  Say “Yes” when your dog’s butt hits the floor, then head to treat container and reward your dog enthusiastically! 

  • Handler is standing, turns back on the dog to start an imaginary phone conversation, then cues Name/SIT (with back still facing the dog).  HINT:  We are adding your dog’s name prior to SIT cue when our back is turned.
  • Handler is standing, pretends to be on a phone call, turns back on the dog, then takes a seat and cues SIT to continue the phone call.
  • NEW CHANGE (to add once your dog has successfully completed the prior clumped criteria in various locations in the house)!  
    • Handler is standing, pretends to be on a phone call, turns back on the dog, walks to the nearest flat surface, (pretends) to write something down (keeping back to the dog), then cues Name/SIT.
  • Enlist other family members to participate (one at a time) if you’d like. 

Challenge #3 sets you up with a relatively minor new change by design. To add a doorbell, squeak toy, ball toss or human food would set your dog up for failure without recourse. The point of Challenges #2 and #3 are to introduce the concepts of splitting and clumping and to guide you through a solution if and when you need one. If you don’t need to apply this solution yet, you will likely benefit in a future Challenge. 

Trouble-Shooting

Let’s illustrate a potential solution using the step in Challenge #3 that involves adding a new change (italics) to the clumped criteria:  

Handler is standing, pretends to be on a phone call, turns back on the dog, walks to the nearest flat surface, (pretends) to write something down (keeping back to the dog), then cues Name/SIT. 

Assuming your dog was successful up to that point, there are a number of potential solutions which involve splitting:  

  • ADD NEW PART FIRST.  Teach the new portion (walks to the nearest flat surface, pretends to write something down), separate from clumped criteria, to a level of consistency, then add it back in.
  • SPLIT NEW PART EVEN FURTHER. Maybe the nearest flat surface in your home is 15 feet away.  You could split this by decreasing the distance and practice at 5 and 10 feet away until your dog can successfully SIT when you’re 15 feet away.  
  • DROP A PIECE OF A PRIOR STEP.  Perhaps cuing your dog while your back was turned was a bit difficult for your dog in prior steps.  You could temporarily eliminate the back turn so you’re facing your dog when cue is given while pretending to write.  You can add it back in later.
  • STAY WHERE YOU’RE AT.  Perhaps your dog simply isn’t ready for the new change. That’s okay and it’s always important that we recognize when we’re asking too much from our dogs.  No learner, human or dog, enjoys frustration. Simply back up to a successful piece of the process and revisit after a bit more practice. 

Setup and Rules are substantially the same as they were in Challenge #2 and are listed below for your convenience:

Setup

  • You and your dog will be working together inside your home.
  • Break soft, smelly treats into tiny pieces.
  • Fill small, lidded containers with treats and stash them throughout your home where they are easily accessible to you (but not your dog).
  • Be certain the treat stashes are in place and/or replenished at least 15 minutes prior to practice.
  • No treats in your hands or pockets.

Rules

  • You may use verbal and/or hand signals to cue SIT, but no physical contact.
  • Only cue SIT one time (no repeating) and wait patiently for your dog to comply.  If using a hand signal, hold signal in place until SIT happens.
    • If SIT happens on first cue, immediately say “YES”. Then, go to the nearest treat container to get a reward for dog. It’s ok if he follows you, just don’t forget to say yes as soon as his butt hits the floor!
    • If SIT does not happen at first cue, see Trouble-shooting section above. 
  • Practice sessions may consist of one-offs or several repetitions.
  • Maintain a 1:1 ratio of SITS to treats.  We will fade food when it’s time.
  • Always end a session while your dog is still successful.

Stay Tuned for Our Next Challenge

Keep an eye out for our next Challenge in Part 4 of this series when we move outdoors.  Until then, please post questions or feedback through this blog post.  Enjoy the process!