Training Tip: The Touch Game for Fun and Focus
This month’s training tip offers great advice on teaching and building desire to play the “touch” game. It is brought to us by Shannon Jones, AKC Rally Judge. She also teaches basic obedience, competitive obedience and rally obedience at two training centers in Durham, NC. She competes with her 2 current dogs, one of which is an AKC Canine Partner, in rally, obedience, agility, lure coursing, barn hunt, herding, freestyle, drafting, and nosework.
Being an AKC Rally Judge, I see many competitors walk into the ring for the first time and others walking in for the thousandth time. Many walk in completely prepared and know exactly what is expected. Others come in and everything they thought they knew begins to quickly leak out as the nerves start. Nerves also set in for the other side of the team. Our partners feed off our stress and the environmental stress. For me, the Touch Game is a tool that I use to manage my nerves as well as my canine partner’s stress.
This game must be built up so that it is extremely desirable and trumps most other things. That means that you need to build it up in low stress, minimal distraction environments when your dog is focused on you. As the game progresses, you take it on the road as you would any show behavior, increasing the distraction levels and/or the stress levels (i.e. practice at show sites or show and go’s) as your dog is ready. Be sure to increase these levels ever so slightly so that you are building the desire, not killing it. You want this game to be IT!
TEACHING THE GAME
The game itself is very simply. The dog’s nose touches your hand. Present your hand very close to the dog’s nose. Likely he will touch your hand simply out of curiosity. If you are a clicker trainer, click and treat (with a highly valued treat). If you do not use a clicker, use a marker word at the touch such as “yes!” and treat (with a highly valued treat). Repeat with the same hand. Reward as the dog touches. When the dog begins offering the behavior, add the word “Touch” or another command of your choosing for the game.
If the dog does not touch your offered hand, tuck a treat between your thumb and palm and present your hand again. Allow them to take the treat which of course causes a nose touch. Click or Yes! and treat then attempt presenting your empty hand for a touch. Continue with the above if the empty hand works. If not, continue with the cookie under your thumb, occasionally offering an empty hand until they begin touching the empty hand.
Now repeat the process with the other hand.
Seems simple, right? Teaching the game is, but building the desire is the key to having this tool for focus at a trial. Take your time over weeks or even months and build this game. I begin teaching this to my puppies from the start, but it is an easy game to teach to adults as well.
CONTINUING THE DESIRE
Once you have taught the game and the dog is happily touching each hand with a verbal request, it is time to start moving the hands around. Make the dog work for the touch. Don’t make it too hard to start, but maybe make it just over his head, so that he has to reach just a bit or just in front of him so that he has to take a step forward. As he progresses happily with each step, make it a little harder and a little harder so that eventually, he is jumping or running or having to weaving through your legs to get the touch. The game becomes a very active, happy game for both teammates.
Why do I teach this game and recommend it as a training tip you ask?
- I use it as a warm up for every activity that I do with my dogs. It keeps both myself and my dog engaged while we are waiting to go in the ring. Neither of us has time to get nervous or stressed.
- I have also used it between exercises in obedience to keep my dog engaged and focused on me. It gives them little time to drift off and look at the crowd and become distracted or stressed. It also keeps me focused on my dog and not on other things such as what is going on outside the ring or what the judge is writing in her book. There is nothing that I can do about that now.
- I even use it in rally to actually perform several of the exercises. I simply do not actually allow the actual nose touch during competition. I remove my hand before the nose gets there.
- It really comes in handy for my very large (29” tall at the withers) dog to do the Advanced Front Exercise. After the Halt, I extend my right hand out in front of my body and ask for a touch. I move my hand before his nose gets there. It allows his body to get much more distance from me and gives him the space he needs to do a nice straight front. This actually works well no matter what size dog that you have.
- I also use it if I lose my dog momentarily while heeling. For instance, if he gets distracted and heels wide, I can say “Touch”, and he will refocus on me and jump back into heel. Again, I have to make sure to remove my hand before he actually touches it. Be aware, in this instance, you are likely to lose points for out of position and possible bumping depending on how your dog returns, but I would rather have that than the incorrect performance of the station or the possible NQ for him completely leaving me.
- I know that I am not the only person that has ever lost a dog in competition to “zoomies” either. I have used it to get my dog to return to me by yelling “Touch.” If you have taken the time to build the game, this will often trump the need to run around the ring, be it the rally or agility ring.