This training tip addresses foundation training for the 2-on-2-off position for agility contact obstacles and is brought to us by Erin Rakosky, who is part of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline training team. The Good Dog Helpline is a telephone training service that provides support to dog owners with questions about basic training and behavior. Erin also is a canine sports competitor and a veterinary student at NC State University. She lives and competes with her 10 dogs, four of those being mixed-breeds in the AKC Canine Partners program.
Any dog that is going to have a career in performance sports can benefit from hind end awareness exercises. One exercise that I love to teach my young dogs is learning how to target items with their rear legs. I love this exercise because it can also be transferred to teaching a 2-on-2-off behavior on agility contact equipment.
To teach this behavior I use free shaping. What free shaping means is letting the dog work on their own (with your encouragement) to get the correct behavior. So ideally, this means no luring the dog onto the objects.
Pick an item that is low on the ground and that the dog can easily place their feet on. I like to use a thin book or a cake baking tin initially.
Come prepared with lots of small treats and a clicker. Stand or sit around the object and wait for the dog to offer any type of interaction. This could be something as simple as looking at the object. As soon as they look click and reward.
Taking it up a step:
Once they are offering a simple behavior start waiting for them to offer something more. Since I am teaching hind-end targeting, I like for them to step on the object with one of their back legs. Again, when they do click and reward.
If you are having trouble getting them to step on the object, it can help for you to walk around the object or shift your weight. Initially, they may not know that they are getting rewarded for stepping on the object but will quickly put it together once they are getting rewarded consistently.
Once they are placing one foot on the object, start asking for both feet to be on the object before you click and reward.
Making it perfect:
Now that they are reliably offering both hind feet on the object, I will raise the height of the object. You can use items like a thicker book or a box; just make sure it isn’t too high for them to be able to comfortably step on.
When you are rewarding the behavior make sure to reward them while they are still on the box with both hind feet and reward them low, with their nose on the ground. This will help eventually teach them to engage their hind end when pushing off of the contact equipment.
To continue to teach a 2-on-2-off for contact equipment I will start adding a release word prior to allowing them to move off of the box. Remember to reward while they are still on the box. Then ask for the release.
You can start to treat this behavior like a stay and begin moving around the box to teach them to stick on the box until they have been released.
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