This weekend I spent auditing an obedience training seminar given by Bridget Carlsen. Bridget is consistently one of the top obedience competitors in the country. Her accomplishments are impressive (many OTCH’s, MACH, MH, etc). One of her current dogs is the first-ever OTCH Norwich Terrier. This was not a high-drive dog when she got him. Now he’s an amazing little bundle of focused energy.
I really enjoyed this seminar. It was well worth the money, and early weekend mornings. I am not a morning person, and I rely on weekends to catch up on my sleep, so getting up before 5am on both Saturday and Sunday and me feeling like it was worth it is a big deal!
So why did I enjoy Bridget so much? Similar to Celeste Meade and Sylvia Bishop, Bridget trains for attitude. Her dogs love, love, LOVE to work, and it shows.
As you know, I struggle with attitude with Ziggy. Over the past 8 months (since the Celeste Meade workshop I attended last summer), I have been working on making Ziggy more bouncy, animated, happy, and attentive while working. Z has gotten much bouncier and happier at home and at our kennel club building (where we go a lot), but when I take him to new places, or if he’s around a lot of other dogs, his energy level drops precipitously.
So what did I learn that I think will help us? Many things – but I intend to start by focusing on a few areas:
- Building attitude using jackpotting and a cue word
- Fun heeling games
- Breaking exercises down into small pieces
- A more militant approach to sniffing
So this post doesn’t get too long, today I’ll focus on the one I’ve already started with – jackpotting and use of a cue word.
The thought behind jackpotting is that, since food can’t be taken into the ring for Rally, Obedience, or Agility, the dog needs to learn to work for a handler when the handler isn’t “packing” treats. In order to do this, the dog needs to understand that even if they can’t see the food (or other highly desirable reward), that they will be rewarded.
With jackpotting the dog learns that working without a constant stream of food can be fun, because there’s a little party with lots of treats and play if the dog performs well. This little party with lots of cool stuff is the “jackpot.” The dog’s thought should be, “when is she going to have the party? I don’t know, but I better pay attention so I don’t miss it.”
I recently read a book (which I’ll review sometime soon, because I thought it was really good) that talked about jackpotting. Bridget helped me understand it more, as she ties a cue word to the jackpot and has a system to build drive and want connected to the jackpot and the cue word.
For Ziggy, I’m using food as his jackpot. He doesn’t have a ton of play drive (we’re working on this), so right now we’re on food instead of toys. I’m working with his breakfast & dinner as my training & jackpot time, so he’s nice and hungry and really wants to get that food. The cue word I’m using is “supper.” Any word could be used, but I’ve chosen supper because I think it’s a fun word to say over and over again in an excited tone (try it, “Supper! Supper! Sup sup supper! Who wants their supper?!” – isn’t that fun?!)
Right now Ziggy and I are in phase one –with the jackpot readily visible and on me. This means that I have the dog bowl with his food in my hand as we’re working. I trot around saying “do you want your supper? Here’s your supper! What do you want to do for your supper?” (basically I say supper a lot in an excited tone). If he offers a high drive/excited behavior (leaping in the air for instance), I give him some of the food (“that’s what you do for your supper! Good boy! Here’s some supper!). Then I’ll ask for a behavior (close, down, sit, stand, etc.). If he does it with the same drive and enthusiasm, more supper comes his way (“great close, Ziggy! Here’s some supper! Yippee!). I repeat this process until the food is gone.
I’ve done this three times now, and Ziggy seems to LOVE it! Excitement, food, and work all at the same time! I’ll continue in phase one until Ziggy understands that “supper” is an exciting word, and he’s consistently working with a lot of drive when I’m holding the bowl. I want him to offer excited behaviors when I say the word “supper” – even if the food isn’t around. This will show me that he’s connecting the cue word with the good times!
For the next phases, I'll move the food bowl away from me, but in sight, and finally out of sight.
In the end, Ziggy should work for me with high drive & enthusiasm – even if the food is far away, because he knows he’ll get the food and the fun. Also, he should be really keyed up when I say the word “supper” – as we’ll have spent lots of time connecting the word to the party! I should also be much more fit, as this training method is an aerobic workout for the handler, as well :)
I’m really excited about this approach, as it helps with a couple of challenges I’m facing with Ziggy – lack of drive, and lack of attention without food. It should also help me get over my attachment having food on me at all times. I’ll admit that I feel less secure and confident when I don’t have a treat bag. With food-lovers like Maggie & Ziggy, my treat bag serves as a bit of an “invisible leash” for me.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this method:
- The Husband is now pretty sure that I’m insane (what kind of person runs around the with a food bowl in their hand, excitedly repeating the word supper supper?!?)
- I have to contain the other two dogs when I work on this. Denzil gets to stay in his crate. Maggie has to be outside because Maggie turns games like this into barkfests (she’s either the party police, or mad that she’s not in the game – I can’t tell which) and I can only take so much incessant barking.
I’ll let you know how it goes!!