The Fix is on for Feature

Posted on 07/12/09 9 Comments

So here I am trying to remind Feature exactly what are my expectations on her contacts.  

I trained Feature differently then my previous dogs in that I introduced the running contact before I did the stopped. With Encore I had a running A Frame and a stopped dogwalk for the first 2 years of her career. I taught her a running dogwalk over the winter of ’07. Encore’s running dogwalk has a unique cue so I use it when I feel the run will give me a competitive advantage in the ring. I wanted to keep the stop behaviour because, well lets face it, I am not 28 any more and I am not always able to be in places that other younger, faster runners can get to. So with Encore I have 2 discreet behaviours, each with it’s own cue for the dogwalk. I had hoped to do the same with Feature but I taught the run (without adding a cue) before I taught her the stop with the nose target.   

Feature’s background may have contributed to what I have now, but perhaps not. It also may have been a good idea had I completed the training and adding a cue to her running behaviour before I taught her the stop.  Regardless, I can only guess now and really it doesn’t matter. The thing about dog training is not to focus on the “why” of what you have, that will do nothing more but to give you an excuse for your failure.  It is far more productive to describe what you currently have, decide what you want as a finished behaviour, and then get to work to figure out how to train it. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it?

The crude elements of a good contact performance by my standards are;  1) a great nose target 2) the drive to get into end position, 3) the body awareness to be able to weight shift once in end position 4) the understanding of the release word and the need to wait until you hear it.


In my opinion Feature scores very high on all four of these elements so I need to look at other areas.  If she has any weaknesses they would be in her applying the brakes early enough as she drives into position and her possibly her drive to comply with waiting for a release from control positions.


My goal is to focus on those two areas.  I am going back to Crate Games first as that is always a good place to start when having any issues with control behaviours.  As I wrote about in a previous blog Feature’s Crate Games have weakened since moving into this apartment 14 months ago. Now since

Naughty Feature waiting for her meal, while the other two maintain criteria.
Naughty Feature waiting for her meal, while the other two dogs (with a stronger understanding of Crate Games) maintain criteria.

 she is just 25 months old, you can do the math and see that her Crates Games have been weak longer than they were strong. The problem is that she goes into the Crate (without being told)  at meal times and then immediately takes 2 steps out so she can see around the couch as John prepares the dog’s meals. I have been working on not allowing this, mostly by managing and keeping the crate door closed, hoping this response would be left here in the apartment when we move into the new house.


I realized that this baggage must be dealt with sooner then later. Previously I had been trying to get Feature fully in her crate only during meal times. I worked at that off an on for a month with little progress. Then I realized how unfair it was. Her behaviour of being half in and half out was not noticed, thus had been allowed to take hold for so long, it was pretty fluent. 


My new plan was to work Crate Games at times when she was not being fed a meal and also to use my crate more for her when I am working Encore (rather than just allowing her to stay on the table).    Just by altering the time of day I did the work, doing it between meals in only 5 session one day her behaviour at meal times dramatically changed. I won’t believe it is a permanent fix, so I will continue to observe

Feature getting a better looking around the couch.
Feature's previous behaviour of altering her CG criteria in order to get a better looking around the couch.

and reinforce, but I am impressed with the massive improvement I see!

As for her not putting on the brakes early enough, I first had to know for certain if it was something she could do but chose not to or was it something I just hadn’t taught thoroughly enough. I will leave you with that thought to decide how I would make that differentiation and will report back some time next week. 


Today I am grateful that with just a little outside the box thinking I was able to fix Feature’s Crate Games behaviour with relative ease!


  1. Mary says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 10:07pm

    It is so helpful to have you go through your problem-solving (thought) process in determining what is causing Feature to do/not do certain behaviors..especially if he isn’t able to perform a particular behavior versus if it has not been taught enough. I’m going to attempt to figure it out and see what you say in a future blog.


  2. lynne brubaker says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 3:10pm

    Michelle’s response “I think Feature has special qualities and one being she managed to sneak a few things by you” is very funny! Seriously though, thank you for this blog entry, another example of how powerful “it is in the details” is. I know my start line issue with Leica, (Missy Miss Scootchavic, to quote Alaina), is a behavior that I have chained to perfection, she is a brilliant scootcher! My crate games are up a running again and I am looking at her understanding of her release word, which I thought was solid, hmmmm.


  3. Michelle says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 1:31pm

    I think Feature has special qualities and one being she managed to sneak a few things by you. Sometimes when they have so much to offer and you have so much fun with them, you get those unwanted behaviours. Its nice (well not really) to see if happens to the likes of you also. Sounds like you have a good plan of attack to fix things. I am working on speed as you well know with my girl and got some awesome speed this weekend, learning what gets her going at the start line. Well we got speed, minus a big yellow contact. Would have been great for a Jumpers run!!! Yup, I knew it was my fault so just rewarded for speed not for missing the yellow.


  4. jenn says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 1:19pm

    Talk about perfect timing!! I have been having a on-going conversation about the difference between giving bad beharior an excuse or are you batling genes. I have found that many people are resigned to give bad behaviors an excuse than actually deal with it. One of the most common excuses you hear is ” well her mom was like that too”, Though there is certainly a place in bad/unwanted behavior that warrants playing the gene card, many if not most unwanted behaviors are owner created.

    I like the way you constantly refer back to foundation stuff to look where the behavior may have stemmed from.

    thanks again for an awesome post!!



  5. Julie says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 11:25am

    Thanks for the great post. It is so helpful to read a very concrete analysis of a training issue and see the process of figuring out how to break it down. Then the plan for re-establishing the performance you want. It really helps me learn to be a better trainer to have such a clear example.



  6. Helen Verte says:
    Monday, July 13, 2009 at 9:30am

    Hi Susan,

    I’m a bit of a softie and I would move the sofa so Feature has a better view of the kitchen, and she can still abide by the CG rules. 🙂 I’d also put Carly Simon’s song “Anticipation” on the stereo and deem the chorus Feature’s mealtime theme song.

    I have a Dobie (Raven) whose an extreme anticipator. Here’s a look at her mealtime crate routine five months after I had adopted her from a shelter – It didn’t take me long to realize why she landed in a shelter. Taking shortcuts and wanting things to happen fast and her way is part of her logic. She is 2 years old now, and we are still working on self-control issues, and I imagine I will be doing so for a long while.

    I have been wracking my brain with how you will determine if putting on the brakes early enough is something Feature can do but chooses not to or something you hadn’t taught thoroughly enough. I look forward to the post with that answer.

    Where does Buzzy wait for his meals?

    Thanks for all these wonderful posts that you share. I am especially fond of your “Today I am grateful for” endings.



    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 6:52pm

      Thanks for your note Helen. For some reason my blog spam net put you there for the last couple of days, I had to rescue you! BTW at 13 years old Buzzy waits for his meals where ever he would like to! If we had a 4th crate I am sure he would choose to go in there but sadly in this tiny apt there isn’t room for another crate so Buzzy usually waits in the bathroom (which is looking into the kitchen!


  7. Kathy Smith says:
    Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 4:05pm

    OKay, okay…. I kinda knew this would be part of the answer. Crates out at practice time at my house this afternoon!! And Teeter work.
    Great to hear the details Susan and I SO agree with the troubleshooting! Getting stuck on dwelling on how it got there is not productive but can be informative.
    Now that the tweets are not coming through on the other post I have got to say how much I enjoyed the whole post about seeing the good in your dogtraining and ignoring the bad as you work toward a “fix”. I am finding my young dog who never took a bar is now going at mach speed and being careless about jumps. I realize me getting frustrated is just not productive… time to work on rewards for keeping those bars UP! I don’t correct but I sure am feeling like I hit a wall. At 2 1/2 he is just liking speed too much! Again… self control?? Foundation work??


  8. Emily Louise Svendsen says:
    Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 11:28am

    Woman you’re so cool and brave. Sharing your success stories as well as the flaws, I learn so much from you.
    I’ve just finished Shaping Success, it was so much fun as well as being a gold mine of training-games.
    If you are running out of subjects for the blog (as if…) it would be wonderful with a post on how you trained DeCaff. I have read somewhere that she was quite a ‘shut-down’ dog and that she wasn’t very food motivated.
    My 6 month old puppy is just like that and even though I ‘Premack’ the food-issue and work very short sessions (on easy jobs like hand-targets) with lots of play-sessions she is often shutting down.
    She is the most amazing pet and I feel very blessed to own her, therefore I would love to bring out her maximum potential (which is of course relying on my potential as her trainer). Hmm… If only I could have a live pigeon on a rope…


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