Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Go-outs, Part 1

Okay, here’s the start of the “Everything You Need To Know About Teaching Go-Outs With Food” series. Not sure how frequently it will occur but I will try to post about this subject regularly throughout the summer as Phoenix and I get ready for Utility.

Again, big thanks to my friend Renee for taking the time to organize her thoughts and write down the details of her method. The following info is MY interpretation of HER method. Any mistakes or misunderstandings are entirely my fault. Yes, I’ve taught go-outs with food before but there’s more to it than just letting the dog eat cheese off the gate and if you don’t lay a foundation with ground rules, you’ll run into trouble later when the food disappears. And like any other exercise, it has to disappear before you can go into the ring and reasonably expect the dog to understand his job.

Here’s a quick overview of the teaching sequence (this whole picture could take months to achieve):
• Dog learns to mark stanchion on cue (all cues are verbal, no hand cue is used)
• Dog learns to run to desired spot quickly, eat treat and then sit quickly (on lead)
• Dog progresses to above off lead
• Food becomes random, target is still there
• Food goes away completely, target is still there
• Target goes away
• Corrections are made for short or crooked go-outs

What you need:
• a way to stick food on the gate (butterfly clip with a zip tie or poster putty)
• small pieces of soft food
• a minimum of 2 10-foot ring gates and 3 stanchions (it’s great to have a full 40-foot set up, if you can swing it).

Here’s the butterfly clip with a zip tie stuck through it and cut to a length that allows the dog to grab the cookie off the zip tie. I chose this option over poster putty because the putty I initially bought was the Putty From Hell. Whatever I stuck in it wasn’t coming out. Seriously. It was like roofing tar. Since I wanted the food to be easily accessible, I went with the butterfly clip instead. The idea here is that the food is OFF THE GROUND. The dog needs to be able to grab the food easily, without knocking it on the ground and starting a sniff-fest.

The size of the clip doesn't really matter;
it just needs to be big enough to fit the stanchion.

* NOTE: if you choose to use poster putty to hold the food, the food needs to be long enough for the dog to grab it. Renee suggests Pupperoni cut into about 1” lengths. You’ll stick it in the putty like a cigarette sticking out of someone’s mouth.

* NOTE: if you have a high and bar jump, go ahead and set them up like a regular Utility ring. It helps the dog put things in perspective. Yeah, I know I’m using two bar jumps. I was too lazy to drag the high jump and all the boards out of the garage.

Training for Utility can mean making
an investment in ring gates and portable jumps.
It's worth it!

The first thing you’re going to do is teach the dog to look at (mark) the food/stanchion. Do this with a cue word. It can be any word you choose, just make sure you don’t use it for any other context. The goal is not to create confusion!

You will need cue words that tell the dog to:
1) look at the stanchion and mentally prep the dog to run out
2) run out
3) eat the food
4) sit

Got your words ready? Let’s go.

Put the butterfly clip on the stanchion at eye level for dog. Stick a treat on the zip tie. Start with dog on a 6-foot leash, approximately 3 to 5 feet from gate. Leave dog on a stay and walk to the stanchion. Point at stanchion and give your cue word for looking at the gate. Walk back to dog and stand in heel position. Give cue word again and the second the dog looks at the food, send him to it with go-out word.

Go with dog and say “get it,” which is permission to eat the food, the second he arrives at the target. Initially, with the dog on leash, this will take about 2 seconds so you’ll give your cue word to look, immediately followed by the cue word to go, immediately followed by the cue word to get the food. Soon as he’s eaten the food, tell dog “sit” (requiring instant response, no sniffing around looking for more food). Reward with smaller piece of food as soon as dog sits. (Eventually there will be no treat on the clip and dog will not be given permission to eat. At that point, no sniffing of gate is allowed, because you did not give permission to eat non-existent food.) Never send dog on go-out unless he has marked it first.

Target locked!

Repeat as many times as you want. If dog is not hesitating on the cue word for looking, you may back up one step each time. Do NOT send dog unless he marks the stanchion when you give the cue word. If he does not mark, then leave him, walk to stanchion and remind him by pointing at the treat and giving your cue word.

Within 2-3 sessions, you may be able to be 40’ away (still on lead), providing the dog is marking well and running fast to the go-out spot. Every single go-out at this point gets a food treat on “get it” and a smaller treat after the sit.

Next, move back close to stanchion, about 6 to 10 feet from it and take lead off. Repeat steps as above, but most likely this phase will go VERY quickly (as in 1 session and you’re 40’ away). Remember to never send dog unless he marks on cue and if he doesn’t, then walk out and remind him what the cue word means by tapping the food.

The butterfly clip allows the dog to grab the food without
knocking it onto the ground. A sit follows immediately,
no time for sniffing!

Follow the dog out so you are almost on top of him when he gets to stanchion. This stops any forward movement when you tell them to sit and you are right there to enforce and/or reward a fast sit. Do NOT be a lazy trainer and just stand and watch while your dogs run out. FOLLOW HIM so you can support the sit. Failing to do this can cause the dog to turn and take one (or two or three or four) steps back toward you before sitting, which is naughty and will cause no end of problems in the ring.

Continue to follow your dog out after you send him but gradually decrease the distance you go so eventually you only take a step or two toward the dog as they hear “sit.” Then run out and still give a treat as a reward for a fast sit.

Stay at this phase for many weeks, more likely months. Take it “on the road” and go new places, always putting the clip and treat out on stanchion. Stop moving forward when dog is sitting quickly after eating the treat and is not moving forward one inch before the “sit.”

When the dog is confident on the concept in most new places, it’s time to move on.

Whew! Phoenix and I will be at this stage for AT LEAST a month, until he is confident not only at home but in several different places and with mild distractions as he goes out to get the cookie.


  1. Seems like your interpretation of my explanation is PERFECT. And the photo of Phoenix's head while he's marking is wonderful. His ear position tells me he's getting it great. HAVE FUN!!
    Renee (the instigater of all this nonsense)

  2. Thanks!! I don't know if Jazz will ever get this far in obedience, but I really enjoy training the skills. This looks like fun.