Monday, January 23, 2012

Too much of a good thing

My experiences with Phoenix over the weekend at the conditioning seminar got me to thinking about a lot more than just the technical stuff we learned (and there was a LOT of it!)

Phoenix was essentially 55 pounds of opposition reflex while we were supposed to be practicing the stretching and massaging techniques. Basically, this meant when I applied pressure to move one of his limbs in a certain direction, he applied counter pressure to hold it in place.

Part of it was probably due to his discomfort level. He’s not into casually relaxing on the floor when there are strange dogs doing unpredictable things nearby.

But then I started thinking about all the different ways I use opposition reflex in training. Poor guy - he probably thought he was SUPPOSED to resist. Clearly he didn’t understand the context of what we were doing.

Here are just a few of the ways I use opposition reflex in obedience. In each instance, the goal is for my dog to actively resist being moved and to work (make effort) at staying in the position I’ve asked for.

Sometimes I will do the pushing or pulling. Sometimes a training partner does it. The goal is never to push or shove the dog totally out of position, just get him to respond to gently increasing physical pressure and work to maintain his position.

When introducing opposition reflex exercises or “pressure stays,” reward your dog immediately for the slightest resistance. Go slowly and you’ll be able to feel the instant he resists. That's the light bulb moment. As the dog shows understanding, increase the pressure. It’s not about how hard you can pull, it’s about your dog understanding his job (watch, sit, heel, etc.)

• With dog sitting in heel position and watching, gently try to push his head out of position (push sideways on the head or muzzle)

• With dog sitting in heel position and watching, use several fingers to gently try to push his muzzle down. The idea is the dog will push back against your fingers as he works to maintain his “watch.”

• Stand-stay: with dog standing, push the gently sideways on his shoulders, push backward on his chest, push forward on his rump; from in front, use a leash and apply pressure forward at different angles (when using a leash to apply pressure, always work on a buckle collar and keep the leash parallel to the floor)

• Sit-stay: again, push dog sideways, forward and backward ; try lifting the front legs. For dogs who know how to shake, try moving their legs by putting pressure on the backs of their elbows, not their paws, which they may interpret as a “shake” cue

• Heeling: attach a long-line to the dog’s collar and have a training partner try to gently pull the dog out of heel position while you are in motion. Praise and reward effort by the dog to stay in position, even if it's not perfect. It’s a laugh out loud moment when you see your dog glance at your training partner as if to say, “Would you STOP that, I’m heeling here!”

There are probably other examples, too, but these were the first that came to mind.

I think some dogs are naturally wired for strong opposition reflex while others will respond to the slightest pressure by moving immediately away from it. Phoenix is clearly of the former mindset while my shelties and Jamie fell into the latter category.

There aren't any corrections. If your dog moves when you push on him, just set him up again and reduce the amount of pressure you’re using so he can realistically be successful.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog when searching for Joe Feist's info (saw his dumbbells at a Betsy Scapicchio/Linda Brennan seminar a couple of weeks ago) and just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed what I have read so far! I have Aussies and Border Collies and live in NC ... have been training obedience since the "old days" in the 1970s.