Lisa Schmit, PhD, CCFT, CPMP
In The Zone Agility

The core of my training philosophy is based on solid foundation skills and consistent handling to motivate my dogs in a fun and positive way. I use a positive reward-based system of training and err on the side of rewarding too often than not enough. I train with a toy in my hand and break skills down into small increments so I can reward frequently. I start off targeting my dog, then lure them and then reward them for the correct sequence. I take the responsibility to maintain my cues in a clear, crisp, calm and confident manner for my dogs. This gives my dogs confidence that they can trust my cues which builds our relationships, speed, drive and distance. As a skill trainer, I focus on developing, refining and rewarding obstacle performance and handling moves when I train. I believe groundwork and foundation skills are the building blocks to success. I train in short fun sequences so I can train various handling options, push for distance and reward often. I train skills and obstacles so that my dogs are confident in their ability to understand my cues and to perform obstacles efficiently, at speed and at a distance. 

The goal of every one of my training sessions is to teach, reinforce and reward my dog for understanding my cues. The goal of training is not to just run sequences or courses-- not to just go from number to number but to train my dog to understand my cues and reward my dog often I train skills so that my dog is confident in their ability to understand and trust my cues to perform sequences efficiently, at speed and at a distance.

Training obstacles is the easy part. Training our dogs to understand the path from obstacle to obstacle is the hard part! Should they go straight? Turn? Turn Away? Etc. This is where our cueing system comes into play. 
In order for the dog to get from obstacle to obstacle- to run the intended sequence or course-the dog must understand what I want him to do. Training is about teaching my dog my cueing system so that he can read my cues and act accordingly. Training is also about reinforcing already trained behaviors and rewarding the heck out of great outcomes!!!

With this goal in mind, I want to discuss how I train my dogs.

As a skill trainer, I focus on developing, refining and rewarding my dogs for understanding my cues, obstacle performance and handling moves. I believe groundwork and foundation skills are the building blocks to success. Most of my training sessions are short fun sequences so I can train various handling options, push for distance and reward often.

Let me reiterate this- I TRAIN IN SHORT SEQUENCES!! While I will occasionally run a full course, it is rare. By primarily running full courses , you miss so many opportunities to reward your dog for awesome stuff. You also miss the opportunity to train in different locations, push your distance, etc because your dog will be tired!! By training in short sequences, you have the opportunity to train your dog more, move to different locations, try different moves and REWARD YOUR DOG MORE!!

How I Train: Target Lure and Reward
So when training a new skill or working on a skill I am having some difficulty with, I will start out by targeting the last obstacle with a bucket or a toy. This way, I can show my dog my cues and reward the dog quickly. I will back-chain a few obstacles until my dog understand the skill I am working. Then, I move onto luring my dog through the last obstacle. This means that I will throw my toy BEFORE my dog gets to the last obstacle so that my dog sees the toy and drives through the last obstacle. Again, start close and them move yourself to different locations. When successful, I will REWARD my dog for performing the correct sequence. This means that I will throw my dog AFTER my dog completes the last obstacle of the sequence. Again, I will get close to the last obstacle and backchain. Don’t forget to use your reward word-exercise is over toy is coming word. 

Training Notes 
Start Close to the last obstacle and back-chain
Move yourself farther away-both behind, lateral and lead out
Don’t forget to release your dog if the dog is on a stay
Drawing your path until dog gets to target -bucket or toy
Do not drop your arm until dog gets to target 
Have a release word that means exercise is over toy is coming 

What To Do When a Mistake is Made

My training rule is if a mistake is made, I DO NOT CONTINUE ON WITH THE SEQUENCE. I do not turn my dog around and send in the correct obstacle; I do call dog back to me and continue on with the sequence. Most of the time, I will let my dog finish driving on the line they are on and end it as soon as I can without demotivating my dog. I will then start the sequence over and try again.
1- If we are successful at the point where we messed up, I will REWARD the dog for correct response. I do not continue on with the sequence. I reward my dog for reading my cues correctly. If it is a new skill or particularly difficult skill, I will repeat this another time rewarding at the point where the original mistake was made. If my dog is not too tired, then I will try the whole sequence, but honestly this does not happen often as I do not want to run my dogs when they are tired (Remember that mental activity is just as exhausting as physical activity).

2- If we were not successful, then I will BREAK IT DOWN. I DO NOT TRY THE SEQUENCE AGAIN but I break it down to work the skill. I don’t worry about doing the whole sequence but work on the issue that I am having. I break it down, work that part!! I will change something- I will get closer; start dog a obstacle before the problem area (back-chain), target or lure through the sequence. I will try again getting closer to where I was the first time I tried the sequence. I will not run the whole sequence because by this point, my dog is both mentally and physically tired.

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