[00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to fostering excellence in agility, the podcast, I'm your host competitor, coach and mentor Megan Foster. I help agility enthusiasts focus on the small details of training and behavior while still having a clear understanding of their big picture goals. Join me as I take you through key elements of dog agility, training, competing, and teaching, and how you can take action today to start improving your skills within the sport.
Let's get started. Hey everyone. This is the third and final episode on this mini series about puppies. And while the last two episodes have kind of been more of a big picture, philosophical, kinda my values. When it comes to raising and training puppies, this episode we're gonna get into. those fine details.
And what I [00:01:00] feel are the important skills to be teaching to our future agility dogs. And so the first question that comes from my community is what are puppy appropriate behaviors to teach as part of sport foundations? And so how. Built my program is that everything begins with essential skills and foundation skills and in essential skills.
This is where we teach all of the things that I need my puppy to be pretty fluent in, in order to learn effectively. So this is where you're going to find your reinforcer skills. Your leash skills, stationing and creating, and also how training works. So the routines and structures of training, and this is my might be where I'm introducing their [00:02:00] ability to understand what it looks like when I put them into a shaping structure or Luing structure, or how to engage in a novel prop that I set up.
So showing them. About loopy training and showing them about how to begin training and how to engage with me and how to end training and how to take breaks during training. I call these the essential skills because they are the skills that are going to help me know if my dog is able to be in an in and environment or not.
and it's going to help me know if they are in an optimal state for learning or if they need more acclimation. So my young puppies, I spend more time on those essential skills because they're going to show up in life outside of dog sports as well. And I also find that the [00:03:00] stronger these skills are the much easier it is to teach them things when they're ready for those foundation behaviors.
They're also very friendly for very floppy bodies, because it's really about the reinforcer skills. For example, that's about. How and when to collect food, how and when to collect toys. So we're building up the value for those primary motivators and primary reinforcers, and also looking at building up their ability to learn verbal cues and discriminate verbal cues, which is super important in agility.
And so by starting with those essential skills, I'm not only Def I'm definitely going to be taking care of my puppies, growing body. I'm also going to be helping them to develop the brain and the, and the [00:04:00] structure for training that I'm going to need when I'm ready to introduce foundation skills.
However, the foundation skills can start happening almost alongside the essential skills. I'm not saying that you have to have essential skills mastered before you begin foundation training. That's not it at all. I do a lot of back and forth and staggered learning when I'm raising a puppy. But I am very aware of when I set out to train something on that foundation skills list that I.
Look at my plan and I really make a plan for what that loop looks like. So where is the dog going to begin? What is the cue to begin going to be? What is the behavior I'm looking for and how am I going to reinforce it? And when I plan out that loop, if I find that any of those skills besides the behavior are missing, so any of those.
Where to start, how to start, how to collect the [00:05:00] reinforcement, how to get back from the beginning to the end, if any of those skills are missing, I'm not ready to teach that foundation skill yet. And being very aware and honest and not. Trying to avoid it. I'm going to progress faster that way, even if it feels the opposite in the moment, how my program is set up is that when you start a foundation skill, you will be able to progress that foundation skill into what looks like very real agility, as much as you need to.
And so. Only thing that would stop you from continuing to progress a foundation skill would be because the Bo the dog's body isn't ready for that specific skill yet, which is why I have a wide variety of skills in the foundation. modules so that we don't [00:06:00] feel like we have to just stay on one track until we hit a, a stopping point and then change lanes.
Now I want to introduce a lot of different basic behaviors to my puppy when they're young, because they're just so interested in learning and they're so excited and I want to kind of plant the seeds for everything that I'm going to need from them. And. kind of make sure that my essential skills are solid and those basics are solid.
And then start weaving those skills together in a variety of situations, I'm gonna start putting layers of distractions and environmental context on top of these essential skills and foundation behaviors. So that before my dog even really know. What agility is. They have a very clear understanding of how to win the [00:07:00] game.
And so at every stage of learning, whatever the foundation skill is, I'm going to begin layering in the things and the environment and the context. well, before those behaviors are finished. So the foundation skills that I'm looking at at having to teach my puppies is all sorts of targeting, targeting with their front feet, targeting with their back feet, targeting with their nose and getting them to use their body in a variety of ways.
And all of those behaviors are gonna help me progress later on. So targeting with their front. and their rear feed. That's gonna be really nice for you could be teaching, um, lineups via pivoting. You can be preparing for running contact training, um, rear foot targeting, like backing up. I use that specifically for teaching the Teeter and noses.
Targeting, you know, nose touches and [00:08:00] sticky nose touches. I, I love teaching those for moving the dog within space and assessing their arousal level and things like that. So targeting is a huge foundation skill that can be made. So puppy friendly and can be progressed and layered upon. So thickly that you would never, you would, you really never run out of things to do with.
Skills, another huge one in my foundation program is stay, put versus go. This is essentially cue discrimination and it directly impacts your stationary behavior. So it impacts your start line. Uh, your stopped contacts your table. I really want my puppies to understand from a very early time, what, which words mean green light.
You can go, you can move, you can move on to the next thing versus the stay put words or the stay put cue pictures so that when I turn and face my dog [00:09:00] on the start line, that isn't the cue to. so really, uh, again, using my essential skills, using my stationing and my reinforcer skills to layer in a lot of Q discrimination and I can make, stay, put versus go look like.
Any situation I can make it look like a start line situation. I can make it look like a stopped contact situation. I can specifically teach the stopped contact in behavior and then apply the stay, put versus go concept to that. I can make it look like table. If you want an automatic down on the table, I can apply, stay, put versus go to any of the contexts that we need for our actual agility behaviors.
the ones that are one that is easier for puppies to do. And a [00:10:00] little bit more exciting for the humans is like things like following the handling and doing handling on the flat, that's gonna progress from again, reinforcer skills. Can the dog track a tossed cookie and return to the handler after collecting and eating that tossed cookie.
And then we're gonna start introducing different handling technique. To the puppy on the flat, just following the handling, doing circle work and front crosses and, and blind crosses and lap turns and tandem turns just showing the puppy how that they can use their body in response to our physical cues.
And like I said, we can take that because it's on the flat. We can take that to a variety of locations and progress that. Attach it to other foundation behaviors. So maybe they've been doing front front feet targeting and stay put versus go. So now we have like a pseudo start line. [00:11:00] They're on a perch. We can lead out and we can do handling on the flat and we can take that to a variety of locations so we can make the overall concept.
of what we want this to look like when they're two years old and debuting for competition, we can set them up for that using very, a poppy appropriate behaviors that we take very great care in training individually. So following the handling that, and that's gonna progress quickly, right? You can. If you're teaching them to go around things, you can progress following, following the handling to going around things and following the handling.
And pretty soon when this staggered approach to training, once they've been introduced to a jump later on, they already have the skills of following the handling. And so then you teach them to jump and then you can kind of connect those skills together. And [00:12:00] then I also in the foundation program, I. I like to teach my dogs how to commit and how to maintain commitment.
And again, as puppies, this is just committing to and maintaining commitment to their reward. So this is much more difficult if I don't have those essential skills established. So that they want their reward so that they're interested in it and that they know how and when they can access it. So that all begins kind of, like I said, I teach all the smallest pieces of the foundation behaviors and I, they interlock at different times and they progress at different times.
it all just kinda comes together based on everything that I've been talking about in these puppy episodes, observing who they are and what they need in every moment, but as part of their foundation training. So probably about by [00:13:00] the time, if I start, when, when I first get a puppy, by the time they're about 8, 9, 10 months old, they're doing simple sequences of foundation behaviors.
So they're not. Running 10 obstacle courses. They may not even have a tunnel trained yet or anything, but they're able to chain very well known behaviors together in a variety of situations. That's gonna set them up for success in the future. I absolutely plan on doing some future episodes, kind of diving deeper into each of those particular skills and how they progress.
So don't you worry about that before we wrap up this puppy episode, many series, I have a few specific puppy training questions from members of the community and the first one is about their puppy. Isn't currently able, or [00:14:00] is having trouble with following and tracking tossed treats. And the truth is that some dogs are slower to develop this skill than others.
When we're teaching the essential skill of tossed food, it begins that my. Hands are in a neutral position. Usually at my side, the Cookie's already in my hand in the teaching phases, but my hand is at my side. I mark. So I might say, get, I move my hand from the side of my body, to the dog's nose. And I wait for them to see it in my hand and kinda make movement towards it.
And then I just put that cookie on the ground, basically in front of them. So. showing them the path. And I remember when I was first teaching this with the Parson Russell terrier torch that I [00:15:00] raised last year was that for the first couple of cookies, I didn't even let it out of my hand. I tracked . I helped him track the cookie from in front of his.
In the air two in front of his face, on the ground. And I just left my hand under it. So it was easier for him to find and that's really where it started. And then I progressed to leaving it on the ground. And then I progressed to, instead of leaving it on the ground, kind of rolling it forward a few inches when I placed it on the ground.
And increased from there. And if the puppy is struggling a lot, I might not even attach the verbal cue to it until the puppy can track it very easily. Okay. And that just means that I might wait until like nine outta 10 times that puppy can find that cookie. What I find. and [00:16:00] a lot of situations is that we're a little bit too fast and or there might be too many moving pieces.
So if there's too much going on and the puppy can't track it, they may not be focusing on the thing that we think that they're focusing on or the thing that they should be focusing on in order to track that food. And like I said, some dogs develop this skill faster than. torch was really slow. But then when I brought sprint home, she was already tracking the food.
So everything is, is always so individual when it comes to those types of things, the final two questions are separate, but I do find them similar and connected in theory and kind of how I would approach it. So the first one is asking about how with the puppy. Would I balance the use of, and the value of food versus toys, especially when the dog favors [00:17:00] one over the other pretty significantly.
And the second question is asking about how I create value for pre place toys. So you can see how these are connected a little bit. So when I have a puppy in the first month or so, I'm kind of observing just how they interact with their meals, how they interact in a regular bowl versus a puzzle feeder versus a lick mat.
Like how much are they willing to work for their food and how quickly can I increase that work with regards to how they are solving their puzzles for their meal. And on the flip side of that, I'm also observing their interest in toys, away from me, as well as their interest in toys when I'm around. And then I have some tough decisions to make.
If I see. A little interest [00:18:00] in its good playful, joyous interest. Then I'm probably going to put in some effort into building that desire, especially for toys. And obviously if I see them. Not making huge progress in the ability to solve a food puzzle. I'm going to be delicate with that situation. I'm gonna make those puzzles really easy wins.
I'm going to think about building up my, my dog's desire for figuring out how to get the food and the same for figuring out how to make the toy go. So I'm. Away from training. This is all just building desire with no other agenda on the table. This is just about interacting with the puppy, with food, with toys, with me, without me and [00:19:00] seeing what they like seeing what they enjoy and seeing if I can build on that.
And definitely there has to be a decision, right. That how. Effort. You want to put into that to make one stronger or equal to the other? I think the only exception to that is food. If I don't see huge food interest, I'm always going to put in the effort to build food interest, and potentially if it doesn't get better really quickly through this kind of.
Spec special nurturing. I might even go down a medical route to figure out why my puppy doesn't enjoy food, but when it comes to toys, these are completely optional for me. And they're optional for training because I can do all of my training with food and clever reinforcement strategies with food. [00:20:00] So when it comes to toys, I have to make that decision that I'm either going to put in that effort to nurture and build that desire.
Or I'm. now I can't pull from personal experience about building desire, but I can pull from experience about kind of taming desire in an extreme way. When Shrek was a puppy, he was the ultimate hoarder and I'm talking, we would be in my bathroom, which is very small and he would hold on to his toy. for 45 minutes before he would consider spitting it out or before he would even consider coming near me with a toy in his mouth.
So it took probably two years to get to a truly functional place, to be able to use toys as reinforcers in his sport behaviors. That was an extreme case. [00:21:00] Committing and diving in and making that happen. And meanwhile, I was training all of the other skills with food. I did not use toys as a reinforcer with work until they were functional as conflict free as I possibly could get until we had a way to use the toys with clarity.
So that also answers the question about building value for a pre place toy. I don't. and I'm gonna elaborate. I build value for the toy period. By the time that toy is dead on the ground, not moving the dog has extreme value for it. In all of the other situations, they have really good bite the toy out of my hand skills.
They have really good chase of moving toy skills. They have really good out the toy at my feet skills. Maybe I'm. [00:22:00] Teaching them how to move away from a dead toy. First, depending on the individual, I'm not specifically doing anything that builds value for the toy in a pre placed, not moving situation. But I am being careful about when I ask for that skill, that I'm pretty sure that they are going to be interested in it because the history.
of playing toys with me, tells the dog that it is good for them. And this is how we want to almo address almost everything with training. But especially with puppies, is that when we introduce a new concept, we need to be building on the fact that the puppy. Trust that this is good for them, that they are going to be able to win and that this is gonna pay off and be a great thing for them.
We need to be convincing our puppies, that we know [00:23:00] infinite amount of cool things. And building on that slowly and over time. That's all for this week. And that wraps up the puppy training mini series. Thank you so much for listening. Remember, you can ask questions and get your questions answered via future podcast, episodes and other social media content.
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