everyone. Welcome to fostering excellence. Inability 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. 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. Imagine this you've called in your takeout order at your favorite restaurant and you arrive at curbside pickup and you push the button that says I'm here and now you wait. Because you're not sure if you should go in and pick up your order, or if you should just wait in your car for your food to be brought to you.
This [00:01:00] is exactly the process we put our dogs through when we use the same marker cue to mean different reward, delivery types and placements. In actuality when we place those to go orders. We have the option in our behavior to either request that the reward, the, the dinner be brought to us in our car, or we have the ability to park our car, get out and go get the dinner ourselves.
So essentially we are functioning in a location, specific reward, marker situation. In that setup. And I want that for our dogs as well. I remember a training session with Shrek as a very young [00:02:00] puppy, and I was using his raw food as part of his training session. , you know, feeding him a little bit before and then using the rest of it as a training session.
And I hadn't adopted multiple markers yet. So that was as early, as like six years ago. You guys, not that long ago. And when I watched this video, it is a hot mess. This poppy is flinging himself everywhere. The mechanics are. Pretty terrible. We got the job done and he was happy. He had a great time. I had a great time, but when I watch it, I also see a frantic puppy that isn't quite sure what I'm asking him for.
And I didn't wanna see that anymore. So I upgraded my skills and learned all [00:03:00] about location, specific reward markers. and I credit most of that education to shade white. And then I also found Sarah streaming. And so now both of them are quite good friends of mine, great colleagues and very smart, uh, women to work with.
And the difference in my training is night and day. Basically when I was using one marker and delivering all over the place, it was kind of like I was going at everything with a sledge hammer and hoping that I hit the right things at the right time. And as I added new marker cues to my training, and as I improved my timing and mechanics, I could choose the reward type and reward placement that best supported the [00:04:00] behavior that I was trying to teach.
And every single time that I trained, it was like I was improving the tool choice. Right. So I was no longer using a sledge hammer. You know, then it kind of turned into a whackamole game where I had the appropriate tool, but I was kind of chasing the thing that I was trying to hit. And then I kept progressing.
Now I've got, you know, a hammer for a nail and a . I don't know anything about tools, a, is it a wrench for, you know what I'm saying? I, as I streamlined my training process, I became more and more efficient and more and more skilled at getting the behaviors that I wanted much more quickly. So now when I look at that same type of training session with the skills that I have today, I have a dog that is very, very much engaged.[00:05:00]
They are not frantic. It improved my ability to teach still. Tenfold. So in agility, that's a pretty big deal. Is that getting duration on a behavior or getting stillness on a behavior is difficult because the way I was taught shaping was exactly how I was training Shrek. When he came home as a puppy is to make sure you're getting a lot of movement.
Make sure they're getting a lot of offering, but that doesn't teach us how to teach them to be still. and I found that through my understanding of location, specific reward markers. I was able to shape for stillness. I was able to produce stillness in the behaviors that I needed stillness, and I was still able to access that really animated, lots of movement, lots of offering.[00:06:00]
I was still able to access that dog as well. But now I was also able to access the, the side of the dog that was able to offer calm behaviors, still behavior. Alert and focused, but still calm. And that's pretty magical. And I am always so impressed with what we can accomplish when we commit to learning location specific and arousal specific reward markers.
So let's dive in a little bit more to kind of what they are. It, it means that I have a different marker cue, a different signal. That means collect reinforcement for food versus toys. but then also a different cue for each method of [00:07:00] collection. So if the dog has to make a different body movement in order to collect reinforcement, it is therefore a different behavior and therefore it gets a different marker cue, just like sit and down, have different verbal cue.
To tell the dog which way they should move their body. Marker. Cues need to work in that same way so that if I have a toy in my hand, and I say, chase, I should see my dog's body react in a way that prepares them for tracking down a toy that I'm about to throw. And it does look a little bit different depending on the dog that I'm working with.
Uh, Shrek. He waits for the toy to be thrown. He is when I say chase his eyes orientate to the toy and he waits for it to leave my hand and he tracks it very, very well sprint on the other hand, uh, she likes [00:08:00] to just start running and hopes that it appears on the line that she's running on. And I have to kind of accept that I.
Kind of go back and forth and kind of training that, Hey, I want you to wait for me to throw it and track it, but her default is to just start running. And so I need to be aware of that. That's really, really important. Because that behavior that she hears chase and she just starts running that behavior is going to get attached to any behavior that I'm reinforcing it with.
Okay. So for example, if I chose to reinforce weave poles with the marker Q chase, she is going to hear that cue as she's exiting the last gap of the weave poles. And just start running. And if we [00:09:00] kind of fast forward that if I do that for probably even a week, but let's say I did that for a month and I always did weave, chase, weave, chase, weave, chase, weave, chase, weave, chase.
What comes to mind when I set up for the next session, we've jump. Or weave front cross or weave blind cross. My hypothesis is that she's gonna exit the weave poles and just take off running because the behavior of chasing the toy has now been attached to the weave poles. So having this hypothesis, your girl, Megan, here is not going use.
Chase as the reinforcer for we pulse because I do not want that running forward behavior attached to my we pole behavior. In fact, I don't use that chase queue. [00:10:00] Pretty much at all in the context of reinforcing a specific behavior and agility because of that response, I don't ever want that response of just takeoff, running in any direction of your choosing.
It's not, it's not what I want in my agility dog. I use it in between repetitions to give her brain a little bit of a break. Let her move her body a little bit between things that are really taxing on her mind. Maybe she's doing something where she doesn't get to move a lot. like, um, start lines or two by twos.
There's not a lot of movement involved with two by twos, right. So I use chase in between reps, but it's not great for. using it for very fine behaviors, but that's okay because she knows specifically when I'm going to throw it. And if she doesn't hear chase, I don't see that behavior. So I can have the toy in my hand and she's not anticipating me [00:11:00] throwing it because it's very much on that chase queue.
So when I do have my toy in, in my hand, it might be that I ask her to bite the toy from my. Or it might be that I ask her to stay where she is and I will bring the toy to her to bite. And that those are also on different cues. So she has the word strike. That means she can move towards the toy and she can bite it and we will tug, or I say chomp, and she knows that she should stay put, and I will bring it to her mouth.
So again, having. On those separate cues means that I don't see any guessing from her that if the toy is on the ground, she's not looking at it weird or being like, can I have it now? Can I have it now? Can I have it now? She knows that it's not available to her until she's given that cue. And I'm aware of what behavior.
Is going to be attached. So that's [00:12:00] a really big piece of location, specific marker cues and arousal specific marker cues is observing the behaviors that the dog engages in when they're collecting reinforcement, because that's the power that we want to be able to attach to our training. I recently posted a video on social media, Facebook and Instagram.
Of a Teeter training session with sprint. And my Teeter criteria is for on, for on the board. And she has had a little bit of struggle with confidence across the board. I've had to work a lot on her, maintaining her speed across the board and not stopping early or not, you know, worrying too much about when it's gonna tip.
I've had to really put a lot of value. in that for her. And [00:13:00] so I want to be able to think about how I can best reinforce the behaviors that are possible. So in this case, the, when I set out to do a training session with the Teeter, I kind of think of three things that could happen. She can drive across the board and she can stop in four on and she just absolutely nails.
she could drive across the board and stop a little bit too late and she lands in two on two off, or she could just not stop at all. Those are kind of the three things that I've seen from her that are possible. We're still functioning at a high rate of those spot on for behaviors. And so. We're we're still looking really good.
We have a high success rate. And so when I have a training plan, I always have a plan for, [00:14:00] what am I gonna do if she absolutely nails it? What am I gonna do? If she's a little bit less than nails it and what am I gonna do if she pulls out a behavior that is nowhere near correct or not? Correct enough.
Okay. And so that training session in, in my head right now is the first one. She came out, drove across the board beautifully, and she stopped with a ton of confidence into, on two off my decision there that I had planned before we ever started was to cue chop and bring the toy from my hands to her face.
She was not. So the reinforcer that I chose, she still got to get her toy, but she had to wait for it. And I had to bring it to her. She could move her [00:15:00] body once the toy touched her teeth, but she had to wait patiently for it while I did bring it to her. The next repetition, everything was the exact same.
The setup was the same. I was the same. and she drove across the board and she slammed it down and she stopped and four on a hundred percent perfect to criteria. So I cued chase. and tossed it just a little bit just right in front of her. So I got the burst of speed forward that I just said, I rarely use an agility.
um, I got the burst of speed forward, but the toy was like already on the ground and dead, by the time she got to it. So it was borderline pre placed reward. I queued chase because I did have to throw it. So there's a little bit of nuance there. So. but anyways, the reason I did it in those two situations [00:16:00] is that moving her body is so much more reinforcing to her than having to stay still.
So even in both repetitions, she got access to the toy. I reinforced both repetitions, just like, so it just not, not a problem. She. She got reinforced for both efforts. However, I was able to give her something slightly different, maybe even something slightly better for the one for the behavior that I preferred.
And this is all because as a positive reinforcement trainer, we want to reward our dogs. Right. If I. Only had one way of reinforcing behavior. Say the only way I was gonna reinforce was in position, what would I do [00:17:00] with that two on two off repetition? Would I not reward it? Would I nag at her to fix herself and then reward it?
It gets us into a conundrum that having location specific. Reward marker solves for us that I can have a hierarchy of rewards that may change depending on what obstacle you're teaching and what dog you're working with. That I can have a hierarchy of rewards to be able to communicate to the dog. I liked this, but I liked this other thing better and that's super cool and super powerful.
And I can do. With toy rewards. I can do this with toy and food rewards. I am careful to not use cues and, and definitely types of rewards that are too. Far from each other. So like kibble in [00:18:00] position versus chasing a toy. Those are very different. Right. And the higher on the hierarchy, those are gonna be worlds apart from each other for sprint.
So I would feel like kibble in position is not. Is almost like a disappointment, but when I do toy in position versus chasing toy, she still gets her toy. She's still thrilled. And I still play with her normal, like when we play toy it's I try very, very hard to make it the same amount of play so that she's not disappointed in chomp versus chase.
So that's also important to me that I'm able to communicate to her when she's. 95 to 98%, correct. Versus when she's a hundred percent correct.
And the clarity that we see when we start using our reinforcers in [00:19:00] this way is astounding to me and it never ceases to amaze me what we can accomplish when we commit to having these skills. It's one of my, my most favorite things to use is a pre placed dish with food pre placed in it. And this happens all the time with many of my clients that it's impossible to use because the dog doesn't understand when they can eat it.
And when they can't eat. . And what that runs into is that we are limiting ourselves from a very powerful layer of both arousal and also distractions. So we have twofold when we put in the time to train these skills to fluency, because if the dog really enjoys them, if the dog really understands. [00:20:00] When to take the food and when not to take the food and they, and they have that power to create some arousal, sub joy, right.
Which is what we're gonna see in the competition ring. When we have that power, we can use that as a layer of distraction. So building fluency around behaviors that only helps those behaviors hold up in competition. Okay. Uh, it's, it's the same thing as putting a tunnel really close to the end of your stopped contacts.
You're using the tunnel to tempt the dog to break their contact. But instead of using the tunnel, I can use their reward because that's what you're you, it's the exact same thing. You're using the tunnel as a function. Of reinforcement that the dog needs to ignore until you release them to it. [00:21:00] Right? Same concept with our reward markers, but we have more control over the reward markers than the obstacles.
We also can't use a tunnel to reinforce every behavior that we need on the agility course. And also it gets a little bit dangerous when you start using the tunnel as a reinforcer. it's a slippery slope to tunnel sucking, right? So regardless of what we're using as a reinforcer, we need stimulus control over that reinforcer.
And I find that it's a lot easier to start that game with a young dog, with a dog that's new to training with a dog that's new to agility and teach those skills around their reinforcers. So much so that if I have a piece of food in one hand and a toy in the other, I would like my dogs to be able to discriminate between my marker cue.
That means eat that food from my hand [00:22:00] against the marker cue. That means strike the toy from my hand. That's a powerful skill for me to be able to use. And that directly translates to obstacle discrimination. That directly translates to that exact setup of. Dog walk with a tunnel right in front of it, and they still need to stop.
And they're two on two off before being released to the tunnel, I can begin teaching these concepts to dogs before they even know what a dog walk is before they even know what a tunnel is. I can introduce these powerful cue discrimination. Exercise is. and I can observe their responses to these marker cues.
And then I have a, an array of scalpels to use in my training sessions, because I know for a fact what my dog looks like when they're going to take food from my hand, I know [00:23:00] what my dog looks like when they're going to run to a dish. I know what my dog looks like when they're gonna turn around and eat from a dish behind them.
and so I can think about the bigger picture of what I'm trying to train and use the reward. Marker. That is best suited for that behavior that I'm going to train. So for the last 20 minutes, I've told you about. how location specific markers are going to help your training. You're going to have more clarity.
You're going to be able to train behaviors more quickly. You're going to be able to access your, the side of your dog. That is very fast, very animated and moving a lot and also access the dark. That knows how to be still, how to be focused, but alert or how to. Relaxed and not so alert. You can use location specific markers to train an array of behaviors and also [00:24:00] an array of arousal levels.
Right? This is why it's so important, how that directly impacts your competition. Oh my gosh. Well, your behaviors are gonna be trained. With more clarity, which means your dog is gonna be more confident in how to perform those behaviors, which means you are going to be more confident that your dog knows how to perform those behaviors.
and when a problem comes up, potentially in competition, you are going to have more solutions for how to solve that problem. And also all of those layers of arousal and distractions that we can add to our training in the name of location, specific markers. Like, can you do. X behavior with the toy on the ground.
Can you do X behavior with the food of the dish of food on the ground? Can you do X behavior with the toy in my hand, swinging back and forth. When you can [00:25:00] layer in all of these things and your dog understands how to filter out those distractions, they're going to be more likely to be able to filter out distractions.
Even the ones you haven't specifically trained for, like. People walking by people, standing up, someone, setting a bar in the middle of your run, things that we can train for. But also I find that if the dog has the skill of filtering out the things going on around them and because they know without a, without a doubt, what behavior will be reinforced once they have that skill, it's so much easier to.
Teach them to filter out actual distractions. So without a doubt, this is going to improve your competition behaviors because of the clarity wrapped around it. And because of the concepts, your dog will learn [00:26:00] about stimulus control and Q discrimination and relying on what's relevant. so they learn that when they're weaving, the only thing that's relevant is the polls in front of them.
They learn that when they're doing their contacts, the only thing that's relevant is completing their end behavior. They learn in handling that they need to follow those cues and not be looking for other obstacles on their path. They need to just be following the handling. They learn these concepts so much faster when we first teach it to them out of context.
and then O if you are teaching start small, start with, I'm gonna feed you out of position versus I'm gonna feed you in position. Um, start with, you're gonna eat this food from my hand, versus I'm gonna tos the food on the ground. It is a huge thing that I still see. [00:27:00] Across dog agility and teaching that, that people don't want to throw food in agility because the dog then gets stuck looking for it in the grass or on the dirt or whatever.
And this can be taught the skill of finding the treat and coming out of the grass immediately is a behavior. And it's a behavior that we have to train them to do. So. Absolutely. I, I would totally expect that if the dog is just randomly being tossed food that they're thinking well, is there more food? Of course they would be thinking that they're hungry and they love food.
So. When we teach them that my word is get, when I say, get, they look at my hand, they track the treat to where I threw it. They find it and their head whips right back around because it's almo it's always gonna be a good thing for them to do that. Right. Because I trained that as soon as they picked up [00:28:00] the.
F food from the ground. I marked again, and they got another one. So it has always paid off for them to find that cookie and get outta that grass as quickly as possible. But that was trained. Uh, if I just started doing it, I am gonna see more sniffing and I maybe even going to encourage my. Too sniff because they don't know when to expect food to fly or if they just randomly find it.
So when you're teaching, having these extra skills is gonna solve those little problems that come up when, you know, as a trainer, that throwing food is gonna be the best solution. But you're not sure if that dog is ever gonna stop sniffing. If you throw one piece of food, if we take the time to teach that skill, and it's a great skill to introduce and send home as homework, because you don't need equipment.
A cookie toss game is [00:29:00] the like most fun thing. And pretty much all your students are gonna do it because they, they just need 30 seconds and you can do that once a day and your students will do it and they will love it. And their, and your dogs will love it. and then you just introduce one every few months over time and you start to see that the little issues in focus and engagement, and maybe there you've got some dogs in class with giant question marks over their heads.
You start to see those question marks, get smaller. You start to see their confidence. Go up. You start to see. Their faces be a little bit brighter when you, when it's their turn to train, you start to see that they're not looking around for where the reinforcement is because they know where it is and they know where it's coming from.
Okay. Location specific markers have changed my training [00:30:00] in so many ways. And like I said, I. I think every six months or every year, I kind of update my feelings and my thoughts and what I'm thinking about with regards to reward markers and reinforcement cues and reinforcement strategies. And I'm just blown away at how much we can learn from observing our dogs in that context.
And. I want that for all of you. . So if you are wanting to learn about location, specific markers, please ask me about it. I love talking about it. You can show me what you're doing with your location, specific markers, um, on Facebook or Instagram or the mighty network C. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions about using them.
And if you [00:31:00] are using them, how have they changed things for you? I wanna know all of these things because it's one of my favorite things to get geeky about. And I love seeing the progress that teams make when they adopt even just a couple of these location, specific markers. That's all for today and we'll be back next week to continue unpacking other essential skills that I find that are most valuable for our agility.
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