Onyx and Running Dog Walk

Running dog walks (RDW).  To do or not to do.  For those of us who have trained one it becomes addicting and we want to train all of our dogs to have one.  For those of us who have trained one it can be frustrating to train one because it can take a long time and sometimes that’s all we get with the dog.  We never get the additional behaviors one would like–turns, lateral distance, going ahead, etc.–because we spent so much time just getting a RDW that we simply don’t have the time or energy to invest in training additional behaviors off the end.  With Luna, that’s what I ended up with.  A great exit if I’m ahead, but nothing else reliable.  I’ve recently “fixed” that by re-training a stop to go along with the RDW so that I can deploy it if I’m ever in a position where I’m not ahead.  Now Onyx has joined the RDW club and I start this process all over again.

When Onyx started agility training I planned on her only doing a RDW and so I started all of the RDW foundation with her at a young age.  So she did quite a bit of flat work on a board which then progressed to a lowered dog walk. However, it quickly became apparent that a RDW was not going to be in her immediate future.  For one, she was going to need a lot of just plain ‘ol agility training and the time spent on training the RDW would mean time not spent training other agility skills.  Secondly, I felt at the time that she wasn’t mentally able to handle the rigors of learning the RDW.  She’s a very black and white dog with learning and I felt that the somewhat ambiguous criteria of the RDW was not something she could comprehend at that time.  So, I made the decision to train a 2o2o for her especially after she demonstrated that she would still perform the dogwalk at speed and practically lawn dart into a 2o2o.

So we started trialing with the stop, but it became apparent that stopping at a trial was not mandatory.  I absolutely did nothing to disabuse her of that idea as I would let her continue running at a trial.  I figured that a young dog, with additional ring experience and training, would eventually get it.  And for a while we were partially successful at stopping.  But, this year she decided that stopping was never going to happen.  So, after a trial in May I decided at 3.5 years old it was time to try the RDW again.  She was not going to run standard again at an agility trial until we either had a RDW or, if she couldn’t do it, that she would forget it was acceptable to not stop on the dog walk at a trial.

So this summer we went back to basics.  We spent weeks just running a plank on the ground with a piece of carpet covering the contact zone.  The carpet was being used just in case foot targeting was going to be useful to her.  The idea being that touching something is very black and white.

These 3 videos weren’t every session we did, but as you can see not a lot of carpet hitting, but definitely quite a bit of proper striding.  The striding is what I really wanted to see from her.  I was hoping that would transfer to the dog walk once I put her on it.  Unfortunately my dog walk does not have different heights so I was going to have to go straight to a full height.  However, I was going to try and back chain the behavior.  I started with her on the down plank and just allowed her to run down it.  As long as she didn’t leap off she got rewarded.  I also started varying her starting point on the dog walk.  Half way across.  Just above the down plank.  Just past the up plank.  And every spot in between.  Once again, as long as she didn’t leap off and gave me the striding she would get rewarded.  The plank on the ground and the back chaining were used for 3-4 months.  The training wasn’t every day nor was it on a regular schedule.  When the weather cooperated and my fancy struck we’d walk out back and do some work.

Around September, all of it was put together.  That is when I started running the whole thing with her.  There were occasional back chaining sessions thrown in when she had a lot of struggle in a particular session.  Once again, I wasn’t going for feet in yellow as the only goal, but instead I wanted the striding and no leaping.

Videoing training sessions is a great thing.  One of the things I noticed in some of the above sessions is that after missing 2 or 3 or 4 times in a row she would adjust her stride (albeit by adding strides) to go through yellow.  Seeing that was when I felt she had an understanding of what was desired.  Now it was about repetition to cement in her mind when she was wrong and when she was right.  When she was wrong she didn’t get to chase her ball nor did she get any other kind of positive reinforcement.  When she was right she got to chase her ball as well as receiving verbal and physical praise.  Part of allowing her to learn was to let her fail, but allowing her to keep trying until she was successful and ending on that note.  Suddenly this week she couldn’t stop being successful!

Above were 2 of our 4 sessions this week.  Before today (the 27th) she had been 9 for 10 in yellow, but 10 for 10 in striding.  Today she only had 2 in, but still no leaping off from half way down.

Why the sudden success?  Onyx has a strong desire to be right.  She tries so hard in everything she does to be right that she will offer all kinds of behavior in attempt to be right.  So, during some of our earlier sessions, she would often times hit her first dog walk, but then would miss 3 or 4 in a row.  There were a couple of training sessions where she missed up to 6 in a row after hitting her first one and we would just stop.  Those were few and far between, though.  What often would happen is that she would hit one or two out of her first three, but then would go on a miss streak.  At this point, I’d allow her to work it out on her own.  Eventually she would give me a great dog walk and would get tons of positive reinforcement.  We would then end on a good note.  That had been what our training sessions were like for about a month.  Have a few successes, have a few failures, then one final success and session over.

Does this mean we have this down?  No idea.   Could it break at some point?  Quite possible.  We haven’t worked 0n any other dog walk or in any other environment other than in our field.  I’m hoping she’s mature enough now to have the behavior generalized to the point where other buildings and dog walks won’t present a problem.  What I do know is that we will continue to work on it until I’m confident that she has it down for sure.  Then comes the question of whether I add the other skills that I never trained with Luna.  Time will tell whether that happens or not.  Stay tuned. 🙂