Monday, August 13, 2012

Safety Tip: Don't Use Props for Wall Work

Really important tip – if you're teaching your dog to turn off a vertical wall, do not put props in front of it (see photo – that's me in 2008 doing it WRONG). I just learned this a few weeks ago.

The point of the wall is to teach a dog to use his back feet to push off and to develop a high snappy turn without hang-time. It is very hard for a dog to "cheat" on the wall. When a dog is first learning this method it may take a little while for him to develop rear end awareness and/or build up enough momentum to push off with his back feet, resulting in awkward low-speed wall splats. Which is all fine and part of learning, except if there's a prop right under him when he lands, he could hurt his leg (or freak himself out). Luckily this didn't happen with my dogs, but it could have!

If you're having trouble getting your dog's back feet up on the wall, crank up his motivation (for the touch stick and his reward) so that he has more speed/momentum, and make sure you're really enthusiastic and that you're sending him a consistent message with your placement of the touch stick, when you're clicking (or saying "Yes"), etc. It may help to teach him on a ramp first, then move to the wall. 

Uh, no kids, I haven't seen your noodles.
Once you transition to a ramp or box, a prop is okay. We cut pieces of those kids' pool noodles and put them across the tops of the props just in case anybody's foot nicks the prop during box work. 

Happy training!


Lexi said...

so I discovered, completely by accident, that one of my dogs will vault off the wall. I had been trying to demonstrate teaching dogs to bounce over and back over a jump on just flat floor with my trained flyball dog, and he offered a turn off the wall. I didn't think he would do it, so I hadn't tried before. However, he only pushes off with his front legs and ended up falling off the wall because he won't/can't get his back end up enough.

I'm really interested in working with him on wall turns as he is really lazy with his rear end on the box in tournaments. He has a beautiful turn, but as soon as any props are removed he won't push off the box with his rear feet (I actually have video of him putting his rear feet on the box in a tournament, but then dropping them to the floor and pushing off the floor before his front feet have moved from the box at all).

We only tried a couple wall turns as he will push off with his front feet, but again he's having lazy butt issues.

I've read your book and you said that one issue is that dogs that don't use their rear ends often don't have hind end awareness. My dog has excellent hind end awareness, we've done a LOT of different exercises to teach hind end awareness so i don't think that is our issue. Do you have any other tips for helping me teach him to push off the wall with his back feet?


Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

Hey Lexi, what great timing -- guess what we talked about and worked on in flyball practice today. :)

First of all, how awesome that your dog just offered that behavior on his own!

A few things to consider and try:

1) A lot of dogs start out this way on the wall -- i just started doing wall work with one of my dogs, and during the first session her rear end was MUCH lower than her front, and her back legs weren't pushing off that hard. I've seen noticeable improvements in just 3 sessions -- the more experienced she gets, the more coordinated she gets. Her rear feet still hit lower than her front feet, but it's much better.

2) What are you using as a reward and where are you holding it? If the reward is too close, the dog doesn't really have to push off the wall to get it. Plus you have to be really exciting -- this will increase his excitement level and momentum and should make him propel himself faster.

3) One of my teammates shaped a wall turn by clicker training her dog to put his back feet on one of those balance boards (like you use in agility classes) -- she was actually feeding him his dinner at it, and as long as his back feet were on the board, she let him eat out of his bowl. She then moved the board closer and closer to the wall until she had him putting his back feet on the board on a ramp leaning against the wall and working up to just the wall itself. From there he quickly moved to picture-perfect wall work using all 4 feet/legs. This exercise might be really great for your dog b/c you're training him specifically to put his back feet on the wall.

Let me know how it goes...

Lexi said...

I use food as his primary motivator, still working on getting him to run for a tug and he will do anything for food. We shape as many behaviors so he likes to offer things. I was standing about two feet away, I wasn't really motivating him as I was trying to watch he would do (next time I will video tape it!)

I have taught him to put his back feet up on a wall, so maybe he just needs time to put it all together...

Thanks for the response! I'll share video when I get some!

Lexi said...

Commenting again just to subscribe to this thread as I forgot to do that before. :)

Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

Lexi, you inspired me to write this new series:


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