Keeping Commitment

Keeping commitment is the time after your dog selects an obstacle to the moment of taking off for an obstacle. We learned in the timing loop that this time between commitment and take-off is when the handler will be giving the proactive cue for how to take the obstacle to get to the new line, which means the handler will be starting to move in a different direction than the dog is heading. The dog must ignore this distraction until after they have landed the obstacle. Before sequencing can be successful, the dog must understand how to keep commitment so that the handler can maintain good timing. 

Exercise 1: Keeping Commitment to a Reward
The goal of this exercise is to teach the dog about the step towards the take-off point and that that is a cue to move forward on the line.
Have your dog stationed or in a stay. Pre-place their reward 15-20 feet away. You will begin closer to the reward to take advantage of the natural cue of your position helping the dog to commit to it. Have your dog-side leg behind so that when you release the dog from their stay, you will step forward towards the reward with that leg, while watching the dog for commitment. When you see the dog look at the reward, cue the to take the reward, and begin moving away from the reward.
When that is easy for your dog, take a starting position closer to where they are stationed and repeat. This is to practice the step to take-off when you are not close to the obstacle.
You can also repeat this exercise with lateral distance from your dog, practicing for situations where you will not be close to the dog or the obstacles when taking a step towards the take-off point. 

Exercise 2: Keeping Commitment to a Reward out of a Tunnel 

The goal of this exercise is to teach the dog about the step towards the take-off point and that that is a cue to move forward on the line when coming out of a tunnel. Tunnels, especially in novice teams, cause most of the refusals on an agility course. This is because dogs are exiting, looking for the face of their handler (and their eyes are likely adjusting), and if the handler is not already making that connection – looking for the dog’s eyes – the dogs may miss the next obstacle. We want to practice keeping connection while the dog is in the tunnel, and taking a step towards the next obstacle as the dog is exiting. This means that you have to anticipate your dog’s exit of the tunnel. If you wait to see the dog exit the tunnel, you might miss your chance to confirm the correct obstacle to them.
Have your dog next to your side, you can start as close to the tunnel as needed, but try to not be more than about 5 feet from the opening. Pre-place their reward 15-20 feet away. Send your dog to the tunnel. Follow them through the tunnel with your eyes, so that as they are exiting, you are stepping with your dog-side leg towards the reward. When you see the dog look at the reward, cue the to take the reward, and begin moving away from the reward.
By now, you probably have a sense of what is easier for your dog: more motion or less motion. Begin with the speed (walk, jog, or run), that is easiest for your dog, and work through all of the phases. The change in your speed will change your location in relation to the reward. 

Exercise 3: Keeping Commitment to a Wing

The goal of this exercise is to begin transferring commitment from the reward to the obstacle. It looks identical for Exercise 1, but with a wing (or jump) on the path to the reward. 

Have your dog stationed or in a stay. Set the wing 15-20 feet away. Pre-place the reward about 1 foot behind the wing and a little to the side so that it is visible to your dog on their path. You will begin closer to the reward to take advantage of the natural cue of your position helping the dog to commit to it. Have your dog-side leg behind so that when you release the dog from their stay, you will step forward towards the outside edge of the wing with that leg, while watching the dog for commitment. When you see the dog look forward to the obstacle/reward, cue them to take the reward, and begin moving away from the reward.
When that is easy for your dog, take a starting position closer to where they are stationed and repeat. This is to practice the step to take-off when you are not close to the obstacle.
You can also repeat this exercise with lateral distance from your dog, practicing for situations where you will not be close to the dog or the obstacles when taking a step towards the take-off point. 

After 1-2 repetitions with a pre-placed reward, you will hold the reward in your dog-side hand and drop the reward on the line as your dog turns their head around the wing to return to your side. 

Exercise 4: Keeping Commitment with Two Wings

The goal of this exercise is to begin adding behaviors before rewarding your dog and building on their obstacle commitment.

Have your dog next to you. Then lead out about one step (3-5 feet), so your dog can see your first step towards the wing. It is important that you stay out of your dog’s path, so you will stay clearly to the side of the wings the entire time. Step with your dog-side leg to send toward the first wing, when you see your dog commit (look at the wing) turn your body in a front cross movement and move towards the second wing. As your dog wraps around the wing, take a step with your new dog side leg towards the outside edge of the second wing. When you see your dog commit, turn your body in a front cross movement and move towards the other wing, marking the dropping their reward on the line as you go.

You will start with the wings fairly close and walk. This will limit the amount of steps you have to take which means you can focus on sending with the correct leg. As you increase the distance between the wings, you will increase your speed.

Exercise 5: Keeping Commitment with a Tunnel and a Wing 
Look familiar? This is Exercise 3 with a tunnel start instead of a stationary start! Combine the skills from Exercise 2 and Exercise 3 to test your dog’s understanding!

This exercise, keeping commitment on verbal cue, teaches the dog about commitment on a verbal cue AND teaching the dog to ignore your motion in the new direction. 

You’ll begin with the dog close, and a pre-placed reward in front of them. You will stand next to the reward facing the dog. 

Verbally cue your dog to take the reward. As soon as your dog looks at the reward, begin moving forward. Start at whatever pace your dog is successful at increase your speed from there. 
You can also move laterally away from the reward. Your dog should stay on the path to the reward. 
If they break commitment, stop moving and wait for them to re-engage with the reward. When they do, begin moving again. On the next rep, make something easier: their distance to the reward or your running speed. 

Next you can add a wing to this picture. I am using the same setup as above, but with a wing. I will release the dog with their jump cue. When the dog looks forward at the obstacle, I’ll mark. In this video, I am using a MM. 
Ping-pong where you start the dog and the running speed you choose. You’ll see that when Skrik was successful, but lost speed, I made it easier for her. 
When this is looking solid, you’ll progress the position of the reward so that it functions as a distraction to the behavior as well as a reward to the behavior. More on that later. 

About Synergy Dog Sports

Committed to providing a supportive learning environment for learners at both ends of the leash, Megan works with each team as individuals, bringing them to the next level no matter which path you choose to take with her: in-person classes, seminars, online classes, or 1-on-1 coaching.