Running Aframe Training: Phases 4-6

These training phases are all about introducing different variables to your dog! Different handler positions, amounts of motion, and changing up the reward strategy! 

Phase 4: Changing the Handler Position

So far, your dog has been hitting their target with you in a neutral position – you have been even with the box and facing it when they were hitting the target. In this phase, you are going to move your position slightly in front of the box and slightly behind the box.

Stand one step beyond a corner of the box, facing forward. Toss a cookie to set your dog up to approach the box coming towards you. As the dog collects the cookie and turns back to you, cue the target. As your dog’s 4th paw is hitting the target area, mark and reward in front of you, on the line that they are traveling on.

As your dog is collecting their reward, turn and face the opposite direction, so that when the dog approaches the box, they will be moving away from you. Cue the box. Mark and reward with a tossed cookie when criteria is met. 

Make sure to work both sides of the target, so that all variables are introduced to the dog.

In the video below, you may notice that I mark early a couple of times – this is my attempt at predicting those rear feet coming into contact with the mat. I’d rather be early than late, even if it means I mark and reward a miss every now and then. I also have no problem with the dog curling in to see where the cookie will be tossed; that will go away when we change to a different reward strategy.

Increase Lateral Distance

Using this same back and forth loop, increase your lateral distance from the target and repeat. We want to make sure the dog is comfortable seeking out the target with you in a variety of locations.

Phase 5: Changing the Reward Strategy 

Now that your dog has a pretty good reinforcement history for hitting the target with you standing in a variety of locations with a tossed reward, we are going to transition to a pre-placed reward. This is where you can use a dish (empty or loaded) or a food robot. You know your dog and how they will be most successful, so make your splits accordingly. I usually start with an empty bowl and then progress to a loaded bowl. I will use a food robot if the dog is unsuccessful with either of the bowl strategies. 

Your dog will need to approach the target from the same spot each time. You can do this with tossed cookies, or a station/startline. In the demo videos, my dogs are coming from their station, so you’ll get to see a bonus video of what to do when their stays break down (because they usually do) in the next lecture. 

Some dogs will do better with a cookie toss vs a stationary starting point; if your dog stares at the pre-placed reward in their stay, they may struggle to “hear” you cue the target, because they are so focused on the reward. Cookie toss starts might be easier for these dogs.

Handler Even With the Target 

Start even with the target, facing the direction the dog will be headed in. Cue the target. If they are successful, cue their pre-placed reinforcer. If they are not successful, recall them to you for the transport back to the start (large loop). It’s also ok if they get their reinforcement on accident. I’m likely to go with an empty bowl on the next rep to ensure success. 

In this video, I start with an empty bowl and increase to a loaded bowl. And, I should practice my large loops with her; these were a bit messy! 

Handler Behind Target 

Usually, the handler being behind the target is easier than the handler being next to the reward, so I go here next. Stand near the dog, or just behind the corner of the target and repeat the same loop as before. 

Handler in Front of Target 

Now, move your position to in front of the target, closer to the reward and repeat this loop. 

Assignment 

Show me your reward strategy progressions. If you are going to eventually use toys, now is a good time to introduce them, before we layer in your motion and other distractions. Start with food and progress to bowls, food toys, or toys – whatever your dog is into.

Troubleshooting 

If you are using stations/startlines for this work, you will likely come across some anticipation of the release! This is because all of the reinforcement is for the target and is forward in front of the dog, and when you’re training the RAF, the target becomes the focus and the valuable item, not staying put. This is natural and it’s going to be ok. 

Breathe. 

Your stay isn’t ruined. 

You do, however, need to be prepared for it! You can pivot within the RAF session and work on some cue discrimination, or you can make a note to warm up with a stay-put session, or finish up your training for the day with a stay-put session. 

There is content in this program to address startline stays and cue discrimination work. “Stay Put vs Go” is a good thing to search for. 

Here is what I did when Skrik started jumping the gun on her station to the target behavior, to give you an idea of what those types of sessions could look like:

Phase 6: Handler Motion

Now, it’s time to start moving! Set your dog in the same starting position each time (you can do this via cookie toss, station, or sit stay). The dog should be within 10 feet of the mat. The further away they are, the more difficult this is, and that isn’t our focus just yet.

Walk

Begin in the position behind the box, nearest your dog, and walk forward when cueing the box. If you are standing still, the release should be “verbal cue” and then start moving. If you want to release in motion, you can begin walking, and then release your dog verbally.

Then, start from the middle position and walk. 

Next, start from the position in front of the box and walk. 

Make sure you work both sides at a walk. 

Jog 

If walking goes well, increase your speed to a jog. Work both sides and each starting position.

Run 

You guessed it! If jogging goes well, increase your speed to a run & repeat.

Other Handler Motion Splits 

If walking to jogging is too big of a leap, try a march, or jog in place type motion. You’ll always be running with them on the agility course, so we want to layer your motion in really finely, so that they still focus on hitting their target *more* than the focus on following you. 

Reward Progressions 

Use a reward progression that will work for your dog. For example, you may start with a tossed reward, then an empty bowl, then a loaded bowl. 

If your dog has high handler focus, using a tossed reward when you are moving may distract your dog more than a pre-placed reward. 

If your dog has big feelings about their pre-placed reward when you are moving towards it, it may be better to begin with the reward in your hand and tossing it on the line in front of them.

Here is a mashup video for you! The first set up reps shows handler behind the target: walk – jog – run to a loaded bowl. 

Then, on the other side, he struggled, so you’ll see that the station is closer and the target is bigger. Handler is is behind: walk-jog-run to sometimes an empty bowl and sometimes a loaded bowl. 

Then, the target is made smaller again and I work through variations of even with and head of the target, so you get an idea of what each might look like. 

Assignment 

Take your time on this! We want this step to be solid before adding in any other layers (like obstacles and handling). Start with a lower-level reinforcer and work your way through the handler speeds. Then, increase the reinforcer level and start again at a walk. Show me your stuff! 

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.