More Platform Work: Reshaping the Finish Motion

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

The habit of not going far enough behind the handler while finishing can make it hard for the obedience dog to end up in the correct heel position. If the dog finishes to the right, he can end up with a "rumped-in" finish. The same habit, in a dog that finishes to the left, can produce a forged finish, or a "rumped-out" finish.

If your dog has a chronic habit of not going far enough behind you before turning to come into the heel position, you can "reprogram" his finishing motion by using the training platform demonstrated in Parts 7 and 8 of this series.

The training platform is a target that shapes motion

The dog that has been through the platform training in Parts 7 - 8 identifies the small platform as a target to head toward. You can use his knowledge about the platform to help him develop the habit of going deeper behind you when sent from the front position to finish.

When you introduce this, use your command to get on the platform (not your finish command), or he'll become confused. We recommend that you "chain in" your finish signal (not command) when you send him to the platform from the front position and, ultimately, use the signal instead of the command when you want a finish.

Placing the platform

For most dogs, the platform should be about four feet behind you. For a finish to the left ("swing" or "flip" finish), the platform should normally be offset a little to the left. For dogs that finish by going around the handler to the right, you may want the platform directly behind you, or even offset it a little to the right.

Adapt the platform's exact placement relative to you for each individual dog. The best place for the platform depends on the dog's size, conformation, style of movement, and so on.

The introduction sequence

Don't introduce the exercise with the platform in its final position. Remember, you must show the dog how to find the platform from the front position, because his first instinct when he's sitting in front and given any sort of command will be to try to go straight to heel. He'll be confused over which target to head toward--the platform, or your side.

So when you introduce the platform to re-shape his finish, start with the dog not in the front position. Place the platform about eight feet away from you on the left or right depending on which finish you use. The platform should be visible to the dog (not blocked by your body). It will help if, for the first repetition, you place the dog closer to the platform than he is to you. With each successful repetition, leave the platform where it is, but move the starting position of both you and the dog, until the dog is starting from the front position, and the platform is about four feet behind you.

This introduction process can be accomplished in a single session since the dog is familiar with going to the platform from his earlier training.

The training process

As the dog arrives on the platform, get his attention so he'll turn around and face forward. (Be sure you encourage him to turn toward you as he accomplishes this!) Then just praise and release him. The next step is to throw him a toy or a treat and encourage him to run past you on the heel side to get it. Finally, when he's really enjoying the game, sometimes call him up to the heel position from the platform.

Give the dog plenty of repetition at this new game, before you again ask him to finish without the platform present. Then you'll find that, even after you phase out using the platform, the dog will retain the habit of going well behind you before he turns to come up to the heel position. This habit can help a large or long-backed dog finish more accurately, without being rumped in or out.

First Appeared in:
Front & Finish

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