Training In Ten Minutes, Episode #5
In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, we’re going to spend our ten minutes working on an obstacle that is often overlooked….the table. Personally, I find that spending my time working on fast sits and downs on the table is pretty boring, and of course, since I don’t find it exciting, my dogs don’t either! I do, however, want my dogs to perform any behavior that they can do on the ground on the table, and with equal zest and speed. So, I want to do a lot of fun things that revolve around the table. And, it turns out that the table can also be a great piece of conditioning equipment.
Just spending time doing a variety of activities with the table, even if it is in my living room, will help bring the table up in value in my dogs’ minds. Ask yourself – have you given your dog the same amount of cookies or toy play as reinforcement for activities revolving around the table as you have for the weave poles or the contacts?
For most of us, the answer is probably no. There’s a reason many of our dogs gravitate toward contacts and not the table – think of the ratio of cookies spent on the contacts vs. the table! The following exercises are just some suggestions of how you might spend 10-minutes with your dog building value for the agility pause table without ever even working on a sit or a down position on the table itself. Enjoy!
Your dog may have no hesitation in getting up on the table when he has a good amount of space and can run toward it with some speed. But, will your dog jump UP to get on the table if he is close to it, with no motion involved? This exercise can serve double duty: helping to eliminate refusals your dog might incur for failure to jump up on the table when he gets close to it, and helping to condition and strengthen those muscles needed to jump UP.
- Start your dog standing near the table, with his nose so close to the edge of the table that he is touching it, or hanging his head over the table. You may have to take some time to get your dog comfortable being on the ground so close to the table; many experienced dogs will try to jump up on the table from a distance further away, where they can use horizontal momentum to get up on the table, rather than vertical lift.
- Once you’ve got your dog close to the table (perhaps munching away happily on some treats you’ve got in your hand), move your hand up and away, so that your dog has to jump UP on to the table to get back to your treats. You can coax your dog however you like – waggle the treats in front of his nose, encourage him verbally, or even push him back a bit to make the treats seem even more enticing, but the goal here is to have your dog jump up on the table from a location very close to the table.
- Once your dog jumps up on the table, praise him heavily, and of course don’t forget to give him some treats! But, save that last treat, because you’re going to toss it OFF the table so that your dog follows it.
- Most dogs will eat that last cookie and turn around instantly to try to get back on the table again. Make sure you’ve got yet another treat ready to go to keep your dog on the ground til he is quite close to the table, and then repeat the process again from step 1.
Jumping up on the table from a location close to the table itself is one thing. Jumping back DOWN is yet another. Of course I wouldn’t do this on any sort of slippery surface, and I will take care to make sure that my dog is safe. But, once my dog is up on the table, I can also place cookies close to the base of the table, on the ground, and release my dog off the table to get those cookies. This can be a useful activity for those with larger or more enthusiastic dogs that tend to push off the table horizontally when released, with such force that they knock the table back, causing it to slip out from under them.
In AKC, the dog must come off the table with all four feet in order to be faulted. On more than one occasion, I’ve been glad that I’ve played this game with my dogs on the table! Occasionally, my dogs have miscalculated their speed on approach to the table (or I’ve miscued how much speed they should have), and have hit the table only to slip off again. But, thanks in part to this game, they know how to avoid coming off entirely, and can actually back themselves up on to the table. Be advised, this is a great conditioning exercise, but it also requires a great deal of strength – so start with a low table to start, and go from there. It also requires that your dog have some experience with targeting objects with his rear legs, or that he know how to back up.
- Start your dog on the ground, facing you, with the table behind him. It’s helpful to start by sitting on the ground yourself, so that your dog can focus his head down, which will make it easier for his rear to go up.
- Move in to your dog’s space, or ask him to back up, or, if he’s comfortable with it, physically place his rear legs on the table. If your dog is reluctant to do this but does know how to back up, you can soften the edges of the table with a towel, pillow, or blanket. Many dogs don’t want to hit their rear legs on a solid surface.
- Once your dog has his rear legs on the table, reward low, between his front legs, so that he has to look down to get his treat. And then, move in to his space again, and reward for any movement backwards that results in more of your dog’s body being on the table.
- Once your dog is on the table completely, give lots of treats and praise, toss a cookie off the table to get your dog back on the ground, and start over again!
With this exercise, I purposefully don’t lure my dog forward in to a two on/two off position on the table, because I don’t really want him trying to drive forward to such a position. And of course, I’ll make sure that I’m not doing too much of this activity. As with all other exercises, moderation is the key. What I really want is for my dog to get as few cookies as possible with this exercise, until his whole body is on the table, and then, he will get a LOT of cookies.
Wicket/Measuring Table Games
At some point or another, probably sooner rather than later, your dog is going to have to be up on an agility table, at a trial, OUTSIDE the ring, in order to be measured. So, in anticipation of this, include some measuring games in your table training repertoire. For this game, use a hula hoop cut in half, or a homemade measuring wicket made out of three short pieces of PVC and a couple of 90-degree PVC elbows. With your dog on the table, do the following:
- Click and treat for your dog looking at the wicket
- Click and treat for your dog moving his head toward the wicket
- Click and treat for your dog ducking under the wicket
In each of the above cases, click for attention or movement toward the wicket, and then deliver your cookie such that the dog has to continue to move toward or duck his head under/through the wicket to get his cookie.
With your wicket, you can also reward your dog for:
- Picking up the wicket in his mouth
- Allowing you to touch his topline or any part of his body with the wicket
- Passing the wicket above the length of his body
- Resting the wicket on his shoulders while feeding him
In addition to the activities above, there are many tricks that I teach my dog on the ground that I might also do on the table. For some of these tricks, marked with an asterisk (*), performing them on the table adds an added element of strength and coordination, depending on the stability of your table. But for all of these tricks, teach your dog how to do them on the ground first!
- Sit Pretty or Beg (*)
- Touch your nose with your paw (*)
- Stand up on your hind legs (*)
- Stand up and lift up one of your rear legs (*)
- Stand up and lift up BOTH of your rear legs (*)
- Put a toy in a small box
- Take a toy out of a small box
- Stack one food bowl inside another
- Wave (*)
- Lay down with your chin on the table
- Lay down with your paws curled over the edge of the table
- Down to sit
- Sit to stand
- Tug on a toy (*)
- Hand Targeting
You can make this list even longer with the tricks that you’ve taught your own dog. Some tricks, of course, are not appropriate to do on the table, such as backing up, or rolling over, for obvious reasons. And you can see that on my list, a simple “sit” and “down” aren’t really even included.
Of course, I do teach my dogs to maintain a down position on the table until I say my release word. And, I do a lot of exciting gyrations when they’re in a down stay on the table to see if, in a playful way, I can entice them to come off the table. When they do make the mistake of coming off of the table, however, because I have done all of the above activities on the table with them, they are typically quick to get back on the table. And, when they mistakenly come off, all of my gyrations stop suddenly, and I become far less interesting. Then, when they do hop back on the table, I’m quick to reinforce in their minds that the table is a really fun place to be! So much of the rest of an agility course can be so much fun for the dogs that some time spent specifically making the table a fun place to be is time well spent – and it takes very little time and space to do it.
Sit or down on a table should just be one of many things your dogs might do to earn a cookie while they’re up there. And, like any other behavior you might ask your dog to do as a trick on the table, sit and down should be viewed as a trick – cued with a smile on your face and praise at the ready!