The TEAM program encourages clean training without food/toy visible in your hand to have your dog perform. The TEAM Level 3 test takes this concept further and looks at two new components:
1. Working when the reward is off your body and at a distance.
2. Reducing the rate of rewards so the dog continues to work even when every exercise isn’t rewarded.
You are allowed a total of 4 rewards during the TEAM3 test, with one of the rewards required to be given after the last exercise, after it’s used as a distraction. That’s still roughly one reward every two exercises!
I use five different stages to build on, but your dog will continuously be flowing back and forth depending on the location you’re training in and the difficulty of a behavior. Don’t hesitate to go back a stage! Here is some information on the early stages to help you get started.
Stage One: Getting the Rewards out of Your Pocket
The goal is to teach the dog that the actual location of the reward is irrelevant, you have the ability to access that reward for them at any time.
Start by letting the dog see you place their delicious cookies or toy on a table just out of reach or on the ground, as long as it’s in a sealed container. Let them look at it lovingly and pine for it. Just wait. Eventually your dog will stare at you and wonder why you’re not giving him the cookies he deserves!
At the moment your dog looks at you, praise and take a step backwards to invite your dog to come to you. Many dogs will attribute your praise to earning those cookies and will go back to staring at the treats. That’s ok! Go back to the table and acknowledge that they are indeed nice cookies. Wait again for your dog to look at you and repeat the sequence until your dog keeps sustained eye contact with you and moves a tiny step away from the cookies. NOW you can use your marker/reward cue and move forward those few steps to go and get that reward!
Practice this first step until your dog watches you put down their reward and then immediately moves with you as you walk a few small steps away from it.
At that point you can start to ask for other behaviors the dog knows well such as sit or down. For some dogs it may be easier if you have a favorite prop, such as a target, and just ask them to stand on it! Don’t move far from the reward location; the goal at this early stage is to get the dog used to the reward not being on your body, but you want to be able to reward quickly still! Any time your dog decides he would rather go stare at the reward, let him go!
As long as he lacks the opposable thumbs to open up the reward himself, it’s perfectly fine to let him problem solve.
Stage 2: Building Distance and Changing Locations
Once your dog is eagerly responding to your cues when you are within 5 feet of their rewards, you can start to gradually build up how far away from the reward location you can be. Make sure to keep an eye on both whether the dog responds and what the behavior looks like.
If the dog starts to respond very slowly or looks like they are losing some enthusiasm, then decrease your distance!
Remember to only test cues you think your dog is proficient at. If they are still learning a behavior, you will want to go back to the food being in your pockets so that you can keep their rate of reward high!
If things are going well, then start practicing in new locations! Can the dog respond in your living room when the known rewards are in the kitchen? When you start to move beyond your home and easy environments, make sure you are keeping in mind the concepts of acclimation and engagement.
Don’t get to a new place and just plop your bag of food on the floor and expect to start working right away! Give your dog plenty of time to sniff and look around the environment. Your dog should be pushing you to start the work! Keep the cookies and toys in your training bag until your dog is showing signs of being ready to start, and then you can let the dog see you set their rewards out. Good luck!