The TEAM program advocates for the use of targets when teaching the skill of dogs going away from us and to develop the execution of skills at a distance. Let’s take a closer look at this principal, and where the challenge lies. To demonstrate the concept, we will consider the use of a target with the skill of backing up.
What if you find that your dog is pretty amazing for a few feet and then, as you increase the distance, you are struggling to maintain confidence in the behavior? Your dog starts to slow down, or veer as you get further away? Your dog continuously turns around and tries to head to the target at some predefined distance that makes sense to your dog but not to you?
Split out the issue of distance from steps taken. In short, here are some sample steps:
1. Set a distance (let’s say 5 feet). All of your work will take place within that range, but you will vary how close or far you and/or the dog are from the target.
2. Start easy! Dog and handler close to the target — maybe use up 3 of your 5 feet. Example: Place your dog 1 foot from the target and the handler is 2 feet from the target.
3. Now, place your dog at the SAME distance but you will go further back, so the dog is now 1 foot from the target and the handler is at 3 feet (2 feet from the dog).
4. How about starting your dog at 2 feet from the target and the handler will be at the 3-foot mark? The overall distances are the same as in Step 3 but the dog has to go further. Then again, you’re closer to start, so only one criteria has been increased — yay!
5. How about starting your dog backing up from front position? The dog is backing 3 feet from the target but starts directly in front of you.
6. Can you do the reverse? Now the dog is only a few inches from that target but you are a full 3 feet away — still finding success?
If you can do both Step 5 and Step 6, go ahead and add another foot of distance — most dogs won’t even notice as long as you constantly vary both your distance and the dog’s distance, so that both variables never increase in difficulty at the same time. Working this way, most dogs can increase distance (and maintain straightness) in a relatively short period of time.
Check out this video for a visual illustration of how you can do this. (bonus footage: you can see how I handle it when Brito breaks his stay).