Updated: Mar 28, 2020
This drill is an integral part of my foundation training. This is where we do all the initial training for sit stays and stopping contacts. It teaches the dogs impulse control and how to make good choices in the face of distractions. It teaches them to stay where I put them, which is helpful when you like to sit them on things and take their picture...a very important part of my everyday life training ;) but as a bonus it teaches them to respect boundaries like x-pens and fences. It helps them learn to be patient when I'm working at a distance from them. We accomplish this through shaping, so the dogs are making the choice to be correct, and it doesn't rely on me being right there to give them commands.
This also is a good body awareness drill, the dogs have to learn how to get 4 feet on an obstacle and balance. With large dogs this can be difficult in the beginning, so start with a platform large enough they can easily get 4 feet on. Then you can start to go to slightly smaller platforms and see if they can organize their feet to fit on it. You can use a variety of things - dog beds, couch cushions, tables, benches, planks, etc.
Here are two video examples with a written description below-
Step 1 - Remember, you are NOT giving any verbal commands. You can verbally mark the correct behavior once it happens and praise the dog, but do not tell them "wait, stay, sit, down, leave it". We are training them to automatically stay on something once we've put them there.
Step 2 - Shape the dog to get on. Be near the obstacle and encourage the dog to get on with your body placement and rewards. Once the dog has 4 feet on, start rewarding. If they are brand new to this game, you can reward for just two feet on a few times, then try to get 4 feet. When you are shaping a behavior, think of it as rewarding the good stuff and ignoring the stuff you don't want. As long as the dog has 4 feet on the platform, reward them. If they get off at any time, say nothing and wait for them to get back on (keep them on leash in the beginning to limit their choices), once they get back on start rewarding again. After 5 or 6 cookies on the platform, give your release word and reward the dog out of your hand for coming off. If they come off frequently before released - you need to reward quicker.
Step 3 - Build Distance - Our next goal is to be able to move away from the platform and the dog learns that your movement is NOT a signal to come of the platform. Take a small step away and come back to reward them on the platform quickly! The duration at this stage needs to be very fast, so don't linger. Take one step away and get back quickly to reward. As they are successful, try to build more distance. Take two steps away before coming back to reward. Keep going farther away, but get back quickly to reward them. Remember if they come off at anytime, say nothing, wait for them to get back on the platform then continue rewarding. Don't always back away from them, some times you want to turn your back to them and walk away (while still watching over your shoulder).
Step 4 - Build Duration - Start to stay away from the platform longer before returning to reward. Start with just a few seconds and increase the time as the dog is successful. We want to build distance and duration until you can move 20+ feet away from the dog.
Step 5 - Distractions - This is where we want to proof the dog against "Tests" that they will see in the future and prepare them to pass those.
Physical distractions include - bending down or running a few steps away. Be prepared to immediately reward good choices. One Proof = One Reward. Don't tack on too many challenges until they fail, we have to reward good choices as quick as possible.
Verbal distractions include things like saying your excitement building words - "ready, steady". We want those words to get the dogs excited, but they need to know those words don't me they are released.
Food distractions - My rule is, if the dog can't reach the food from his position he can't get it (in this case, he need to keep 4 feet on the platform. In the future it will be his 2on2off contact position, or sit/down stay on the start line). If they can reach it from their position, they can get it. I start proofing this by having treats in both hands (one hand is the distracting hand, one hand is the rewarding hand), hold a treat in the distracting hand far away from the dog (but they can see it), then reward them with the other hand for not coming off. Eventually work the distracting hand closer to the ground and set the cookie on the ground. Remember to generously reward them for not falling for the distraction. Then try to drop the cookies out of their reach. I usually start this pretty close to me, so I can step on the treat if the dog tries to come off for it. The progress to tossing closer to the dog.
Toy distractions - If your dog likes toys, play the same game with a toy. Hold the toy out of their reach, then release to it. If they go for the toy, just pull it away, have them get back on the platform and try again. Set it on the ground, toss it on the ground. Use your excitement building words as you show it to them. My end goal with this is to lead out a few steps, and toss the toy back towards the dog. Make sure the dog is still on the platform, then release them to get the toy. This is how I like to reward start line stays in the future for dogs who prefer toys.
1. Have a very quick rate of reinforcement in the beginning - if they are continuing to get off the platform before released, you need to reward faster.
2. Always reward them out of your hand after you give the release cue. It's important to reward the release cue, otherwise staying on the platform becomes so valuable they won't want to get off. We also want their release cue to mean "look to the handler", not go off on your own.
3. One Proof = One Reward. Reward them for each good choice they make and test they pass.
4. If they make an error when proofing, show them the same proof again then reward if they pass the test. If they fail the same proof twice in a row, make it easier the next time.
5. Play in between sessions. These duration sessions can get monotonous, play with food or toy between sessions on the platform. We want a Play to Work to Play transition.
I like to teach all these concepts on a platform first because it give the dog really clear expectations - they are either on the platform or they're not.
Eventually you can transfer this game to other things, like the end of a contact obstacle, a start line stay, a bench where you want to take their picture, the chair in a crowded vets office, a table for them to wait their turn on while you work your other dog, their crate, and lots of other things!