Look – No Pole!

Now you have everything in place to teach an actual sendaway! Up until now there has always been a pole. In the beginning it was very visible and loaded with a reward. Later the reward was sometimes at the pole: but not always. At other times the pole blended into the background and was less visible, or it only became visible after the dog had left the handler and got over the hill, when a pole came into sight. Sometimes on arriving at the pole, your dog has not been rewarded, but given another command, he has been told to wait. All these factors have reduced your dog’s dependence on the pole. It will now be quite an easy step from here to a real sendaway!

As always when progressing any exercise, go back a step before you go forward. So preferably, if possible return to his original base sendaway point and send him to a green pole that is not loaded with a reward. Tell him to wait when he gets there and follow him up. Praise him there, but do not give him his reward. Instead, pick up his pole and walk back with him and the pole. Now set him up again in the usual way. He will look towards his usual point because he knows this game – even though he cannot see the pole. Send him and tell him to wait when he gets there and follow him up straight away and reward him at the sendaway point. Now he is learning that if there is no pole he will be rewarded. Keep it short for now because; a) it should be easy for him to get it right, and, b) you have to follow him up to reward him!

Now you have added another variable to your training; sometimes there will be a pole, sometimes there will not. Just because there is no pole, it does not mean there will be no reward. Introduce this variable at other known sendaway points starting as above by sending him to the green pole before sending him to nothing. Always keep it easy for your dog to be successful so as not to dampen his enthusiasm to do this exercise. Before long you will not need to place the pole first – he will have learnt to go to nothing, ever hopeful that a reward might follow. As his confidence grows you will be able to lengthen the sendaway as you did before. He will soon be going out confidently, whether or not there is a pole in sight because he will have learnt that the pole is not a reliable predictor of an imminent reward. He will learn to listen to you. He might be rewarded for the sendaway, or he might be recalled and rewarded for that, or he might be sent and then commanded to wait – and then be rewarded for that.

Getting the Balance

By adding only a very brief ‘wait’ in the early stages of training before recalling your dog from the sendaway point, you will keep his interest and enthusiasm. But be warned, if you always recall him fairly quickly to get his reward from you, he might well stop going right to the pole (or boundary) and turn back to you as soon as he clocks that his reward is not on the pole! He will be anticipating where the reward is coming from. To avoid this happening, you will need to integrate his ‘wait’ training with his ‘sendaway’ training. It is easy to do this when the sendaway is short by sending him and following him up whilst commanding him to ‘wait.’ Join him at the pole and reward him there: But he will have to do a full length sendaway and then wait – at a distance. Build it up gradually.

Now you have three points of reward;

On the pole at the ‘send to’ point.

From you, at the point of recall.

At the sendaway point to reward him for waiting (when you get to him).

Now is the time to use your skill as a trainer to reward the appropriate behaviour;

  • If your dog tends to turn and run back to you, you will need to work on the ‘wait’ and reward him at the sendaway point, after telling him to wait and following him up.
  • If he runs the distance but, is then inclined to sniff along the hedgerow, you will want to recall him quickly and reward him as soon as he gets back to you (rather than nagging him to wait). He will soon learn that listening to you is fun and brings great rewards – this dog will enjoy redirects!
  • When building distance, or the confidence to run from you, the reward should be out there on the pole.

By working on these variables you will be able to develop the skills your dog needs as you progress his training. Remember the key word here is ‘control,’ if you send him and tell him to wait at the boundary, do not reward him if he comes back before you call him. Instead, set him up again and send him straight back, tell him to wait and this time follow him up and reward him at the pole. If he does not wait – he will not be rewarded! I find it best not to tell him off – he did after all, do the sendaway: he was just a bit keen to get back.

At a trial a few years ago I watched a dog do a super sendaway to a wire fence, the owner shouted ‘wait’ to the dog and sure enough the dog waited. It looked like ten marks in the bag until the judge told the handler to recall his dog. The handler called the dog... nothing. He called again, still nothing. He called and called, jumped around, begged and pleaded, but the dog would not move from the sendaway point. This dog had obviously been rewarded at the point of the sendaway too often and was clearly saying to his owner, "I have done the sendaway and I am not going to move until you come and reward me!"

... Balance is the key.

Generalisation

When arriving at a control field, the first question we ask fellow competitors standing around the gate is, "Where is the sendaway?" The reason for this is not just that it offers twice the amount of marks than heelwork in all stakes above CD, but that it holds so much potential for variation.

It could be up hill, or downhill. It could be to a tree, a hedge, a trough, a gate, the fence, or a patch of dark vegetation in the middle of the field: it could be anywhere in the field!

When I get to a trial, if the sendaway is to a tree on the hedge-line, my spirits are raised as I regularly train to a tree on the boundary so I think I have a good chance of my dog going to it.

A well trained dog should never encounter anything new at a trial. Your job as his trainer is to take him with the pole loaded with his reward to as many different locations as possible. Place his pole in front of a tree; place it in front of a gate, the hedge, the fence, and anything else you can find. Training like this will ensure your dog learns to go in the direction you face him, not to just look for the backdrop to which he is accustomed. Sometimes when competing, the dog does something unexpected that illustrates a misunderstanding has occurred in our training. For example, following the above scenario; if the sendaway at the trial was to a gate and I set my dog up and sent him in that direction, only to find he veered off halfway to the gate and headed for the tree, this would tell me that I have trained towards the tree too often and I need to find a gate and train him to that. It does not tell me my dog is disobedient – it tells me what I need to train!

In a Nutshell

My aim is to train my dog to continue in the direction of my set-up, until either I give him another command, or he gets to the boundary (in which case he will stop and listen for another command). I want to generalise the backdrop so my dog does not look for a particular feature, but he simply continues in the direction he is faced. I will then have a ‘sendaway’ - not a ‘send-to!’

Remember that a straight line does not always mean at ninety degrees to the boundary from the middle of the field. A straight line could be parallel to the hedge just a few metres from it, or it could be to a corner of the field. Do not get hung up about angles, just think simply (as your dog does) it is a straight line – towards whatever is in front of him.

VSR – Again!

I keep banging on about a Variable Schedule of Reinforcement (VSR). This is not because I like big words; it is because a VSR – or lack of it - is the main cause of dogs that work well in training, not performing at a trial. Many people have said to me that their dog works well in training, but sticks two fingers up at a trial! Actually, dogs do not think like people. If the dog enjoys training, why would it not like competing? What is the difference from the dog’s point of view? Is it that he has learnt that he always gets rewarded during training, but he never gets rewarded at a trial? Is it that he sees or smells his reward during training, but not at a trial? Once a dog learns to make this distinction, performance will deteriorate and it is very difficult to re-motivate the dog at trials. He may have made the connection that at the end of a long car journey, he is never rewarded for his sendaway. He might have learnt that when two strangers (judge and steward) are talking to you, there will be no reward. Or he might have learnt that when you act like a nervous wreck, there is never any reward.

If you were paid to clean cars every day, how would you feel if some days you were not paid? Suppose you noticed that you were never paid on days that your boss wore a tie – would you become unwilling, or less enthusiastic to work, when he turned up wearing his tie?

Training on a VSR will ensure your dog never makes these unwanted connections.

You cannot train your dog at a trial, you cannot reward your dog at a trial; therefore you must train your dog to accept that he is not always rewarded in training. However, if you suddenly stop rewarding your dog once he knows the exercise, he is on the fastest route to extinction: that is the fastest way to stop him working. That is exactly what happens at a trial if your dog is not fully prepared.

Your job is to muddy the waters: to blur the line between training and competing. So that from the dog’s perspective, there is no difference between training and competing; there might be a reward out there – or there might not. There might be a pole – there might not. He might be rewarded for the recall – he might not, but above all you should both enjoy working together as a team. 

Anne Bussey

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