Building the Desire to Go

Now that my dog understands the ‘set-up’ and he will run 100 yards or more to claim his reward from the pole, it is time to teach him to trust me – to believe that if he runs in the direction in which I have set him up, he will find his reward.

At this stage the pole is always placed in the same place that I have marked to ensure I can return to it accurately. I start by walking around the edge of the field and loading the pole without my dog seeing this happen. (Fig 1)

Fig 1

I walk all around the edge of the field so there is no track between my pole and where I intend to send him from. When I get to the place that I have previously sent him from, I will walk along that line through the middle of the field towards the pole to shorten the distance, so hopefully he will see the pole, even though he did not see me set it up and I have not pulled him directly away from it as I have in the past. I will do the set-up with which he is now familiar, and when he is in the gate I verbally tease him and encourage him until he clocks the pole, then allow him to run to claim his reward on the "get-it" signal as usual. Be warned when teasing the dog in the ‘gate’ do not use a command that your dog may associate with searching, such as "where’s your bally!" You do not want your dog going into search mode! I tend to use my set-up word, "sendaways" to tease him so he looks to the boundary not the ground.

After this first ‘cold’ sendaway you can walk back to the pole and play there with your dog before reloading the pole to send him again. You will have now walked the ground between the pole and send from point, but do not worry. Just start the same way the next day you train so that there is never a track on the first one of the day – just as there never is at a trial.

Now I have a complete exercise: I am able to place my reward on a pole without my dog seeing this happen and then set him up 100 yards or so away and send him to it. If you have trained your dog following these instructions you will have a dog that will go confidently from you to the boundary on the far side of the field. He will understand what is expected of him and he will enjoy the whole process. But we still only have a ‘go to’ in one place – there is still much work to be done to get the dog ready to do a sendaway at a trial!

All good teachers know the value of a variable schedule of reinforcement: the benefit of sometimes asking more, sometimes less before rewarding. Building the distance that you send the dog to get his reward is no different. By varying the distance you send him, you will be able to keep his confidence as well as increase that distance. So don’t always make it longer, sometimes go back to a shorter one – make it variable, always watching your dog and reducing the distance if he is hesitant, or when you know he is confident, add a few more paces. This is where you use your skill as his trainer to keep him keen but also to progress. If you take another pole with you it is easy to mark the distance you have sent him – just leave it where you send from. After the first ‘cold’ sendaway you will follow your dog up and reload the pole, now you can count your paces back to where you sent him from to keep a record of his progress. If your field is rectangular, you will of course be able to count your steps along the side as you walk around the field. If your dog is fit and enjoys running you can repeat sending him several times, but remember that the more he does the more tired he will become; take care not to get to the point that he is slowing, or losing interest in this wonderful game.

You will have noticed that I have not put any form of control at the end of the sendaway. I simply allow my dog to help himself to the reward. Then I make my way back to the pole and re-load the pole with his reward, ready to send him again. I am developing is a good association with this exercise. I do not want to have to get on at my dog at all. If I ask him to sit, and he does not I might get on to him, so I just do not ask at this stage. I am conditioning him to enjoy the sendaway exercise, and at the same time building his confidence and enthusiasm.

Now I have something which resembles a sendaway in one place (his base sendaway), it is time to select a second point, preferably in a different field and begin the whole process again. Of course it will not take nearly so much time as the dog now knows the rules and you will quickly be able to get the set-up and send him just a few paces to the new sendaway base to claim his reward as before. You will now begin to build the distance you send him to this new point. If you do not have the luxury of another field, choose another boundary in the same field. I like to keep them separated in the beginning to avoid the dog swapping direction half way through. Established behaviours are always stronger than newly acquired ones, so it would be easy for a dog at this stage in training to start off on his way to the new second base, only to switch direction and head for his first base. If that does happen with your dog, do not despair, and do not start shouting at him - he will not find his reward there, so simply recall him and start again. You might want to shorten the distance to ensure he gets to the correct (new) base next time. As ever, your aim is to maintain his confidence and enthusiasm.

I like to build 4 or more, base sendaway points in this fashion so my dog gets the idea: he does the set-up, he runs in the direction of that set-up to the boundary, and he gets his reward. It should be simple and it should be fun! My maxim in dog training is not how to make my dog do an exercise it is how to make him want to do it. I find that by keeping it fun (after all I train my dog for fun – it is a hobby) and making it easy for the dog to get it right we both enjoy training and that develops the ‘want’. I find this works better for me than putting on the pressure and then becoming exasperated with the dog when it goes wrong. Keep it simple, make it fun, and build on success. Take your pole with you when you go out on walks and do this fun exercise in as many different places as you can. If you remember, at the beginning of this exercise, I stated that I want my dog to ‘trust me – to believe that if he runs in the direction in which I have set him up, he will find his reward’ with repetition of the above exercise he will come to believe that.

Reduce Visibility

Meanwhile, back at my base sendaway point, I will reduce the visibility of the pole. My dog knows where he is going and he will learn that just because he cannot see the pole it does not meant it is not there. I will use a green pole, or put some green tape round it. When he gets to his place – there it is! Another way to build that trust is to place the pole in a field that has an incline, or a hump in it. (Fig2) Place your white pole on the boundary and walk back down the hill until your pole is just out of view. Do your ‘set-up’ here and your dog will run a few paces in the right direction and then his pole will come into vision and hey presto! – He will learn that if he goes where you point him, he will be rewarded.

Fig 2

You might well be thinking but there is never a reward ‘out there’ at a trial, so are you then starting to fib or deceive your dog? Well no, but I am going to add a further requirement and if you have consistently made your training fun, your dog may find the exercise rewarding in its self.

Teach the Wait

It takes many months to build a confident sendaway as above and I am sure that during this time you will be training other exercises. I mentioned earlier the need to consider the command and position that you want the dog to take at the end of the sendaway. So assuming you have now taught your dog to wait on command, you can bring this into your sendaway training. Start by taking your dog to his base sendaway point and leaving him in the wait at the pole (not loaded with a reward). Walk a few paces away in the direction that you go to do your sendaways, turn and praise him verbally (if your dog cannot maintain his position in a wait whilst you praise him from a distance he is not yet ready for this – teach it separately). Now recall him and reward him for coming in the same way as you would reward him for going to the pole. Practice this exercise at all his base sendaway points increasing the distance before recalling him. You might need to walk back to him sometimes to reward him in the wait, just as you did in your early ‘wait’ training.

By combining the wait and recall training with your sendaway training you are simply working on your variable schedule of reinforcement, sometimes asking for more, sometimes less. Now you can do a short sendaway of about 20 paces to his base point, where there is a pole but no reward. As he arrives, he will probably look for his reward, give him a second to clock it is not there and issue his wait command. As soon as he waits, verbally praise him for waiting (as above) then recall him and reward him in the usual way. With repetition your dog will learn this new sequence of events and will come to understand that the reward is not always ‘out there’, but he will be rewarded at some stage.

Now your dog has a complete (albeit elementary) sendaway, all you need to do is practise varying all the parameters in as many different locations as possible and enjoy this new game with your dog.