Now that I can take my dog 20 – 30 paces away from a pole which is pre-loaded with his reward, and let him go in the knowledge that he will run with enthusiasm to the pole and claim his reward, my next two tasks are clear;

I need to vary the distance the dog runs, gradually increasing it – but not so quickly that my dog looses confidence or enthusiasm; - which could result in losing speed, looking back over his shoulder, or deviating from his path.

I need to teach a set-up that indicates the direction in which I want the dog to go.

The Set-Up

My aim is to sit the dog facing the direction in which I am going to send him. Leaving him in the sit I will walk a few paces towards that destination, call him up to me, and then send him to continue along that line. This is taught in stages.

The Gate

Teaching the set-up can be a bit fiddly to start, but it is worth the hassle as when taught properly it makes it easier to explain to the dog the direction you want him to go when there is no pole or reward out there.

If you remember, we got to the stage that we could peg the ‘ball-on-rope’ to the pole, drag him away and release him to run away from you to get the toy on the command, "Get-it." (Or if he was not interested in a ball we used food in a ladle.) Here comes the tricky bit: holding on to his collar straddle him and verbally wind him up to look at his reward on the pole, release him to ‘get-it’ when he is straining to get to it. I call this part of my set-up, ‘the gate.’ I find that holding the dog back whilst encouraging him to get the reward increased the drive to get to it, just like horses and greyhounds are restrained in a gate at the beginning of a race.

fig 1 the ‘gate’

The gate is best taught just a few paces from the pole; it saves a whole lot of walking up and back! Your dog will find you less intimidating and be more inclined to look at the pole if you hold him out in front of you, not between your feet, with your body towering over him! Only release him when he is looking at the pole. If he is a little timid you may have to tease him a little or get a friend to wave the toy around to encourage him to lean into the ‘gate.’ See fig. 1


The Sit

Next we need to introduce an element of control without dampening his enthusiasm. I want him to sit on command before allowing him to go. (Note I said ‘allowing him to go,’ not sending or making – but allowing!)

fig 2  Sit

I hang the reward on the pole and drag my dog away as before (just a few paces) I tell him to "sit." If my dog is a ‘foodie’ type, I will reward him with a treat from my pocket for doing the sit on command. If he is too interested in the ball to eat (as many working dogs are) do not worry. It is easier if they like both (or are conditioned to eat during training See WTM July 2012) but it is not essential. However your dog must do the ‘sit’, before being allowed to run to the pole. This does not mean you can shout at him, or shove him to make him sit: it means you must make it easier for him to get it right- after all you want the dog to want to go and presumably you want to enjoy working together. So keep it fun. If necessary remove the toy from the pole and put it in your pocket. Ask the dog to sit and when he does, reward him with the toy.

It is so much easier if your dog enjoys a food reward because he can take the reward and remain sitting, whereas he will break the ‘sit’ to play with a toy, and then you have to start over again. If your dog is not too keen on treats it might be worth cooking some liver, or something really tasty just to make your training easier.

Repeat this until you can leave the reward on the pole, take your dog a few paces away, ask him to sit, reward him for sitting (verbally or with a titbit) and then verbally release him to run and grab his (second) reward from the pole (without the need for physical restraint). Dogs are great gamblers, so after a few of these you will not have to reward the dog for sitting every time. He will sit expecting a reward and you will just skip that and progress to send the dog to the pole for his reward.


Setting the Direction

Next we need to teach him to sit and wait, while you walk the line (setting the direction) and then call him up into the gate, before sending him on to the pole to get his reward.

Fig 3 sit wait before gate – pole in sight

I find that teaching the dog to come into the gate from the ‘sit’ is best taught separately (when there is no ball and no pole to distract). Simply ask your dog to sit and stand right in front of him – but with your back to him. Like a present in a novice recall, except you are facing the wrong way! You may find at this stage that your ‘wait’ needs a little work!!! Bend forward and show your dog a treat between your knees, pop it on his nose and call him though your legs (into the gate) to get his treat. Repeat this exercise until he is au fait with it and then proceed to increase the number of steps you take before calling him up. Now you are ready to put the bits together and set the line of the sendaway.


Putting it all together

This might seem a whole lot of training, but you do not need to go more than 10 – 20 paces from the pole to teach these ‘set-up’ exercises.

Now you are ready to begin training your sendaway complete with the set-up. Hang your reward on the pole as usual and take your dog a short way from it (he will probably not need to be dragged now he is beginning to get the idea). Turn to face the pole and ask him to sit beside you (on your left). Take a few steps towards the pole, and then make the gate by stepping aside with your left leg (you will then be directly in the path of your dog as he moves forward towards the pole). Call your dog into the gate, hold him back, and encourage him to strain towards the pole. Give his ‘get-it’ command and allow him to go and reward himself at the pole.

Fig 4 dog self rewarding

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned a sendaway command: all I have used until now is the release word, "Get-it." This is done deliberately because I do not want any apprehension, or misunderstanding associated with my all important sendaway command.

You will also have noticed that at the beginning of this month’s lesson I said, "I need to vary the distance the dog runs, gradually increasing it – but not so quickly that my dog looses confidence or enthusiasm, which could result in losing speed, looking back over his shoulder, or deviating from his path." If you remember; to do this we were simply hanging the reward on the pole, taking the dog away and then releasing him to run straight to the pole. This  training should be continuing alongside the set-up training, so that when the set-up is taught the dog can confidently run quite a way to get his reward. It is while building up this fun part of the exercise, with no control, that I introduce my sendaway command. I simply say my command, just as I release the dog.

Now when putting it all together I hang the reward, take the dog away and turn to face the pole: Tell him to sit, take a few paces towards the pole, call the dog into the gate: Tease and check he is looking in the right direction, and then give my sendaway command just as I release him.

Once he understands this whole process I can combine my set-up with the distance building and I have a complete exercise. It is still only a ‘go to,’ but we now have good communication and a good basis on which to build.

Anne Bussey