When planning to teach a sendaway I begin as I always do by checking the requirement with the rules, watching what happens at trials and then looking for pitfalls that need to be avoided. The rules state the minimum distances but experience tells us that we need to train the dog to go a lot further than stated. They go on to state that "when the dog has reached the designated point"... "the dog should be stopped in either the stand, sit or down position at the discretion of the handler."
This bit immediately rings warning bells for me, because if I try to teach a sendaway and distance control at the same time I could knock my dog’s confidence to run away from me. I do not want to be nagging him to wait if he has just done a lovely sendaway or he might not be so keen to go another time. He might learn that I often start yelling as soon as he gets to the boundary and therefore become reluctant to do the sendaway. To avoid this happening I teach the wait, whether it be a sit, stand, or down as a separate exercise. As a clicker trainer it is easy to click the dog in the distance and end the exercise there (but don’t worry if you are not a clicker trainer – there are other ways to achieve this). Even though I am not teaching the wait at this time, I will be considering which of the three positions I will expect the dog to take up when he is ready to do both bits at once. Many dogs, especially collies, naturally elect the down position when stopped. This is OK but I have on occasions had a dog lie down in long vegetation, or over a slight bump in the ground and then be unable to see him, whereas if he were sitting or standing I might be able to see him. If I teach him to stand he will be prepared for the re-direct in the higher stakes but some dogs are inclined to wander if standing. If on the other hand I say ‘sit’ at the end of a brilliant sendaway at a trial, and my dog stops in a stand or down, the judge could mark this as minor disobedience. So a position should mean that position. However, if I say ‘wait’ and my dog stops moving that would be fine - but in that case what does ‘wait’ mean to my dog? That of course will depend on what I teach him, but be aware of what you teach. For example, if when jumping, I say ‘wait’ on the far side of the scale and elect the stand position, there is a possibility that I will cause an element of confusion if the same word is supposed to mean sit at the end of a sendaway! Are you confused? Think what it must be like for a dog who does not understand our language!
As I say, I do not teach any control at the end of the sendaway to start, but I do keep all the above in my mind so when I do come to train it I will have noted all my dog’s tendencies, his strengths and his weaknesses and I will use these when deciding which position and what command I will select.
Now I can make a list of what I do want from my dog in a sendaway: the attributes I want to develop.
- I want the dog to run away from me in a straight line
- I want speed and commitment – not the dog looking back at me over his shoulder
- The line should be set by me!
- I want him to keep going until I stop him, or he reaches the boundary of the field
That does not seem a lot to ask, does it?
The only problem is; I think that explaining that first requirement to a dog, ‘run away from me in a straight line’ is one of the most difficult challenges in dog training. My task as ‘the trainer’ is to strive to help the dog to understand.
I begin my planning as ever with my two rules - Anne Bussey’s two rules of dog training;
Make it easy for the dog to get it right, and
Provide sufficient reward.
To encourage the dog to run in a straight line away from me I plan to start by teaching a ‘send to’. This will develop drive as the dog runs towards the reward, rather than looking back at me asking, "Is this far enough?"
I teach the dog to go to a pole to get his reward and I place the pole by a boundary hedge or fence. I allow the dog to run to the pole on the boundary taking him further away as his knowledge and confidence increase.
I teach him a ‘set-up’ in which I point out the direction I want him to go.
I generalise this behaviour, using several different fields.
I reduce visibility of the pole to make the dog more dependent on me and my direction control to send him in the right direction.
I progress to a ‘send away’ in which there is no reward on the boundary – without losing the dog’s enthusiasm. I put his on to a variable schedule of reinforcement.
I teach the control – the stand, sit or down.
I build up the distance over which I can maintain the control.
I put the two parts of the exercise together.
Selecting the Reward
My plan is first to teach the dog to run to a pole to get a reward. The reward might be a toy. A ball on a rope is an excellent toy for this exercise. So I tie a peg to a (tracking) pole and use the peg to attach the toy to the pole. This is preferable to hooking the toy over the pole because it could either fall off before the dog gets to it, or get hooked over the pole so the dog cannot get it off. The toy pegged to a pole in this way provides a clear visible reward that keeps the dog focused on the target and avoids any sniffing around hunting behaviours developing on the boundary which can become a problem for some dogs, especially gun dogs.
Many dogs need help and encouragement to grab the toy off the peg. If your dog is sound sensitive be warned that when the toy is snatched, the peg can make quite a noise as it snaps shut. If this is your dog you will need either to accustom your dog to the sound before you start sendaway training, or use a thin piece of string tied to the toy and peg the toy by the thin string rather than the rope so the peg is not stretched too far open hence it does not make a loud snap when the toy is snatched.
If your dog is not driven by a toy you may have to use food as the reward. In this case I would buy a cheap ladle (£1.99 from Argos) and bend the ladle so food will not drop out when upright. Tape this to the pole so when the pole is stuck in the ground the bowl of the ladle is just the right height for your dog to eat from without having to lower his head, or jump up. Always select food that does not crumb, e.g. sausage, Edam cheese, so as to avoid teaching the dog to forage along the boundary. There is nothing worse than recalling a dog that ignores you and is then rewarded for ignoring you when he finds a tasty morsel on the floor.
Now you are in a position that you can offer sufficient reward at the pole. The next task is to teach the dog that he can help himself to this reward on your command.
If you are going to use a toy as the reward , your dog should be able to take the toy from your hand when told without any further encouragement from you. You should teach your dog to do this before commencing to train the sendaway. It should only take a few minutes.
Your aim is to tell your dog to sit, hold the toy in your hand in front of him and release him to grab the toy from you without moving your body at all – just your mouth! With the ball-on-rope in your hand ask him to sit. If he ignores you and lunges at the ball, just hold it securely in your hand so he cannot get it. Do not move, or talk to him - waving your arms around and shouting could be construed as fun! Wait until he realises that nothing good happens until he does as you ask. When he is sitting in front of you invite him to ‘Get-it’ and then wave the toy to signal he can now have a game. The most common error people make when teaching this is they say the command and simultaneously wave the toy: because the waving toy is so stimulating the dog reacts to this without even noticing the command – hence he does not learn the command. So make sure you say the words first, pause for effect, and then wave the toy. Your dog will soon learn that the game follows the ‘Get-it’ command and before long you will not need to move the toy, your dog will ‘Get-it’ on command.
Repeat this simple exercise until he learns that ‘sit’ means sit and ‘get-it’ means he can play without you needing to repeat the commands, or encourage him to play. (If you do not have this basic control when your dog is right in front of you, you will not have much hope of gaining control at a distance!)
If you are using food instead of a toy use the same principle as above to gain control. If your dog has to sit while you put his dinner on the floor and wait for the word from you before he can eat, this exercise will be easy for him. If not, ask your dog to sit and cover the ladle with your hand until the dog sits. After saying ‘Get-it’ uncover the food and if necessary put your finger in the ladle to encourage your dog to take it. Continue as above until you have the sit and take it on verbal command.
Once you have taught these basic control exercises, teaching the send away will be much easier as you will not cause conflict and confusion when training your dog to run away in a straight line.