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For Disc Dogs, performing a multiple (several discs thrown in rapid fire succession usually at a short distance and in front of the handler) can be a challenge. Multiples often lack a convincing catch, and this lack of commitment to possessing the disc can make the skill look like rapid fire misses instead of rapid fire catches.
Most often, the reason that this happens is that the handler is focused on the catch and instantaneous release. If the handler is marking behaviors and marks the catch, then the dog immediately drops to prepare for the next opportunity to catch. This quickly winds up being teeth on and then teeth off the disc, and the dog has trouble committing to the catch.
Change Criteria and Shift Focus
A simple way to fix this is to change the criteria from the Catch to a cued Drop. Using the Drop as the chosen criteria for the disc dog multiple behavior forces the dog into possessing the disc until the Drop is cued. This works for weak catches on multiples and also on blown off discs… you know, when the dog just stands there and lets the disc hit the ground (or his head).
When a cued Drop is marked and reinforced it becomes the linchpin of the skill; the cued Drop leads to the next disc being thrown. If the cued Drop is the key to making the game move, the dog has to have the disc in their mouth to make the game happen. The catch becomes necessary if the dog wants to get more game. The catch will happen.
The video here starts off with Abby & Rosie working on a two disc juggle. The catch is not really happening because there’s no commitment from Rosie in possessing the disc. Her teeth touch it, and then release in preparation for the next disc. Abby is pretty much playing catch with herself, hiding the lack of commitment by the dog on the catch with the mouth to hand transfer. This is a very common occurrence with the multiple and juggling tricks, and is never going to impress the judges.
Abby’s focus on the catch part of this skill is natural, but with a strong history of marking of behaviors, the more precise the mark is timed with the teeth hitting the disc, the quicker the teeth will come off. It’s maddening as a handler to seem to be doing everything right and have the behavior degenerate, this can and does drive disc dog handler’s mad. What’s the definition of crazy: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
She needs to try something else.
Give and Drop
The way we worked this was to focusing on the simple multiple. 4 or 5 catches in a row in rapid fire succession. To do this the cued Drop was used. Abby wants this to be a 2 disc juggle where Rosie is giving the disc back to the handler in between successive catches. That criteria is muddy. It will enable Rosie to continue to not possess the disc and rely on Abby to save her bacon.
Many handlers do not make a distinction between the Drop and the Give, using the same cue for dropping on the ground and placing an object in the handler’s hand. This is a mistake. They are totally different behaviors and should be treated as such.
Several times in this session Abby conflated the Give and the Drop, and it wasn’t really until Abby got herself together and applied herself to the Drop criteria and happened to capture a couple of instances that the magic happened. After a couple of times marking the cued Drop Rosie started to believe that the Drop was important; it was not to be missed. As soon as that happened the catch started to happen with attention to possessing the disc. You can clearly see Rosie catching and clamping down and sliding back a bit at the end of the session, something that wasn’t there when the marked criteria was the catching of the disc.
Problems and Pitfalls
A history of marking or focusing on the Catch is going to be a problem with this. It seems foreign to focus on the Drop when the catch is so etched in the mind.
Avoid cuing the dog to get any discs she may have errantly dropped. It’s possible that you could build that behavior chain into the multiple attempt, and that’s a PITA. It’s best to freeshape the Drop after any errant misses. Freeshaping provides solid contrast between the rate of reinforcement of dropping on Cue and dropping whenever.
When you are freeshaping the Drop after a miss, don’t mark the moment the dog picks up the disc, but instead cue the Drop when right after she gains possession. This can be a bit tricky. The tendency is to mark the picking up of the disc, which results in an immediate and un-cued drop as the dog prepares for the next throw (cookie).
Questions and Comments
This is a subtle lesson. Some will not see the difference between the quality of the catches. Some will focus on the bigger picture of speed or the completed behavior putting performance before understanding. Using the cued Drop as the criteria for a multiple works like magic, and to some it might seem like magic, but it’s not. It’s just good dog training.
I’ll take any and all questions and comments below.