Practise: Table Service
Practise first without the dog
Delivery good table service is centred on observing how your dog moves and the location where the movement begins from. We can isolate specific movements by thoughtful placement of the food for the dog to collect. As they step or turn to collect, this sets them up to return to the position than secures the click. This movement then begins to flow and increase in fluency.
Imagine if you are sitting at your computer reading this and you coffee is on a table behind you. You would need to reach for this by turning around. You put your cup down and return to the computer (no reading whilst drinking!). As you return, there is a very specific action you initialised to get back to the pleasure of reading, this would be marked, and more coffee is your treat. Table service is then the opposite of luring, in the sense that you decide to return to the pleasure of your choice, reading, and I arrange the environment with the coffee cup so that I can engineer lots of repetition of the turn back to read.
This may sound a little clumsy and longwinded, as we can easily lure this “reading behaviour” but dogs often initiate quite specific movements that we would like to bring under cue and it is the return from reinforcement that allows us to utilise this process.
Basic Table Service
When we open our training sessions we begin a conversation with asking the dog to demonstrate their readiness with Cue Seeking. This is evidence that the dog is able and willing to participate in the session, can give us their full focus, are invested in earning the rewards on offer (they got a whiff of something tasty) and then seeking information from us as to what is expected.
If the dog is positioned in front of you – whether standing or sitting or lying down and we place the treat just in front of our feet, then after collection the minimum movement the dog needs to do is raise their head to view our hands and face.
This would be top drawer Table Service.
We can gradually extend the amount of movement the dog needs to invest to find the cue seeking position by changing the placement of the treat location.
The important premise is that the dog consciously moves away from the treat, on the floor, over there on the table, back to us, to prompt us to do it all over again. Having that form of enquiry, prompting, response and conversation is at the core of the rewards that evolve and generate pleasure in training.
Transitioning between positions:
- When they sit do they consistently move the front feet backwards to join the rear feet or the other way around and move the back feet forwards? How much distance does their head move during this?
If you study these two pictures note the back feet are on the same spot for both a stand and a sit, but the head position is quite different.
If we are teaching the dog to sit (backwards) on the cue, Table Service placement would be in the standing position, where the head would naturally be (right). This then sets up the dog to repeat the backward sitting action for the desired sit. Mark occurs for the action and then feeding in the stand to set the dog up for the next repetition.
Table service is about having a clear plan on the location of the treat placement. This can be to the floor, from the open plan of your hand, you can place with accuracy from the cup on a stick.
Casually tossing food around often results in unpredictable behaviours.
1. Where the dog will be when they collect and eat this treat.
2. The action that will be foremost in their mind as the swallow that treat – “how can I get more?”
3. It is the repetition of this action that gives us evidence of what the dog is learning and understands through demonstrating how to secure more treats.
Critically, Table Service allows us to separate a behaviour (the action of stepping backwards to sit) from the location where the reward is received (in the standing position). A marker is essential for this and the two processes compliment each other well.
When using the marker always keep a good habit of marking, pause, let the dog orientate to your hands, THEN collect the treat from the reserve, THEN show the dog where you will be placing it.
Remember we are having a conversation and I am sure you know how irritating it can be when someone does not let you finish what you are saying before they overlap with their views. A conversation is like passing a ball between us, the thrower must always check the recipient is ready to catch, before the throw.
Success is more important than speed, so please do not rush this process.
Knowledge & Understanding
Stage 1 – Unconsciously unskilled
We don’t know what we don’t know. We are inept and unaware of it.
This is where we all begin. As a trainer the recipe instructs minimally as “treat”. We now look at this and realise delivering a treat is a skill. There are many considerations and motor patterns to practise and develop.
Stage 2 – Consciously unskilled
We know what we don’t know. We start to learn at this level when sudden awareness of how poorly we do something shows us how much we need to learn.
As we progress in our training, we may return to this stage many times as we become aware of skipping pass a skill.
Stage 3 – Consciously skilled
Trying the skill out, experimenting, practising. We now know how to do the skill the right way, but need to think and work hard to do it.
This is where the really hard work sets in. We may need to step away, re-learn our skills, self-checking our progress. Seeking feedback and working past the errors and future-less habits that came from skipping this stage when we first began.
Stage 4 – Unconsciously skilled.
If we continue to practice and apply the new skills, eventually we arrive at a stage where they become easier, and given time, even natural.
This is heaven. This is where we find the flow and rhythm in teaching. This is where it seems natural and unforced, where our confidence comes through and we can lay down a learning pathway that brings pleasure and joy to learner and teacher.
Application & Activities
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