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A different start-line stay problem


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I've spent a lot of time and effort working on Kit's start-line stay. She used to break a lot, and she's fast enough that I really need a lead-out, so I need a rock-solid start-line stay. But recently she's taken up a new bad habit. She sits, and then as I walk away, she looks away, sometimes craning her neck to look all the way behind her. She will look at anything, but not at me and not at the obstacles. It sometimes takes me a second to regain her focus before the release. Of course this isn't eating course time, so it's not a huge problem, but it's slightly annoying and maybe mildly embarrassing.

 

I sort of get the sense that she's purposely avoiding looking at me or the course because she knows she'll get over-excited and break. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into this and she's just distracted?

 

A little bit of background: she's not a very nervous dog in general, and it's rare for her to get particularly distracted on course, except once in a while when there's a sniffy spot somewhere along the way.

 

Opinions? How do I work on this?

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I sort of get the sense that she's purposely avoiding looking at me or the course because she knows she'll get over-excited and break. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into this and she's just distracted?

 

It may be that she feels pressure from you and is looking away as an appeasement behavior. I'm not saying that is happening, but it certainly is possible.

 

My choice would most likely be to work off of that, based on what you describe.

 

Opinions? How do I work on this?

 

I would probably work on building the "stay" with sustained eye contact from scratch and make it highly reinforcing.

 

I would begin off of equipment and just work on the sit - stay and only take a step or two away - click eye contact, return to treat, and then release to a high value jackpot like a thrown treat or toy. You can vary the location of that "jackpot" to avoid anticipation.

 

Gradually build in distance.

 

If I were finding that I was losing eye contact even in that scenario, then I would start off with the dog in front of me in a sit and just build the default eye contact and gradually add movement back in.

 

Most likely once you build the foundation of the duration default eye contact, transferring this to situations with equipment would be relatively simple. The biggest challenge would most likely be refraining from moving too fast.

 

Anyway, that's how I would handle it. I hope that helps.

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Also, I personally wouldn't build a lot of eye-contact into this behavior. I don't want my dog focused on me out there, more so on his 'job' (the equipment).

 

Of course your want the dog to pay attention to you but you don't want to build the behavior so he feels the need to watch your face out there. Just my opinion. :)

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Yes, this is stress. Stop leading out so far -- It's a work in progress and until she is comfortable you are going to have to learn to handle it. Perhaps right now she is only comfortable with you leading out ten feet. Make lead outs a game with just a jump or two. Lead out a few feet or whatever distance you can go without losing her attention and then immediately release her over the jump and play a game of tug. Make the start line more about the release behavior than the stay.

 

Have you done any crate game work? That transfers very well to start line behaviors.

 

Secret has a great stay, but I know that she finds it stressful for me to lead out too far at a trial -- especially if there is a bar setter near the start line or if the stupid leash runner starts to walk up behind her. If I know that I *need* a lead out of a jump or more I will specifically ask those workers to NOT move. It helps, but I still avoid leading out far unless I absolutely need it.

 

One additional note -- Perhaps she would be happier performing a behavior other than sit at the start line. I let Secret stand. She finds this much less stressful than sitting. Other dogs prefer a down.

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Also, I personally wouldn't build a lot of eye-contact into this behavior. I don't want my dog focused on me out there, more so on his 'job' (the equipment).

 

I thought of this after I wrote "eye contact". "Eye contact" is one possible criteria. Visually targeting the first piece of equipment is certainly another. Or, with a dog that does not need the criteria to be that concrete, simply "looking forward" could work, as well.

 

In any case, making whichever criteria you choose highly reinforcing, with frequent releases to jackpots in various locations can really help to alleviate stress.

 

Like SecretBC, I would also consider offering the opportunity to stay in a different position. I used a stand with Dean for quite a while when he was experiencing some start line stress (in his case because there were people behind him and that made him nervous). After a while we were able to go back to the sit, but using the stand for quite a while helped.

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Also, I personally wouldn't build a lot of eye-contact into this behavior. I don't want my dog focused on me out there, more so on his 'job' (the equipment).

 

Of course your want the dog to pay attention to you but you don't want to build the behavior so he feels the need to watch your face out there. Just my opinion. :)

I dunno...I expect my dog to stay on a start line until I make the eye contact with him and release him. He doesn't have any issue with making direct eye contact with me and then being focused on the path I have laid.

 

I would also agree that the looking away is likely stress related.

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Do you always lead out? Maybe breaking it up, sometimes lead out, sometimes run with. Slingshot starts worked well for my easily stressed n worried pup. By doing slingshot starts she gained confidence n then leads outs no longer worried her. I prefer my dogs to look straight ahead no matter which start line we do. Making it a game makes it fun!

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Thanks for all of the replies! I'll try some shorter lead-outs and going back to rewarding the stay more often.

 

About stressing...I would buy that she could be stressing over the consequences if she breaks (I've purposely made this unpleasant for her: losing her turn, starting over, backing up, delaying the run, etc.), but I don't buy that she's stressing over the people/dogs around her. That's just not her. She's never met a person or dog she doesn't love. Now, she may possibly be checking on the people/dogs behind her to see who might be available to play with her, but that's more of a distraction problem than a stress problem.

 

We have 5 runs in a trial this weekend. I'll be curious to see what behavior I get.

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About stressing...I would buy that she could be stressing over the consequences if she breaks (I've purposely made this unpleasant for her: losing her turn, starting over, backing up, delaying the run, etc.), but I don't buy that she's stressing over the people/dogs around her.

 

I concur. What you describe sounds more typical of an appeasement behavior, which would be to try to avoid conflict with you. She may be anticipating the consequences of breaking and actually be working to try to keep you calm and happy. Turning the head away (which, to us, can look an awful lot like the dog is checking out everything else in the room) is very common appeasement behavior. Sniffing can be, as well.

 

Again, I'm not saying that is definitely what is happening, but based on what you describe, that is the starting point that I would probably go with. And the good thing is that if that is the case, it isn't usually too difficult to counteract.

 

Do you know the Give Me a Break game from Control Unleashed? If so, I would recommend working start lines within that structure and Premack the heck out of them, maybe with a down or a stand to really change it up.

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Yes, I tend to think you're correct - it's probably appeasement behavior. I suppose all of my work on the start-line stay behavior taught her that I can be unpredictable on the start line, instead of teaching her that her behavior is what causes mine. Oh well. I have to say, I've been getting some gorgeous start line stays recently. You can tell she's excited for the run, but I'm not seeing scooting anymore, which makes me happy.

 

We had 5 runs at a trial yesterday. Only one started with her checking out her surroundings. 3 were Q's, and all of those were 1st places.

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