Why would you want to use props to teach front? Because, used PROPerly, using props for fronts can make your life a lot easier! Keep reading to find out why I love using props so much!
Easier to Fade
In my opinion, it’s easier to fade a prop than it is to fade extraneous body movements and cues. Trying to show your dog where “front” is with treats and your hands isn’t easy! Here is a video of me luring Excel into the front position. It’s difficult for me to get him perfectly straight and notice all that body language that I’m having to give him. Further, I’m doing the work for him by luring him into position with the treat and my hands, so he’s not really thinking about what he’s doing. He’s focused on my hands and not my face, where he should be focusing. Do you see how I’m not able to do a good job communicating with him what I want?
Compare that to this next video, in which I use a sit platform to show my dog exactly what I’m looking for. The sit platform has already been trained and he is very comfortable on it. This video was taken the same day (just minutes apart) as the last one.
In this video, look at how still I am able to be, with my hands at my sides. Excel’s attention is focused upward on my face. He knows exactly what his job is. Now I can go right to practicing correct repetitions of this behavior and putting a lot of reward history on the correct behavior.
As long as the dog has been trained to utilize the prop properly, and the prop is the correct size for the dog, these tools can really communicate to the dog exactly what we want! What a great option to have!
Here are some different ways that I use props when teaching front.
Teach a Straight Front Before You Add the Sit!
Before I add sit to my fronts, I like the dog to learn how to line his body up straight in a stand. There are a couple ways that I do this, and the first is using a full-body platform. If your platform is properly sized, you can teach the dog to come to front and line up straight.
First you have to teach your dog to get on the platform and stand. Once your dog is doing well, you can start to add some duration. Here’s a session with Excel, working on duration.
Once the dog is confidently coming onto the platform and standing, and you have some duration on the prop, you can start playing find front games. Toss the cookie straight behind the dog at first, but as the dog learns to come on and stop in a stand, you can up the challenge by tossing the treats off to the side. You can even use multiple stand platforms to really increase the fun! Teach the dog that he or she needs to come to the one in front of you.
Teach Straight Fronts with a Bowl
The other prop that I like to use teaching straightness is a pivot bowl. This exercise using the pivot bowl can help the dog learn how to control his or her movement and pivot the hind end in order to get a straight front.
Here’s one of Strive’s first training sessions with this concept. Strive had a ton of reward history for pivoting into heel, so she wanted to offer that a few times, especially if I had her pivoting counter clockwise in the front position. I just upped her ROR for being in front and she figured it out. As we continued to work on this, her fronts got stronger and straighter.
Note: This video is 6 years old, and my mechanics have grown stronger since then. 🙂 Be sure you click/mark, then move to reward!
Use a Variety of Props!
Using different props can help the dog generalize the behavior. The more ways you can show the dog a straight front, the more thoroughly the dog will learn and understand.
Here are a few examples of different props that I use.
Don’t Forget to Fade the Props!
It’s easy to keep using the props longer than necessary. In fact, not removing the props soon enough can be detrimental to your training, because your dog will start to rely on the prop and that will become part of the behavior.
Once your dog’s behavior is predictable, you can name the skill. Once you’ve named it, you should start to remove the prop. Step one is to use multiple props, using your front cue for each one. Then I’ll usually start my training session with one of the props, then remove it while the dog chases a reset cookie. Be sure you pick it up, or else the dog will be drawn to it. As my dog comes into me, I will cue the behavior.
I often will mark earlier in the chain when I first remove the prop. This will increase your dog’s confidence. When I reward, I do so in such a way that will strengthen the dog’s behavior. For instance, I might mark as the dog is starting to lift his head, but before he sits. I will reward by throwing the treat between my legs.
I will often ping pong between prop and no prop for a few sessions. I may lower my criteria slightly while making this transition, but I set up the dog for success to the best of my ability.
Some dogs do better with fading props more slowly. If you use a sit platform, you can work your way to a flat one, then you can start stepping on the platform so less and less is available to the dog. If you use gates, start so the dog is in between gates, but as you back up 1 step the dog will come out of the gates. For a PVC chute, you can use a half box instead of a full one. Here’s an example of that:
Props are a great tool to assist you with teaching your dog fronts! Be sure your dog is happily trained to do each prop correctly, that the prop is the right size for your dog, and that you don’t use the prop for too long. Have fun teaching fabulous fronts with props!