Teaching your dog to perform the table fast and accurately is a complex training task.
(originally published in Clean Run, has not been updated)
If you watch a standard agility class for any length of time you’ll see a variety of table problems. It is the one piece of equipment where I believe you see the true personality of the dog. Whether your dog is willing and happy, sullen and confused, barking and spinning, stressed or stalky. A variety of poor training techniques can cause your dog to stress the moment they see the table. You can override many of those possibilities if you understand your dogs’ personality & take steps in your beginning training to override your dog or your breed’s inherent tendencies. You can repair the problems if you are willing to take a step backwards in training, and try to evaluate why the problems came up to begin with.
Picture the perfect performance
For me that is a dog that will run at his fastest speed without slowing to jump directly onto the table and take a position instantly without wasting a fraction of a second.
Teaching the table as a recall
Have someone restrain the dog, (have someone hold the dog) or have them do a sit stay in front of the table, and place yourself on the opposite side. Call the dog directly up onto the table, reward, with a cookie or toy, and repeat. Keep moving the dogs position further away from the front of the table, and your position further away from the back of the table. As the dog hits the table, step in to praise & pet, or click and treat. Continue until you can be 20 feet behind the table, and the dog can run from 30 feet in front at speed and not jump off the back side to get to you. If the dog jumps off you’ve moved too far away from the table too soon. If they jump off I say “whoops” and run them back to their stay position, move myself closer to the table and start again, possibly stepping in slightly to help them stick the table. I don’t care at this point if they take a position, just not fly off the back side .
Tease your dog with a toy or food sock, than place it on the table. Send the dog to the table and begin increasing the distance in which the dog is willing to travel ahead without you to the table. Change to rewarding the dog by throwing the toy to them, or running up AFTER they have hit the table, to click and treat.
Run & target the table
Show your dog that their toy has been placed on the table. Get your dog excited and run with them to the table. Reward the dog with a game of tug, a treat or lavish praise & petting. Don’t ask for sit or down yet. Only target the table a few practices until your dog is running to the table, then switch and use your toy as a reward. Run all the way with your dog to the table, don’t pull up short inadvertently signaling the dog to slow or stop, risking refusals. The work you did with the recall will help them understand not to slide off when you run.
Don’t ever ask a dog who does not understand a position AWAY from the table, to take that position ON the table. Teach sit, down, and stand until you can do them without hand signals or bribes. Then and only then, should you ask your dog to take that position on the table. You are ready to try positions on the table when your dog will take a sit or down on the move without toy or food bribes. Meaning that as you walk or trot with your dog, and ask for a sit or down, the dog will immediately put the brakes on and take the position. Train until you can run with your dog in a circle, and he will take the position, and you keep moving away from him, and he stays in the position you asked for. Assertive dogs that do not willingly lie down anywhere unless bribed, will need extensive position training before you practice on the table. Don’t overuse treats. Food bribes can cause more problems than they solve, and many dogs won’t perform the table properly without it. Make sure the food is used as a reward. In other words the cookie is given to the dog after he gets on the table and takes a position. Use a clicker or a word like “yes”, “right” “good” to designate proper performance, and then give your treat. For a smooth coated, thin-skinned dog, use a piece of carpet on the table so they won’t mind hitting delicate elbows. Fade or randomize the carpet until your dog performs without its’ use. Play table games where you release and reward the dog instantly when they sit or down, then circle around and do a different position.
Don’t teach an automatic down on the table, you will waste time getting your dog up into a sit or stand if you do AKC classes or the AKC ISC class where you could be asked to perform a stand with the dog. If you only do USDAA and so the down is the only position your dog will take, I would still encourage you to not teach an automatic down. Be unpredictable at times and your dog will enjoy the table. Play a game, do some tricks, ask for a different position occasionally to make life and so training, interesting.
I have my dogs take a position immediately upon reaching the table. I don’t try to move them around to face the new direction they will be going, before taking up a position. It is much slower to get a dog to circle around and face the next direction before downing for example, then it is to call the dog off from a “facing away” position, at a high rate of speed. If they adjust when they get on the table, they will be doing so while walking around on the table. They are learning not to immediately do a position. Instead I teach them how to stay while possibly facing away from the course, and how to get off fast from any direction when I call.
- Teach “stays” away from agility. Do not try to have your dog take a position and stay until he has a great stay on the ground.
- ONLY after they will take a position quickly on the table without bribery, lengthen the time you ask them to stay in position.
- Put your dog onto the table not in the context of a running exercise. Do 5 to 10 second table stays and YOU count out loud for your dog. Teach them that “5,4,3,2,1,go!” means nothing. Proof your positions and stays in a positive way, building up slowly so you are not having to make corrections, and further alienate your dog from liking the table work. Begin getting distance from your dog after you put him on the table and get him into position. Leading out away from the table while your dog stays is a great aid in running a course. You will be at a huge advantage if you can use your five seconds to get into position away from the table, and be ready to call your dog to the next obstacle.
Stay away from bribes in practice to get proper table performance. Don’t glare at your dog on the table, keep a soft expression without intense eye contact.. Talk to them. Praise them and teach them to stay through the praise. Instead of glaring at your dog and not making a sound during competition, wouldn’t they be surprised if you were to say “ Good boy, what a good sit!” while they are patiently waiting out their five seconds. Don’t be silent and stone faced. If your trained dog does not immediately take a position you asked for on the table, remove them immediately and start fresh. Do not ask them multiple times, or change your command. Down…down… all the way… come on….ALL the way DOWN! ? Make table training fast, interesting and fun from the beginning, and you will avoid potential problems later in your dogs career!
© Nancy Gyes
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