Okay, drop on recall seems to be one of the current topics of interest, so I thought I'd make lesson five about laying the foundation for the drop. Part of what follows is from the excellent advice given by Sue eh? Ailsby.
There are two first steps, which you should do in different sessions. The first step is to get your dog thoroughly comfortable with doing a down. The easiest way I've found to do this is to drop the dog A LOT. In doing the following, you may actually luck out and find that your dog generalizes the down. Fergie did this--when I started working on the drop on recall, I didn't know any better, so I put her on a sit stay, walked thirty or forty feet, turned and called her, then dropped her in the middle. She dropped and that was that!
Count out 20-50 treats (vary the number each session) and down the dog. Each time the dog's elbows hit the ground, click and toss the treat. Count out 20-50 treats (vary the number each session) and down the dog. Each time the dog's elbows hit the ground, click and toss the treat *behind* the dog. Be sure to vary your own body posture! You don't want the dog to be cueing off anything but your verbal or hand gesture--so show your dog many different body postures.
Practice drops while: facing the dog, with your sides to the dog while you look at the dog, with your sides to the dog while you use a hand mirror to check on the dog's position, with your back to the dog while you use a hand mirror to check on the dog's position, facing your dog but bent forward at the waist, facing your dog while touching the ground, kneeling, sitting on the ground, while shrugging your shoulders, while waving your hands around below your waist level (so as not to make the hand signal confusing), while flopping your head over to one side or the other, while doing jumping jacks (keep your hands below waist level), while blinking repeatedly at your dog, while twitching your face in strange ways... In other words, think up as many different ways to move your body while having the dog drop as you can. Pick one variation and do it until your dog is comfortable dropping while you do it, then pick another variation. Many times, the dog will be puzzled when you are actually moving your body. Make it easier for the dog by moving your body in ultra-slo-mo the first few times and then very slowly increasing your speed until you get up to full speed. In this initial step, don't worry about how close or far away the dog is. Your criteria is simply that the dog goes down while you're doing all sorts of strange stuff.
Obviously, you're going to be dropping the dog many, many times--which means you're going to be clicking and throwing the treat *behind* the dog many, many times. If you see that the dog is starting to anticipate which way you will throw the treat, don't get whacked out of shape about it! This is a Very Good Thing indeed, so be happy. <G> Just start varying the direction you throw the treat--always throw it away from your body (to lessen the dog's urgency to get back to you) but you can throw it off to one side or the other as well as behind the dog.
These are intended to be relatively short training sessions--once the dog gets the hang of dropping fast, it only takes 5 or 6 minutes to go through 50 treats (goes slower than speed trials because the dog has to get up *and* turn around in order to get the treat). And you'll sometimes be doing fewer than 50 treats.
The second step (which should be done at the same time as the first step, but in separate sessions) is something that Sue eh? Ailsby does. The effect is to teach the dog that it is good to be away from your body. So many people teach the dog, over and over, that the best place in the world to be is within a foot of their body. I'm as guilty of this as anyone! This is a good thing for a dog to know, but the dog also needs to know that being "out there" is equally good.
Take a seat somewhere (preferable <G>) or stand in one place (less preferable but okay <G>). Find a mark on the floor about six feet away. Give the dog one freebie cookie by throwing the treat about eight feet away. Watch the dog closely as they come back and click the foot that falls closest to your mark on the floor--then throw the treat behind the dog again. You're not just treating the dog, you're setting up for the next trial. The LazyBoy Training Movement is all about efficiency, which is best pursued in a sitting position! <G>
Some dogs start hesitating or hovering over your mark. It's unlikely that these dogs are actually targeting the mark (tho' some toy sized dogs are likely to; I know someone whose toy sized dog had the straightest go out in the world because she followed a single ridge on the mat--on mats without ridges, the dog was lost). Most dogs are probably cueing off the picture you present from a certain distance--when the dog sees the right picture (you in proportion to your surroundings), they stop.
Some dogs never hesitate or hover unless you give them a cue. If you have to give them a cue, that is perfectly acceptable (and may reap you benefits in other situations!). Give the dog 30 or 40 trials and if the dog doesn't start slowing down near the mark, then add a cue. Just say "Wait!" then click and toss the treat behind the dog. You'll see the dog jamming on the brakes within just a few trials when they hear the word Wait! In the next session, change the position of your mark on the floor. Over the next few sessions, change the mark and move it gradually further and further away from you.
Once the dog will do a good Wait about fifteen feet away, start incorporating all the same body posture/movements you're doing with the drop.
You'll know it's time to go on to the second step when you see the dog:
doing a very fast drop; often it looks as if they just totally relax their joints and literally drop to the ground AND
doing a very fast drop no matter what your body posture is and no matter what sort of body motions you are doing AND
doing a good Wait! AND
doing a good Wait! no matter what you are doing with your body
The biggest mistake I see people making is in getting impatient and moving on before their dog is ready. What often happens is that the dog was never totally comfortable with the drop in the first place plus the dog was not comfortable working away from the handler plus the dog was never given the chance to sort out what motions are relevant as cues -and then the dog is very confused, associates the drop on recall with feeling confused, and then the handler has created a big problem that takes longer to resolve than training things properly in the first place.
The third step to teaching the drop is to teach the dog to stay in the down until released--either by a command or by the clicker (since click = end of behavior, the clicker acts as a release). This is probably the easiest thing to teach! Just delay the click for a split second at first. Then mix up an immediate click with a click delayed for one split second and a click delayed for two split seconds. I define a split second as the time it takes me to say the word "one" silently to myself. Gradually move your increments of split seconds upwards. When the dog can stay down for three split seconds (a silent count of "oneoneone"), then introduce the recall. Rather than click, just call the dog. First call the dog, wait a beat, then move backwards, away from the dog.
The third step is to combine everything! If the dog will do a sit stay, leave the dog on a sit stay. If the dog doesn't do a sit stay yet, go out into a familiar and safely fenced area and wait until the dog wanders away (or use a helper). Call the dog to you, tell the dog to Wait! click, and throw the treat behind the dog (if you are using a helper, have the helper dispense the treat). Repeat a couple times, until the dog is comfortable doing the Wait! after you've given a recall command.
Then put the Wait! and the drop together. Call the dog, tell them to Wait! and then tell them to down. Chances are greatly in your favor that the dog *will* down in place. By now, you've done literally thousands of drops and it has become a conditioned action--the legs start to buckle before the dog's mind has engaged. The dog has learned that you will often deliver the treat behind them. The dog has learned that "out there" is a high probability place for getting reinforced. Couple the Wait! and the drop a few times, then start dropping the Wait! There's a good chance your dog will start anticipating the drop on the Wait! anyway.
Okay, this is the longest lesson yet and it's not even totally complete. How about if the people who are participating get a start on it and report back on how it's going?