The Agility Pause Table: How to Train
If there is one place that you are going to lose time, it is with the pause table. If you think about it, it makes sense. Puppy is all excited running and having a great time, when all of a sudden BOOM. You say stop it and hold still, right here and now.
Now I certainly do understand the why of having an agility pause table. It is to show the world that even though puppy has been trained to do all the active and physical fancy agility stuff, he was also taught to exhibit a sense of self-control. What better way than to just hold a stay?
I feel that one of the reasons for poor performance on this obstacle, is that there is not sufficient grounding in the basic obedience command “stay.” This could be because a stationary command is in such direct opposition to the fast paced movement of agility, that the handler becomes overconfident and or bored with it and does not put in the necessary time in practice.
Obviously, the first order of business is to get puppy to get on the table. This should not cause much of a problem. With your clicker and treats ready, position yourself next to the table. (If you do not know about clickers and treats, please refer to my article under featured content, it will make a difference.) Now with puppy on lead, coax puppy to get on. Be animated about it and get him up there. Click, treat, and praise the very second he has all four on the floor (table.) If he jumps off, don’t correct him. At this point we are not teaching the table/sit/down/stay, we are just teaching the table. If he doesn’t jump off, lure him off and then get him to jump back on again for another click, treat, and praise. As mentioned, be animated and happy about this. When he hops on the table after the click-treat, make a fuss over him, so he thinks this is just great. Have fun with this. You and he run to the table while you are happily talking to him the whole time.
Once he shows no fear or confusion about the table and is hitting it like a champ, it is now a good idea to start using the command, “table”, (or whatever word is to your liking.)
The next slice of this behavior is having puppy go to the table without your guidance. If you can swing it, get a helper for this. It is not absolutely necessary, but it does make things easier. Have your helper behind the table with a high value treat in hand. Now the helper shows puppy the treat and puts it on the center of the table. Then you give puppy the command to table. Now puppy should bowl you over to get that treat, when he does click and praise. Try to get puppy to jump from the front (he must for trials). Since there is a body at the back of the table, he can’t go there, but he still could try to maneuver himself to one of the sides. If that happens do not let puppy have that treat. Grab it, throw your body over it. Do whatever you have to do, but puppy does not get that treat.
Once this is working well, it’s a good time for you to start slowly moving around and sending puppy from various distances and angles. If he gets confused, go back to being with him next to the table. Most likely you moved away a bit too far, too fast.
So now puppy knows what “table” means, and can get there from most any point. Now we have to teach him to do a sit or a down while he’s on the table. Now I am not going to go into the whole “How to Clicker Train Your Dog to Sit” or “Train the Down.” There are various complete articles on this site that explains that in definite detail. But just for the purposes of thoroughness, briefly these are the steps.
With puppy in front of you, on the table, give the sit or down command. At the same time, manipulate the treat to its proper destination as explained in the article. Click, treat, and praise the very second he hits the sit or down position. When that is learned, raise the criteria and only click, treat, and praise for fast downs. If puppy doesn’t drop fast enough, use what the operant conditioning people call a no-reward marker. I just say “nope, let’s try again” in a very non-committal, matter of fact tone of voice.
Another good trick to get faster downs is the old down in motion, used by most obedience people. Simply put, with puppy moving next to you in heel position, give a fast down command while in motion, and drop your hand fast just like you did in the beginning of training the down command.
This takes us to the last behavior in this shaping process, holding that sit or down until released. Once again, I am not going into the details of “Clicker Training the Stay.” You can find that explained in length elsewhere on this site. But again, for the sake of thoroughness there are some points worth mentioning.
Firstly, most articles regarding teaching the stay is from an obedience perspective. In other words, at the end of the obedience exercise you return to your dog, and then release.
We now need to adjust that to confirm to the agility stay and release, where you are not going back to your dog for release. Your release will be coming from anyplace you are standing at the moment.
I am going to assume that you can get puppy to hold a sit or down for at least a minute (hopefully longer.) In separate training sessions you are now going to work on the sit stays and the down stays, along with starting to develop some distance between you and puppy. Just take a step or two away from puppy, and then in very short steps, increasing that distance, until you get out as far and as fast as you can. This way, it will not matter where you are because you must position yourself in readiness for the next obstacle.
There you have it. All of the rudiments necessary to perform the pause table. Practice often and keep it fun for both of you.