Getting in and out of the box.

Getting in and out of the box.

There are a number of foundation exercises that I teach my dogs. I start teaching these foundation skills as soon as I get my puppy at 7 weeks of age; although you can also teach these to an adult dog. I am going to showcase two of these skills in this article. Each exercise I show you has purpose that stems from novice through to utility training. The skills learned from this foundation training will build you a strong platform to take your dog to the higher levels.

The Box

From a hardware store you can purchase vinyl gutters. Each section of the gutter you see in the pictures is 3 feet in length. I prefer using gutters over PVC piping because the gutters have more clarity for the dog as they do not lay flat on the ground, thus this gives your dog clear parameters.

Stage 1

I start training the box by luring my puppy into the box with a treat. Once the puppy is in the box I mark this behavior with a YES or a click, give the pup the treat and then quietly release out of the box. The behavior I want to reward is going into the box and not for the release, so keep the release calm. Once my pup starts to get the idea that going into the box is a good thing and that is where he is getting the reward, then I fade the luring by starting to use less of a hand signal and just use my verbal command “get into the box”.
Upon each success I move further and further away. I look out at the box and say “get in your box” my puppy runs to the box. Once my puppy is in the box I throw them a treat so it is clear to them that I am rewarding them for being in the box. When I throw treats I use highly visible food i.e. white cheese, chicken, Charlie bears so that my dog has no problem catching or finding the food once it reaches him. Eventually, I can send my dog to the box from up to 50 feet away. My dogs love running to their box as there has always been strong reinforcement for doing so. Once this behavior has been taught it then becomes a fun game for your dog.

Stage 2

In this stage, I teach my dog to do a sit, stand and down in the box. Positioned only a foot away from the box, I send my dog to the box and then ask for a sit once they get into the box, reward and release out. Then I will ask them to go in the box and do a stand, reward and release, and the same procedure again but this time asking for a down.
Once my dog can successfully perform these behaviors in the box, then I will ask them to perform some behavior s in a row, i.e. in your box, sit, stand, down. As I teach the fold back down, I will not ask my dog to do a down from a sit. Asking the dog to down from a sit will cause the dog to bring his front legs forward resulting in a forward creeping down. Your dog can only do a proper fold back down from a stand! Don’t rush your dog through these commands, I will ask for a sit, mark the behavior and reward, and then ask for the next behavior . There is a lot of rewarding in the box and that is what teaches them to enjoy it so much. Sometimes I will walk toward the dog and hand them the treat and sometimes I will throw the treat to my dog. I don’t want to always be moving forward towards my dog for the reward, but I always want the reward to be given in the box. So, I vary walking up and handing the treat to them with throwing them the treat.


“The purpose behind the box is that it gives your dog clear parameters of how to do behaviours without moving forward.”

Upon success I will move further and further away from the box until I can go 50-60 feet away and my dog can perform the commands I give him both on verbal and signal cues. The purpose behind the box is that it gives your dog clear parameters of how to do behavior s without mov- ing forward. It gives them a secure place to be, somewhere they have been taught is a good place to be. It teaches them how to listen to words, when you ask them to down, and they do, and they do this with you 50 feet away, you then know you have successfully taught them vocabulary and signal cues.
The box foundation is how my dogs are able to do utility signals from 60 feet away without moving forward. They have never learned that moving forward can be a part of the signal exercise; they have been taught correctly right from the beginning to stay put. Set your dog up for success by teaching this method in their early training, instead of attempting to fix moving for- ward on signals problem once it has become a habit. I also teach my dogs a variety of tricks for fun and relationship building. The box is a great place to build distance from your dog for tricks as well. A few tricks you can also use the box for are spin, twist, wave, bye, sit pretty and so on, be creative and have fun!

Showing behaviours in the box. Sit, stand, down and wave.

Showing behaviours in the box. Sit, stand, down and wave.

The Pot

I use “The Pot” to teach a young puppy, or adult dog how to use their rear. The pot keeps the front feet in place, so that they can maneuver their rear easily and without confusion. The Pot training transfers extremely well to helping your dog to understand front position and also heel position!
Why “The Pot” Training Helps…

  • dogs love it!
easy to teach
  • helps to create balance
  • teaches your dog how to use his rear
  • keeps your dog supple and limber
  • helps to maintain rear/back muscles
  • use it for a prelude to side stepping
  • use it for a prelude to doing fronts
  • fun, fun, fun!

Your pot needs to have a non-slip surface on the top, 2 – 3 inches high, it can be round or square, with just enough width to it so your dog can turn and move his front feet comfortably, yet not too wide as you want to teach your dog to keep his front feet under him. Make sure that your pot is solid and does not give under the weight of your dog. The idea sprouted from agility trainers whom use a large round ball that their dogs learn to balance on.
You will find training the pot a lot of fun. First just reward the slightest achievement. For example, encourage your dog onto the pot, even if they just touch the pot, reward that to start. I had one dog that simply would not put one foot on the pot, so I gently put one of her feet onto the pot, said YES, and rewarded. This was enough to give her the confidence to try it herself and from there, she started to offer two paws up. Don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t understand what you want right away, just take it one paw at a time and keep it fun!
Some dogs are reluctant to put their feet or even one foot onto the pot. I start by luring my dog with a cookie and manipulating the treat in such a way as to get one of their feet onto the pot. The very second their foot goes onto the pot I immediately mark and reward. Then I ask for this again and again while luring the dog onto the pot. Once I get one foot on then I ask for two feet on, it is very important to always mark or click the correct behavior so that your dog understands exactly what he did right to get the treat. Some dogs will put their foot or feet on with ease, others take a lot more patience. Just think of the confidence building you are doing with your dog, teaching him to enjoy something he is concerned about. If you have no success luring with a treat, then don’t be afraid to gently take one of their feet, physically place onto the pot, mark and reward. This can kick-start a reluctant dog towards success.

The "Pot", turning in a circle.

The “Pot”, turning in a circle.

Positioned in front of the dog with the treat in my two hands I place it right in front of my dog’s nose and I start to turn in a circle slowly. Your dog will follow you as you gently turn their head with the treat in the direction you wish to go. I do circles to the right and to the left. Eventually I will have the treat in my mouth and no longer in my hands. When I transfer the treat into my mouth I put my hands at my side. You may find your dog will then want to look at your hands, to clarify to my dog where the treat now is, I make kissing or blowing noises with my mouth which brings the dog’s attention to my face, I then spit them a piece of cheese when they look up. Soon your dog will understand that the treat no longer comes from your hand. Now your dog or young pup moves his body in the direction you move yours which mirrors what will happen when you are doing fronts.

Showing the circle to the left, getting the rear in.

“His front feet are stable and only shift on the pot; this makes teaching left turns or “get your rear in” during heeling something very easy to understand if you do the pot work first.”

The other position I teach my dog on the pot is being beside me on my left side. With a treat in my left hand I move in a circle to the right encouraging my dog to move his rear when I move. His front feet are stable and only shift on the pot; this makes teaching left turns or “get your rear in” during heeling something very easy to understand if you do the pot work first. If your dog is not moving his rear in as you would like, then try turning his head slightly to the left with the treat, it’s similar to power steer- ing in a car, if you turn the wheel the rest will follow. Once my dog has achieved this with the treat in my hand, I then put my armband on and place treats in the armband. As my dog moves with me I reward with a treat from the armband. This helps them to understand the treat is no longer in your hand but is now coming from the left side of your body. I am sorry I did not have my armband on for the picture! This exercise really helps with left turns in heeling and also the inside post of the Figure 8 exercise. Most of all the dogs love to work on the pot and it is a way that you can integrate a fun game into your daily training.

Authored by: Janice Gunn
Photo credit: by Lâle Aksu
Janice Gunn has been involved with training dogs for the past 40 years. She leads competition obedience seminars throughout the US and Canada and has produced two successful DVDs on obedience training. She has earned 6 OTCH titles and multiple 200 scores with five different dogs. Her own dogs multi-task in Retriever field trials and have earned OTCH, MH and FC/AFC titles. These are the highest obtainable levels in both obedience and field. Janice & her husband John own TNT Kennels & Training Center in Abbotsford, BC. This article was originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of DogSport Magazine and is used with permission.




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