Efficient Training and Reinforcement Zones

(Original post on February 10, 2018)

Recently I was participating in a discussion about “Flanking,” “Ass passes,” versus correct Reinforcement Zone behavior, and in an unrelated discussion, someone noted how dedicated I was in training my puppy, Jenga, and how fast he is progressing in his foundations. It led me to think about what I have been doing in my training with Jenga, and what I might be doing differently from the typical handler in agility classes. First, a point of clarification on what constitutes the Reinforcement Zone (RZ), flanking and ass passes (pardon the language – that’s what we nickname the dog cutting the handler’s path behind the handler). I’ve done up a diagram and thought I’d share here too. The top one is ideal where the dog and handler each commit and have their own paths (that don’t cross – unless the handler does a cross to change the dog’s direction on course). Ass pass is when the dog doesn’t commit to his/her path and crosses the handler’s behind the handler. Flanking doesn’t always come with the dog crossing the handler’s path, but it does make it really hard for the handler to run a straight, fast line, and the dog is also unable to run a fast straight line.
A critical foundation skill is the dog’s understanding of what constitutes his/her path and commit to driving that line (without impeding his/her handler). In foundations, you can train this formally through proper reward delivery mechanics to promote the value at the side and not in front. To that end, Jenga has been receiving all of his food at my side for the past 10 days. His default has been a flanking position; it’s not his fault, puppy Jenga received a lot of love, toys and food with me facing him. I created an imbalance of value for his orientation to my body.
But this brought me to the second discussion, how am I being efficient in my training?
My work and personal life has been a bit shy of insane chaos, so it’s not like I spend a lot of time training him. But, I do leverage the informal training, which are my everyday interactions with him. For example, today I thought I’d check in with what’s happening as I casually move from one room to another in my house. What does Jenga do? If you guessed he bounces all over from in front, flanking, to ass passing, you’d be right. He’s a fast little guy and he tries really hard to predict where I’m going. So while I’m not going to obsess over every minute of training, I am now verbally and attentively rewarding him in RZ while we casually move around the house and disallowing casual ass passes or gratuitous flanking. This leveraging of the otherwise unused moment in our lives together leads to more efficient use of time and better understanding for Jenga of the RZ and honoring my path.
With smiles and joy from Jenga and me to you, I hope this helps! For more information or ideas on efficient time management for dog training, check out my Time Management video on this page.
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