In June I wrote about how to make your own training platform for your dog. So now, what can you do with it?! This post is information cobbled together from various classes I have taken, both online and with my local dog training club. Platforms are small, and playing around with them is a great rainy day activity – and also an excellent training tool. Whether you are headed towards freestyle, obedience, rally, or just want to have fun and build confidence - there is a way to enjoy platform training with your dog. I promise, she will enjoy it just as much as you do!
Platform training did wonders for my low confidence girl, Perri. Perri deep thinks everything that we work on together and used to shut down if she felt even the slightest bit overwhelmed. Perri is a dog who taught me that short and positive training sessions are best. Especially with something completely new to a dog, it is best to limit your sessions to only a few minutes at a time. You (and your dog!) may want to keep going – but it is best to let it all sink in. This holds true with platform training. Train for a minute or two at a time and then take a break. There is no rush, this is all fun!
[Note - I use a clicker to train my dogs. For convenience, I will be using the world "click" throughout this post to indicate when I would mark and reward a behavior, but of course a marker word or alternate noise can be substituted. You will see that I use a marker word with my corgi Ein, since he is afraid of the clicker noise.]
1. Feet On…
You gotta start somewhere! The first step is getting your dog onto the platform – and I suggest using a platform long enough for your dog to comfortably stand on to start with. Begin by clicking any interaction with the platform – even if it is just a slight head turn towards it. It won’t be long before your dog figures out that the platform is where the food is. Progress from a head turn to looking at the platform, paw on the platform, two paws on the platform (your dog will more than likely start with the front paws!) and finally, rear paws on the platform (that can be the hardest part!) Don’t help him with pointing or verbal commands or luring, let the dog figure it out. He will, I promise! Depending on how experienced your dog is with shaping, things may progress more quickly. But not to worry! Teaching a dog to put all four feet onto a platform is a great way to help him learn about shaping and using his body.
[Video Example: See Ein learning about putting four feet on the platform]
2. … And Lovin’ It!
Once you have your dog reliably stepping on the platform with all four feet, it’s time to make things even more fun! I click as soon as all four feet are on the platform and then throw another treat so that the dog has to run off of the platform to get it. If your dog knows that she gets a treat for putting all four feet on her platform, she will more than likely be racing back to you to get all four feet back onto it! This builds value into the platform and makes it a place that your dog really wants to be! My own dogs find their platforms so valuable and rewarding that they even try to step on the platform as I pick it up off the ground!
3. Desired Position
Since platforms can be used as a foundation for freestyle or obedience positions, you can start to think of how you might like to use your platform to work towards any goals that you may have. I want my dog to come to the platform and sit. After treat throws, and when my dog would return to the platform, I would only click my dog for sitting. (this is after a very solid foundation of rewards and commitment to the platform!) The treat throwing game continues, only now I expect that when my dog comes to the platform, she will automatically sit!
4. Value Building for Front and Heel Positions
For you Obedience/Rally/Freestyle people, the platform can be used to build value and understanding into proper Heel (right or left) and Front positions. If you want to work on Front position, stand at the front of the platform with your toes about 4-6 inches away from the end.* If you have built a strong foundation of commitment to the platform (and a default sit), your dog will run to the platform and sit in front of you! For Heel position, arrange yourself to the right or left of the platform’s end depending on which side you want your dog to be on. For Left Heel you will stand to the right of the platform so that your dog’s front legs will be in line with yours. The dog knows and loves the platform and you can use that to your advantage to teach a dog to come and find Front or Heel position in relation to your body!
*I suggest 4-6 inches away from the platform for Front position because dogs don’t care for being crowded. If you stand directly in front of the platform, you will likely have a dog who wants to sit back further on the platform away from that spatial pressure. You can build up their commitment and comfort level and then move closer in time.
5. Calm Focus
This is a good one for fidgety dogs. When my Molly gets on the platform it is hard for her to hold still! She is excited, her tail is wagging and she likes to do everything under the sun to get the “click” as soon as possible. I will use heel position to explain this. The dog is sitting on the end of their platform, in heel position in relation to your body. Click when the dog looks at you. Build on that and start trying for some duration. The end goal is to have your dog be still and calmly looking at you for a length of time that you will build upon. With busybody dogs, don’t push your luck! You want to click your dog for looking at you and holding focus. It is fun to see just how long you can get, and it also continues to build value into heel and front position!
6. Switching it Around
This is one of Perri’s favorite games and it is a good one for building body awareness, confidence or just having fun. I start by standing at the end of the platform. Click the dog for all four feet on and facing you. Now…step to the other end of the platform and wait and see what happens! The end goal is for your dog to turn around and reorient herself to face you at the other end. Be patient, let her figure it out. When your dog is a master at this, the challenge can be increased by using a shorter platform, or by being strict that the dog needs to not move any feet off of the platform on her turnaround. Go at your dog’s pace and have fun!
[Video Example: Ein (has never done this before!) shows us how to have fun with this game!]
7. Platform Hopping
The only thing more fun than a platform is two (or three!) platforms! To start, lay two platforms side by side with some space in between them and stand in front of one. Click your dog for all four feet on and then move to the opposite platform! As with the game above, wait and see what happens and give your dog time to think! Depending on your dog, first click for any interest in the opposite platform (head turns, looking, just one foot on.) and build on that. As soon as your dog gets to the one you are at, c/t and move to another! This is a great game to play to work towards some rally signs such as the “Side Step Right” , freestyle moves or body awareness. The better your dog gets, you can add more and more platforms on the floor.
[Video Example: Perri demonstrates moving from platform to platform!]
Moving from a sitting position into a standing position with some repetition is a good strengthening exercise for dogs. When they kick their rear legs out into the stand rather than stepping forward into the position, it is even more beneficial. (not to mention the body awareness benefits.) A platform can be a great aid to the dog when they are learning this type of stand, because it gives their body one specific place to be and eliminates the option of stepping forward into the stand.
Stand in front of the platform with your dog sitting in front of you. A food lure can be used, but I have not had a lot of luck with that when teaching my own dogs. They either pop off the platform and walk into the stand or they lay down. But with some dogs it can have exact desired effect: their front feet stay on the platform, and as they reach for the food, they kick their rear legs out. With my dogs I waited for any sort of hind end lifting or weight shift forward into the front end (with front paws still staying still as possible!) and clicked that. From there you can build on the dog keeping her front feet still, but lifting her rear end with her actual rear feet (as opposed to stepping forward and just pulling the rear end along with her, she has to think about moving her entire body!)
[Video Example: Perri demonstrates Sit-to-Stand work, with a little silliness mixed in!]
So I hope that is enough to keep you busy with your platform for a while! Platform training is fun and addictive as well as confidence building. If you are interested in learning even more, check out Michele Pouliot’s DVD “Stepping Up to Platform Training.” (you can rent this from Bow Wow Flix.)