What are fundamental skills?
They are the tiny pieces that make up the bulk of our dog’s future behaviors. Why do we care so much about fundamental skills? In essence, they bridge the gap on beginner skills to advanced skills. The base layer fundamental skills I find most important are as follows:
- Nose Targeting
- Paw Targeting
- Front paws “toes”
- Rear paws “feet”
- All paws “whole body”
- Luring is the process of encouraging the dog to follow a cookie (treat) in hand to get their body into a correct position. In simple terms, we want the dog to follow the reinforcement and we will deliver the reinforcement along the way. Dogs are not innately born with preset luring skills. Yes, they typically will follow nose to hand with a cookie, really who wouldn’t? But they aren’t likely to be demonstrating body awareness while they follow the cookie. They also do not come with a preset to follow hand with cookie without sharking (rudely mouthing the cookie) from your hand. Teaching correct luring skills is a great way to accomplish a lot of other behaviors trained right from the start.
- Nose targeting is teaching our dogs to touch items presented to them with, you guess it, their nose. I like to start this with a stationary hand (mark and reward) then grow the complexity of this skills from there. This can develop into my dog targeting a buoy or a piece of tape I have placed somewhere (literally somewhere, the floor, a chair, a wall). Eventually, I grow my dogs fundamental nose target skills into more advanced behaviors ie. stopped contacts or a chin rest for husbandry needs.
- Paw targeting is placing either front, rear or individual paws onto something. This is massively useful in canine fitness and any dog sport you may do with your dog. What is canine fitness? You can read about that here.
- Front paws “toes”. This is our dogs understanding that their front paws can be on a different plane than their rear paws. This is most useful in teaching our dogs that their front paws and rear paws can move independently of one another. Dogs are not born knowing their front and rear can move independently. The most common use of this is to teach our dogs to put their front paws on a disc and keep them stationary while rear paws pivot around in a clockwise and counterclockwise rotation. This is a great fundamental skill which layers nicely into a beautiful left finish for obedience dogs and great proprioception start for our agility dogs.
While you can use various items as a “disc”, being the perfectionist that I am I recruited my husband to lend me his woodworking skills. We made several discs of different sizes to find which works best.
My disc criteria: 1. Stable and will not tip over, I don’t want my dog to worry about the disc.
2. Slightly elevated. 3. Light weight and small as I tote it to various training grounds.
- Rear paws, “feet”. Rear paw targeting is probably much easier to teach than you may think. Once your dog understands rear paw targeting, she can easily learn any physical skill you want to teach. I use this a lot within my canine fitness routines.
- All paws on “place”. Now that our dogs understand they have four paws that all move independently, they can use them to earn reinforcement. I like them to learn to intentionally place their whole body on something. This skill particularly makes future trainings for fitness, contacts, husbandry and obedience easier.
- A bit more on “place”. This skill comes with a stillness behavior built in. There are times I need to disconnect with my dog but I don’t want to return them to their crate. Usually this occurs when it’s another dogs turn to work. I need my dogs to understand stillness is a reinforceable behavior. If my dog has been asked to place, they should just hangout awaiting instruction. I find this skill so valuable as it allows me the opportunity to work multiple dogs without having to crate and rotate. For you, this skill may be useful if you are in a group class or at a seminar. You will have times you need to disconnect with your dog and focus on something else. It’s not always realistic to crate your dog, so giving them a stillness station can help you in this. This is a reminder that ignoring your dog to discuss strategies with your instructor is never the correct answer. Instead incorporate a place behavior.
As always make every training opportunity a fun one for you and your dog. If you like this blog, share it! If you’re on social media tag me in your favorite fundamental training.