Signal Exercise: Addressing a Failure to Drop

signals Dec 20, 2022

We have all seen it, many of us have experienced it. The Utility team completes the heeling pattern, the handler leaves the dog, walks to the opposite end of the ring, turns and gives the drop signal to the seemingly attentive dog, and the dog does not move...he stands, staring at the handler as if he has never seen the signal before in his life.

How can you prevent this from being your story?

Step 1: Using a Reward Marker, practice each position change separately. 
Using a Reward Marker (conditioned secondary reinforcer) is critical to developing a dog that loves doing the position changes because- Any behavior that is consistently connected to reward with a Reward Marker becomes rewarding for the dog. This is the science of a Reward Marker.*

In the video, watch the timing of the Reward Marker, and consider that the thrown reward increases the value and excitement of the reward for the dog. Your first goal is to be sure that your dog enjoys responding to the down and sit signal. 

This is a fun drill or game that you can play throughout your dog's career to maintain his enjoyment and excitement about performing position changes. 

Step 2: Combine Heeling and Signals
Try a short heeling pattern, followed by a stand - drop sequence. Immediately mark and pay the drop. Gradually increase the duration of the heeling pattern until you can do a full-length heeling pattern and successfully perform the drop. Practice this heeling on leash, dropping the leash (or removing it) when you leave the dog. This ensures that you will maintain a high standard for your heeling even though your focus is on practicing the signals. 

Next, try heeling...stand....drop...sit...mark and pay. Now you are marking the dog's response to the sit signal, and giving value not only to dropping, but also to sitting up. 

Step 3: Maintaining the Signals
Maintaining a correct balance on the signal exercise is difficult. Your dog must be disciplined enough to drop, but relaxed enough to sit up, but not so relaxed that he anticipates the come. When practicing signals, consider the following percentages to obtain and maintain that balance.
50% of the time, mark and pay after the heeling...stand...drop sequence.
25% of the time, mark and pay after the heeling...stand...drop....sit sequence. 
25% of the time, do all the signals, mark and pay the front or the finish. 

Step 4: Perfecting the Signal Exercise
A Utility dog must perform the signals at any time throughout the Utility performance. When training, avoid doing signals multiple times in a row. Instead, do your heeling and signals interspersed between all the other Utility exercises. This allows you to practice signals at the beginning, middle and end of your training session. Additionally, be unpredictable-  50% of the time marking and paying the drop, 25% of the time marking and paying the sit, and 25% of the time doing the entire signal exercise. 

*For more information about the science behind a Reward Marker, check out Connecting Obedience with the Pursuit of Rewards.


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