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Service Dog Quest: Perfect Positions

We all think our Service Dogs know basic commands inside and out, but do they really? This week’s Service Dog Challenge will shake up your behavior proofing knowledge, polish your Service Dog’s performance and solidify your partner’s comprehension of cues. Get ready to have some fun perfecting your canine partner’s positional knowledge and learning how to test understanding!

Consider an average day with your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training by your side. Can you begin to count the Service Dog Position Trainingnumber of times you ask your partner to assume a specific position on cue? Sit, down and stand readily come to mind when thinking of obedience positions, but “bow,” “sit pretty/beg,” “heel,” “play dead,” and “dance” are a few other commonly encountered positions. Any behavior that involves your partner moving into a specific, defined place or pose that can be held in a static manner can be considered a position.

In prior Challenges, we’ve asked you to not only define your partner’s current behaviors but also to honestly assess her understanding and performance of the behaviors in question. We’ve introduced some basic distraction proofing and laid the foundation for rock-solid handler focus. Now we’re going to bring all those Service Dog Challenges together with a fun, memorable training exercise and game we promise you’ll not only love, but continue to use for as long as you have a dog to love.

2014 Service Dog Challenge: Perfect Positioning

Challenge Goal: Create rock-solid understanding of cues regardless of situation, environment or distractions

Challenge Focus: Service Dog/SDiT cue recognition and handler’s ability to teach reliable, precise responses

Challenge Equipment: Treats/rewards, clicker if utilized and Challenge Binder/training log. Environmental props/creativity also required, but 100% up to handler.

Challenge Commitment: 10/min a day

[alert style=”yellow”]NEED TO KNOW TERM: “Green Eggs and Ham”
The Green Eggs and Ham dog training game is a fun, wacky method of proofing behavior performance and understanding. It involves asking your Service Dog or SDiT for (supposedly) known behaviors in wild, crazy, off-the-wall situations so you can test her understanding and performance in circumstances far beyond what she’s likely to encounter “in the wild.”

The name and philosophy comes from the Dr. Suess book of the same name and when playing the Green Eggs and Ham training game, you’re going to want to ask the same questions – will she do it in a box, will she do it with a fox? Will she do it in a house? Will she do it with a mouse? Will she do it on a train? Will she do it in the rain? As long as your partner is safe and not in harms way, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to Green Eggs and Ham. Scroll down for a list of Green Eggs and Ham proofing ideas. Have fun, take lots of pictures, and share them with us on Facebook.[/alert]

Service Dog Challenge Instructions and Checklist

1. Review your list of known behaviors (Week Two Service Dog Challenge) filed in your 2014 Service Dog Challenge Binder. If you didn’t complete Week Two, then make a list of behaviors your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training performs reliably on cue.

2. Highlight or mark the behaviors that could be considered “positions.” Remember: [quote align=”center” color=”#59B2DF”]Any behavior that involves your partner moving into a specific, defined place or pose that can be held in a static manner can be considered a position. [/quote]

Service Dog Position Training3. Ask your partner to assume each position the way you usually do. Don’t change anything, but pay careful attention to what your hands are doing (do you slightly lift one when asking for “sit” or wave around your body for “heel”) and how you physically orient to your pooch. For example, do you always ask your dog to “sit” or “down” while she’s in front of you? Can she only “play dead” if you’re kneeling? Just make note of what your partner is dependent on to reliably perform the behavior and get into the right position.

4. Watch this video of trainer Susan Garrett demonstrating the Green Eggs and Ham training game. Notice the emphasis on response to verbal cue alone regardless of what else is happening – that’s the key to the entire game. The goal is test your partner’s understanding of the cue and ability to perform the proper behavior on verbal cue alone without environmental or situational cues.

5. Select two positions from your list you’re certain your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training knows very well. “Sit” and “Down” are excellent ones for most teams to begin playing Green Eggs and Ham with.

6. Start asking your partner for each position in turn, alternating every time. Mark and reward correct performance and ignore incorrect performance. Once your partner has offered 4 or 5 correct position changes in a row, throw in a Green Eggs and Ham curveball. The sky is literally the limit when it comes to the Green Eggs and Ham training game and you can be as creative/intricate as you wish. Anything that varies from your “norm” can be considered a curveball, whether it’s as simple as folding your arms or as complex as delivering commands over Skype from another room while standing on your head. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

[tabs] [tab title=”Basic”] Hands at your side. Hands in pockets. Hands on your head. Arms crossed. Arms held out. Arms held above your head. Turn your back. Sit in a chair. Sit on the floor. Ask for same position twice in a row. Dog on a low platform. Dog in front. Dog at side. Dog behind you. Stand on one leg. Stand far away. Stand really close. Straddle your partner. Whisper. Use a pirate accent. [/tab] [tab title=”Int.”] Stand on a chair. Place dog on a table. Dog at bottom of stairs and handler at top. Handler lying on floor. Handler holds reward items above head. Dog on stairs. Dog on playground equipment. Two dogs in different positions. Handler dancing. Handler out of sight. Dog on (safe) moving object. Dog on trampoline and handler under. Handler crab walking. Handler holds hands close to ground and asks for

sit/beg/dance/stand. Handler spinning in a circle.[/tab] [tab title=”Adv.”] Dog alone and handler gives commands over Skype or phone. Dog on odd object (statue, tree, unique bench). Handler standing on head. In a pool, lake or ocean. Handler in a box. Handler in car and dog outside. [/tab] [/tabs]

You’ll quickly discover the “crutches” your dog uses to help pick the right positions and to what extent your dog knows the position in question. For example, if your dog only “downs” while you’re waving towards the ground and she’s inService Dog Position Training front of you, then she doesn’t really understand the “down” position. Use Green Eggs and Ham to generalize her understanding of the cue to all situations, even crazy, weird, off the wall ones.

7. Add one position at a time until you’re able to ask for changes from one position to the next via verbal cue alone and receive precise, prompt, confidence performance regardless of the Green Eggs and Ham curveball. Don’t forget to throw in difficult changes (like down to stand to bow to beg to play dead) and to keep the cues random – don’t settle into a pattern of always asking for the same 5 positions in the same order. Try to avoid following “sit” with “down” once you’re past the basic stage – that one is too easy.

8. Log your training sessions and be proud of your partner’s growth! Most of all, have fun!

[alert style=”green”] Got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas about this week’s Service Dog Challenge? Got something to share about your Green Eggs and Ham training adventures? Chime in with a comment and let us know! [/alert]



  • gennagaea March 19, 2014

    HA HA! That’s so great. I just asked Molly to dance recently for a friend’s husband who hadn’t spent much time around her. She remembered that command perfectly but she tends to sit in public only if she wants to and only if I am not a nervous wreck. But notice how when I am in public and therefore a nervous wreck I am far less likely to give the kind of positive feedback she gets when she does awesome doggy tricks for service dog curious people like “Dance!” LOL PS We originally trained on a three step command of which only two parts are required. Snap! Hand signal. And Command. Verbal command is the optional since I can’t always speak when anxious. Problem is all these years later… it’s getting harder and harder with the arthritis to snap my fingers? Any suggestions from the trainers or the handlers?

    • windchyme July 31, 2014

      This is AWESOME. I’m a trainer but I often need a kick or someone to throw me a curveball to wake me up and make things more interesting for me so I can make them more interesting for the pup. I hope these continue as I am due to get a new pup in about 6 weeks and I’ll be off and training again and this would be the perfect fun thing to get me and the pup to do just a little bit more.


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