Many Cato Board purchasers are just starting to use place boards, often because they have a new puppy and want to get off on the right foot. As a result, I often get asked how to introduce a puppy or adult dog to the Cato Board. Getting the introduction right is of the utmost importance, so I thought it warranted a blog post.
Before I describe how I introduce dogs to the Cato Board, let me first say that I want my dogs’ first experience with the Cato Board to be POSITIVE. I don’t want them to feel any pressure, or in any way feel that it is a negative object/place. This is so important because later on I want them to view drills off of the Cato Board as enjoyable experiences, not as something they are being forced to do against their will. It all starts with seeing the Cato Board as something they WANT to be on.
In my experience training dogs, the concepts I use almost always have a direct correlation to human behavior. In the case of the Cato Board introduction, let me correlate it to youth sports. I have two boys that are very enthusiastic about their sports, so I’ve spent a large amount of time at sports practices over the last several years. During that time, my boys have had some incredible coaches as well as some coaches that were, well, frustrating. One thing that I’ve noticed from the great coaches is that they made it FUN right from the start. They made it so that the boys wanted to be there; to the point that it was the highlight of their week. As the boys get older, the practices have become increasingly more demanding and technical, but they certainly didn’t start out that way. Instead, the coaches created a joy for the game when they were young that is carrying them through the more demanding practices as they get older. If this process had been reversed, the results would have been, without a doubt, much different. Burnout, frustration, lack of effort, and eventually quitting would have been the much more likely result if the boys had coaches that were demanding early on. This concept is crucial when we look at a dog’s early introductions to the Cato Board.
Once the previously mentioned concept is understood, the application is quite easy. I like to introduce the Cato Boards early in a puppy’s life (although it’s not hard to introduce it for the first time with an adult dog as well). In order to make the Cato Board fun and exciting, it has to be associated early on with something that the pup likes. Typically, that’s either eating a treat or retrieving a toy. It’s up to you as the trainer to figure out which will work best for the particular puppy that you’re working with. If the puppy doesn’t particularly get excited about retrieving a toy, it may be best to start out with a treat.
If using the Retrieve Method, I like to kneel next to the Cato Board and encourage the puppy to chase the toy around in a small figure-eight on top of the Cato Board. When the puppy is enthusiastically trying to grab the toy, I’ll give the toy a little toss so that the puppy can retrieve it. I almost always start out in a hallway for this game, and I keep the retrieves short. Remember, we’re working on making the Cato Board exciting, not on lengthening retrieves.
While initially the puppy might not even notice that he is on the Cato Board, within a few sessions he’ll likely start to associate the Cato Board as the starting point for that fun game he gets to play with you. Before long he should start jumping on the Cato Board of his own accord, trying to start the game. At this point, it’s time for you to introduce the “place” command. As the puppy is about to hop on the Cato Board, use the “place” command. Again, initially he won’t understand what the word means, but before long he’ll associate it with the action of hopping on the Cato Board. At this point, you can also start to ask for a little more by waiting to throw the retrieve until his bottom touches the Cato Board. By doing this, the puppy will very quickly learn to jump on the Cato Board, sit, and then focus his attention on you. That is exactly what you want!
A couple of notes regarding the retrieve method for introducing the Cato Board: (1) these retrieving sessions are SHORT. Literally only two or three retrieves per session. I like to end with the puppy chasing the toy in my hand, and then the toy going in my pocket. (2) Be sure to use a toy or object that the puppy ENJOYS retrieving. We want this to be fun!
The Treat Method is pretty straightforward. If I’m using this method, I’ll first make the puppy aware that I have a treat in my hands. If he is treat-driven, you should have his FULL attention once he understands you’re holding a treat. At this point, he may start jumping up on you. Don’t respond to the behavior, instead position your body so that the Cato Board is right in front of you. When the puppy jumps on the Cato Board to get to the treat, immediately reward him with the treat. Repeat this routine several times, until the puppy is comfortable with using the Cato Board to get close to your hand. Then, take it a step further by requiring the puppy to sit on the Cato Board until it gets the treat. Usually it takes some patience on the part of the trainer to get the puppy to sit on the Cato Board. Be sure that as SOON as the puppy sits on the Cato Board that you IMMEDIATELY mark the behavior by giving him the treat. This should go faster and faster each time. Fairly quickly, you will be able to start overlaying the “place” command with the action of getting on the Cato Board.
A couple of notes regarding the treat method for introducing the Cato Board: (1) It should go without saying, but make sure it’s a treat the puppy likes. (2) Use small treats - it doesn’t have to be a mouthful each time. (3) I don’t like to use the treat method for extended periods of time; the sooner you can move away from treats and start rewarding with retrieves, weave poles, etc, the better. Remember, we want the dog to see the Cato Board as the start of fun games, not as the final step in getting a treat.
Future blog posts will discuss how to start building on this initial Cato Board foundation, but it all starts right here. Make it fun, make it clear, and enjoy the process!
Happy training, and as always, let us know if you have any additional comments or questions!