Those Pesky Finishes

My least favorite precision aspect of obedience is the finish.  No surprise, it is also where I lose the most points.  Funny how that works.

I do pretty well with the "around" finish but I struggle with the  flip to heel.  That bugs me.  I want my dogs to be able to do both finishes with accuracy, and I have a heck of a time with it!

I do a fair amount of teaching with a platform since I'm looking for muscle memory, and I feel it helps quite a bit.  When using a platform, the dog must be correct; the platform forces that issue. But a platform is a lure - I have to fade it eventually.

I do a lot of pivoting on a disc from front to finish for the same reason; muscle memory.  But for this to work I must move since her front feet are "stuck" on the disc. Less than ideal but a nice middle step for teaching a 180 movement.

I also use a "pivot around my hand" to teach the finish (too complicated to explain here right now).  As a result, if I offer my hand as a guide, any of my dogs can nail a finish.  That also helps create excellent muscle memory, but once again, it's a "lure" that has to be faded.

Finally, I do a ton of exercises where the dog moves with me in any direction - forwards, backwards, and sideways - at a variety of speeds - and in this manner they learn how to line up and "find" heel position.  This too helps, but the movement of my body acts as a lure.  I'm getting closer, but still no finish!

What I need is a way to set the dog up for success, so that I can reward them, even when there are no props.  With a high drive dog, you can simply repeat finishes until they get it right.  But with a middle or lower drive dog repeating without reinforcement is a recipe for failure since these dogs lose motivation.  Low motivation almost guarantees a butt out finish.

The good news is that I think I found a middle step that is helping; a way to make Lyra correct over and over (with specific help) and then...voila!  A correct finish all by herself!

Here's what I mean:

This first  video shows my efforts to pattern her with a disc for support.  This is an excellent first step using a foot target for a lure:

This second video shows my efforts to pattern the 180 degrees without a physical support.   I have Lyra moving towards heel over and over, and I reinforce every effort regardless of her end position.   My goal is to get her in a habit of moving her rear around and around until she is anticipating.  I've subtitled this video to make it easier to follow what I'm doing here:

After a few days of playing this game, I found a strong improvement in her position at my side, and most important, the super high rate of reinforcement and the quickness of the drills is keeping her interested and engaged in the game.   I have also noticed that her finishes are speeding up along with becoming more accurate - she's enjoying the movement rather than worrying about what she is supposed to do at the end of the behavior.

I call this using "patterns" to create a behavior.  If this sounds interesting, give it a try.



When do you start increasing your criteria to require the sit?
Also, since Lyra knows the finished product with the sit, what do you do if she anticipates it and sits BEFORE she positions herself in an accurate heel (i.e. if she takes a short-cut and sits crooked because she wants to get into the sit, since that’s the criteria she’s more confident with)?


Lyra only works for food in the house, and this is the only space I have in the house that is large enough to videotape a finish. So….I do it in other parts of the house, but outside we work for toys. And it carries over quite nicely if I’ve been working on it.

I think she’lll work for food in public if I have the disc, so I plan to try that soon.


Denise, also notice you are “patterning” in the same physical space (though I know you do plenty of videos in this spot). My assumption is that is on purpose? IE. keeping the other elements the same when you remove the prop should help get the next step of behavior…?

Once she gets better at the behavior will you then revisit this sequence (maybe even with the disc) in a new location?

Lynnda L in Mpls

Good thing you now have food drive!


if you set up a pattern the dog learns to anticipate. It doesn’t really matter if you feed or not – she does not see the food as meaning she is correct here. She’s just eating and setting up for the next piece.

Notice the final finishes – they’re quite good. I haven’t worked on her finishes much lately so suspect they have deteriorated but if I spend a minute doing this they’ll come back.

Helps her left turns too – they’ve improved a lot since this work.

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