Self-Modulation: A Work in Progress

The video below shows a team's progress through CCC Level 1. It's a great example of how the dog (and handler) find the balance and rhythm that helps them connection and communicate as they progress. Watch for the following shifts that show brilliant progress in self-modulation in the dog, and confidence and trust between the dog and handler.

  • the dog's vocalizations
  • the quality of the handler's movement
  • the quality of the dog's movement
  • how the dog solves the puzzle
  • how the dog eats treats out of the puzzle
  • the quality of connection

Week 2: Dog's Use of Space

Watching how dogs use space is an important part of teaching CCC. Dogs tell us how about the pressure they may or may not be feeling about something in the environment everyday and in many ways. We often miss the clues because we're too focused on our own agenda.

Watch the video below. Notice how comfortable and agreeable the dog is at the beginning of the video. Watch the adjustment he makes at 0:44, and what happens when the handler asks him to come to her side, which brings him closer to the puzzle.

The adjustment by the dog is what you'll often see when he feels too much pressure by the puzzle and tries to self-modulate by adding a bit of distance. Watch for dogs who seem out of position, duck to the other side of the handler, or seem unable to get to a specific spot and use it as a teachable moment. Be careful not to add to the conflict by insisting that the dog find the correct position. Help your students recognize the dog's message in these situations, and coach them to adjust where they are in space to support the dog, or to increase distance from the puzzle.

Here's another video that shows how the dog uses space in relation to the puzzle. Watch how focused the dog is on the handler in the first exercise, when they are facing each other.  Then, at about 2:08 they begin the second exercise, and the handler is no longer in front of the dog.  It leaves the dog a more open to focus on other things -- like the puzzle.  When the handler begins moving forward the dog glances at the puzzle (2:13) offers a slight hesitation in movement, but is able to stay connected with the handler. 

When setting up for the next pass, at 2:47 the dog start at the far side of the handler -- further from the puzzle. The handler attempts to get the dog in position and the dog stops and looks at her. He struggles a bit to get to the handler's left side, as he glances back and forth between the handler and the puzzle. When he finally is able to get to the handler's left side, he is oriented somewhat away from the handler and towards the puzzle. The point of struggle is the edge of the dog's Think & Learn Zone. He's trying hard to oblige the handler while maintaining impulse control. Even though the handler ends up slightly further from the puzzle than in the previous pass, you can tell that the dog is still focused on the puzzle by his orientation when he sits. He's able to offer ACI and engage with the handler, but watch how sticky he is as they begin to move forward and his orientation when they stop moving, just before he is released to the puzzle.

By the third pass, you can see that the dog is resolving the conflict by how easily he moves into position at 3:30. Note that the handler is slightly closer to the puzzle at the beginning this time. The puzzle is still on his mind, evidenced by the glance at 3:35, but he has progressed to the point of splitting his attention more smoothly.  One more experience to add to his connection toolbox.

Week 3: Dog's Use of Space

Here's another great example of a dog at the edge of the Think & Learn Zone. In the first pas the dog and handler complete the exercise quite smoothly and connected. Then, when the handler resets at about 0:27, watch how the dog shows she's tipping out of balance. What signs do you see? 

Notice the dog's awkward stance after the handler puts her in position. Feet pointing in different directions show the conflict in the dog, and then the head turn confirms what's on her mind.

The handler makes a fantastic adjustment to support the dog and get her out of conflict. 

Recognizing how dog's take space is a big player in learning and teaching CCC. Take the time to point out these observations to your students so that they can develop the skills to do the same.

Week 3: Dog's Cadence

One of the ways you can tell a dog is balanced is by watching the quality of his movement. An even, steady cadence usually indicates that the dog is in the Think & Learn Zone. When the dog is not balanced or begins to tip out of the Think & Learn Zone his movement can become irregular, lacking rhythm.

Watch the smoothness in the dog's movement below. At one point his cadence becomes awkward and disjointed. Can you find where it happens? Watch him then work toward balance again. What a great recovery!

Watch for quality of movement as your students begin to extend the duration of their connection. Point out even and uneven cadence to your students to help them understand what to look for. For the most part you'll find that they "feel connected" when the cadence is smooth, and feel sticky at best when it is not.

Week 3: Dog's Orientation

Observing what the dog is oriented toward can give you a good idea of whether he's got something other than connecting with you on his mind and what you'll need to do to support the connection. The dog's orientation usually tells what he's interested in. If the dog is facing the handler, there's a better chance of connecting than when the dog is orienting elsewhere. Watch the video below. Notice the dog's self-release to the puzzle when she began the exercise oriented towards it. Compare that to the dog's performance when she began oriented towards the handler.

The dog's orientation will be something you'll want to pay close attention to in your classroom. Be sure to bring it to the attention of your students when you see the dog oriented towards something else so that they can begin to train their eye as well.

Week 4: Dog's Use of Space, Part A

Here's an exercise for you. Mute the volume on your computer and watch the video. I want you to watch for one thing only, and that is how the dog chooses to use space to tell you where he's comfortable relative to the puzzle. Pay no attention to the handler. Simply observe where he chooses to stop or reposition himself. Write the video times down that he does this on a sheet of paper (ex. 0:14, 0:27, etc.)  Once you've finished recording your times, look below this video.

Here are the places in the video that I see the dog choosing the distance from the puzzle that he's comfortable, either by stopping or by repositioning himself. Compare the times you wrote down to my observations below. (And if you see more let me know!)

0:14, 0:28. 0:43, 1:10, 1:45, 1:53, 1:57, 2:10, 2:37, 2:48 and 2:53

Now, with the full list of times in front of you, turn up the volume on your computer and listen to the dog's vocalizations relative to each of those times in the video below. What patterns do you notice about the dog's use of space and his vocalizations?

Week 4: Dog's Use of Space, Part B

In this video you'll see that the handler has made some adjustments in the work space. The puzzles are further away from the markers. As a result you'll see a significant change in the dog's movement and cadence. Notice the difference in vocalizations as well. The dog is much more available to think and learn, to connect and attend while still splitting attention.

Week 4: Interrupting the Disconnect

In CCC one thing is certain. The longer the team is connected, the more possible it is for the team to disconnect! As your students begin to extend the duration of their connection with their dogs you'll begin seeing that some folks just don't know what to do when it happens.  A classic response is for the handler to simply stop moving and wait while the dog continues to the end of his leash, leaving him with no information or support to reconnect. Watch the video below. How many times do you see the handler stop and wait while the dog disconnects? 

Watch for your students to stop and wait when they think the dog is disconnecting. Handlers do it most often when the dog breaks eye contact. This becomes a pivotal moment in their training with you! Either the handle believes that connection requires sustained eye contact, or the handler is relying on eye contact and doesn't know what to do with the dog looks away. Coaching the student to "test" connection by continuing to move when the dog looks away often proves to be a huge eureka moment for the handler, who discovers that the dog is actually continuing to move with her on a loose leash and is therefore aware and still connected.

This critical step also sets the stage for the handler to know when the dog really IS about to disconnect and learn what they need to do to interrupt it. Working to intercept the disconnect with visual and verbal feedback can prevent it from happening. Stopping and waiting does not.