The wall work we had done gave me an arm motion that meant something to Dancer--it meant bank off this surface!
With the arm motion, I was able to get her to bank off the box itself. I started with a box jump in front of it, but was soon able to remove that and still get a nice, 4 paw bounce off the actual box. No ball. Thank you, wall work. But I didn't want to repeat that too often because I feel it's important to get the ball back into the picture asap. I don't want her to get muscle memory fixed for box-bouncing without the ball, only to have to learn a new position when the ball is in place.
One of the trickiest parts of training a box turn is introducing the ball into the equation. Most dogs can do a box bounce with no ball, but when you put the ball in, they forget about bouncing and go straight for the ball. The easiest way to get around this is to use the training board...start out pretty flat with the ball attached, angle it up slowly, and you're all set. But as I've described already, Dancer put a new spin on that approach, by insisting on climbing up the angled board, even with a box jump in front of it.
Another way to approach this problem is to prop the whole training board up off the ground. My friend Crystal introduced this concept to me after she had seen some teams using a snub-nosed flyball box.
While this is far from what a nice turn will look like in the end, at the very least she is bouncing onto the board in order to retrieve the ball. The flat surface allows her to reposition her feet before she launches back to me, and in general, she's not moving very fast. So I don't want to work this exercise for very long. But as a means of communicating "training boards are meant to be bounced upon", this was effective.
The elevated training board taught her to grab the ball while all 4 paws were on the surface. Yay!
But when I angled the training board again, she reverted back to climbing. Sigh. Time to go old school! I put a couple of chunks of wood perpendicular to the angled training board, to give her something to go around.
This shows the perpendicular prop up against the flyball box (not the training board that I started Dancer on...but this pic is just an example to give you the idea.) Dancer had to approach it from the left side of the prop to get to her ball on the right side of her board.
This worked. The wood being perpendicular to training board forced her to approach the box on one side, instead of climbing straight across the training board to get the ball. It effectively made her get her back feet up onto the training board in order to reach the ball because she couldn't reach the ball otherwise. While it didn't make her think about doing that, it did allow me to mark and reward the behavior I was seeking (back paws on board!) Many trainers are hesitant to use this approach because it's too reminiscent of the old-fashioned cone method (see Method One); however, I believe that if used in a very limited way (just a few reps, maybe one training session), it can be a useful communication tool. I used this on Wyatt, and it allowed us to break through a plateau we'd reached when I was first training him 7 years ago.
Armed with a meaningful arm motion (from the wall work), and having rewarded the ball retrieval only when her back feet were on the board, I went back to the traditional set up: jump board in front of angled training board, and yay! I was able to get her bouncing onto the angled board, and I was slowly able to angle the board up further and further until it was the same angle as the actual box.
And then, I was able to remove the training board completely, and, well...WHOOT!
I started with a box bounce (no ball) as a warm-up, then added the ball. Did I mention, "Whoot!!!"?
We've got a ton of work to do yet--for one thing, the box isn't actually firing the ball out, the ball is just stuck on there with Velcro. And she's double-hitting with her front feet (that is, she's landing on the box, getting the ball, and then re-setting at least one of her front feet before she launches back off the box.) Still, I was so excited at her progress that I took out the box jump, just to see what she would do. Had she internalized the 4 paw turn, or was the box jump the only thing making it happen? I was delighted to see that she still got all four feet on the box. Nevertheless, her turns really suffered without the jump board. You can see from the slow motion sections for those last few turns that she's adjusting her feet all over the place...doing a lot of walking around on that box pedal!
We don't want all that extra motion. We want to see a nice clean on and off, with the paws not shifting all over the place (here is big brother Wyatt, showing off a turn that hasn't changed much in 7 years):
But little Dancer has made a darn good start!
Now we work it, fine tune it, make it a rock solid forever turn. One day at a time.