Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The ‘Trick A Week’ Program - #1

Do you have the “Winter Blahs”? 

Holidays are over, New Years is past.

It’s too cold outside for normal people.
You don’t want to clean the house.
Television is boring.
You’re sick of reading a book.
What else to do???

How about a little trick training? 

It will give both you and your dog something to look forward to, while developing, or adding to your working relationship.  Now, I can’t guarantee how long I’ll keep this “trick a week” going, but I think I can come up with a few easy tricks you can teach your dog. 

So, go grab your young dog, your middle dog, or your more mature dog (we don’t say old around here)…they all love TRICKS!!

I’ll use a combination of shaping and luring.  Just because it’s faster, and most people I know do not have the patience for true shaping of behaviors.  I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t either!  I do think you may get a better overall outcome if you can use pure shaping, but for what we’re looking for, a combo will be fine. 

The first step is going to be getting your dog used to a clicker, and understanding that a click = a treat.  So, you’ll need one dog, one clicker and a handful of: your daily kibble, or treats.  If you feed raw, like I do, you can even use that if you’re comfortable with handling it.  I will also use mini marshmallows as training treats, as they show up really well on most ground surfaces. 

I’m going to assume your dog will stay with you since you have a handful of food, if not, a short leash may be attached.  Just stand or sit on the other end of it.  You’re going to simply, “Click” and then immediately give the dog a treat.  Repeat 5-7 times.  You are not expecting your dog to do anything at this point, other than eat the treat that is.  The click noise is going to let the dog know that he did the behavior you’re looking for, and will be rewarded.  By being rewarded frequently for small behaviors, he will learn to continue to offer them, as well as others. 

Now let’s learn your first trick.  Hand touches.  Why? Well, I find this targeting behavior, and retrieving seem to be the two behaviors that are needed for most tricks. 

You’ll need your treats and clicker in one hand, then simply present your empty hand.  Don’t push it in the dog’s face; just let him see the movement.  Chances are he’s going to be interested in it just because it’s moved.  As soon as he looks at your empty hand, “click and treat” (c/t).  Now, this is important, be sure you place the treat onto the palm of your empty hand.  Placement of reward is important and may help your dog learn quicker.  Try not to remove the hand he just touched,  instead bring your treat hand to the touched hand.  This is harder than you think.  By removing your ‘touch’ hand, it’s actually a punishment.  You’ll see in the little video clip I put together than if Seeker tries to offer his paw, vs. a hand touch, I simply remove my hand. I don’t say ‘no’, just removed and represent my hand, rewarding for the correct behavior.  Repeat the hand presentation, slowly asking for him to get closer and closer to your hand.  Reward often! Soon he’ll be touching your hand.  You can then begin moving your hand above or below the original placement and he should seek it out.  When the dog is actively seeking out your hand, you can add the verbal command.  I use “touch”, but any word will do.  

Once you have a nice hand touch established you can work on him touching an object, such as a lid, vs. your hand. You’ll use the same steps.  One common complaint about working with targets is that the dogs want to pick them up.  Yep, mine too.  The trick is to learn reward only for touching, not for opening the mouth or retrieving.  It can be done!  You’ll make clicker mistakes, I do!  In the video clip you’ll see Seeker’s mouth open to a target.  Bad clicker person!  I will sometimes click right when they get to the target so they don’t have the chance to pick it up, and then go back to an actual touch.  It’s just something you’ll need to play with.

Another fun trick is to get your dog to push on your hand harder.  You simply wait for a little more pressure and c/t.  Many dogs will push quite firmly on your hand, others, like Seeker will blow bubbles from his nose.  I’m not sure why he thought that was what I wanted, but it’s still kind of fun. 

Many people will use the hand target to position the dog when setting up to perform an agility or obedience exercise.  So tricks are not only fun, really do have a purpose!!! 

Another thought on trick training.  Some of the funniest tricks my dogs do are ones I wasn’t trying to teach.  For instance, when I was teaching Mad Dog to back, she turned it into a crawl backwards while barking.  That is SO much more fun than the back up.  So, let things happen!!  The trick isn’t necessarily the most important outcome, it’s the FUN you both have working on them!!! 

As always, there’s ‘More than one way to skin a cat’, so do what works for you and your dog!! 

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