Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tricky Tricks

So... I'll be the first to say that as a trainer I am rarely interested in teaching tricks.  I mean, call me crazy, but between real life demands, a child, a husband in school and training for cycling/running events, I'm not all that concerned with teaching my dog to chase his tail or to "play dead" (why would I want to picture them dead, anyway?).
BUT... I love a good trick that is applicable to every day life.  Things like teaching my boys to close a door for me, pick up their toys, etc. make my heart sing!  And truthfully, trick training is an amazing way to just have some fun with your dog and see what you can accomplish together.
Next on the agenda in our house, and I have no idea why it has taken this long to get to it, is "Wipe Your Feet".
After literally years of keeping a junk towel on hand, I have decided that the time has come!  My boys are bright and so I would like to think of myself as a competent trainer... so here we go!

Now, there are a couple of ways you can go about training tricks.  Namely, shaping or luring.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this stuff, I'll briefly describe them here.

Shaping simply is a waiting game in which you put your dog in the relative area that you need for the learning (in this case, it would be a mat or towel).  You arm yourself with a clicker if you use one and plenty of high-value treats.  From there, you simply allow the dog to start figuring things out. You have to have an eye for the slightest progression.  In this case, without prompting, I would click and treat the first MOVEMENT of a paw on the mat.  I wouldn't expect a dog to immediately start avidly wiping their feet.  As the dog sees the pattern that he is getting a treat each time he moves his foot, I then kick it up and delay the click/treat until there's just slightest bit more movement.
You build in this way, rewarding the teeny ting progressive steps until the dog has painted the ultimate picture.  Needless to say, shaping can take a long time.  Or not.  It really depends on the dog.  But the key to remember is that if you rush the learning process, the dog may learn the ultimate end steps of the behavior, but the earlier steps WILL unravel and they will be a jumbled mess! So take your time and work at your dog's pace. Not something our culture is geared for, I know.... just trust me.  : )

Luring is simply helping to put the dog into action, and then rewarding the compliance.  Sounds simple, and a bit faster than shaping, it generally is.  In teaching a dog to sit, a treat is held over the dog's head to encourage them to look up, then the treat is moved back toward the crown of the dog's head to lure the final sit.  This works beautifully.  As a caution, luring is ideal for fairly basic commands... and shaping is a great tool for the more complex tricks/behaviors.

You can always do a combination of the two... which is generally what happens.  : )

I will keep you posted on the progress of Linus and Thomas (my boys) in this endeavor.

Day 1: I will begin with a junk towel and a yummy treat.  For this, I want something super tempting and "fragrant".  I am going with a refrigerated dog food log that can be chopped into bits.

The towel will be laid out, dog watching process, and I will lay a treat on the towel and fold it over to "hide" the treat.

Next, I will encourage Linus to "find it"... a command he already knows and is in love with.  AS SOON AS he begins to use his paw to "dig" for the treat, I will click and toss a treat onto the towel for him.  Then, we will repeat this process.... a lot.  OK, not a ton of repetitions at once, I stick to 5-10 reps per session.  But, this will be our practice for several sessions until Linus is a star at it.

Stay tuned for the coming days and Linus' progress! Let me know how you and your dog fare on this impressive trick!

Remember, if you have questions, check out my business website and send me a contact email!


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