Training Tricks

Last night, Tall Sister, Dog and I went to a trick training class organized by our obedience class instructor.

Last week, before obedience class (this is connected, I swear!) we took Dog, and his blonde friend, on a long walk… like, nearly two hours long.  Not only two hours of walking, but also a large portion of that was off-leash, with the blonde mystery lab (I’m fairly sure that the non-lab half might be greyhound, because she’s the leanest, most petite lab I’ve ever seen, and can run as fast as the vizslas in the park), which meant he did A LOT of running.  Dog loooooves her with a passion, and she loooooves being chased, so it really is a perfect match, if the goal is leaving them both tuckered out.  My hopes with this was that Dog would be less his normal around-dogs-self during the class.  Because, his around-dogs-self completely ignores me, even when I’m wafting the delicious scent of dehydrated chicken liver in his face, even when I’ve retreated to the corner of the room furthest from other dogs.  It was a great success – he was his mostly-obedient self, and focused on us, and the treats we had for him, with only a few OMGDOGS!!! moments.  So, with this resounding success behind us, we took him on a slightly less epic trek before heading out to Trick Class, blonde friend and all. 

We dropped blondie off at her house at the end of the walk, and Dog hopped back into the van without too much fuss (another recent win on the books!).  It was once everyone was in their appropriate seats that we deviated from what Dog would normally expect us to do, namely, Go Home and feed the dog. 

We were a bit early (I make assumptions in my driving that get lost on the way to a new destination is a step that Google failed to include when calculating driving times, so I am often the nerd who arrives 15-20 minutes early), and followed the directions that led us to an empty room in the basement – not exactly the best way to convince Dog that driving places isn’t torture.  Dog looked around, and then looked up at us, as though to say, “Seriously?  This is what we did all that unnecessary driving for?”

He quickly figured out that this was meant to be an exciting thing for him when the other dogs started showing up!  There were a surprising number of dogs there, some of which were in our obedience class, but most of which were not – Oh BOY, says Dog, New Friends!!

What we learned this class:

“Stand” and “Back up”

Apparently, this less-than-exciting first lesson will be used paired with other tricks, to make tricks extra amazing and exciting.  But for now, it was kind of ‘meh’.  Maybe once I don’t have to do the awkward penguin-cowboy walk to get him to back up, it’ll be more exciting.  Basically, holding a treat, we encouraged Dog to ‘Stand’ (as in, ‘not sit’, to get him out of a sit, in order to back up or do whatever else), and then, holding the treat up against his nose, walked forwards, and rewarding him for walking backwards and not sitting.  He was inclined to sit or try to go around us when we did this.  Thus, the penguin-cowboy walk – a slow shuffle with legs wider than normal-walking-distance-apart, arms akimbo, rocking side to side a bit to prevent him from dodging around.  We’re definitely going to have to work on that one – we got him to back up one or two paces before sitting or just stopping movement all together.  If you have any tips or suggestions on how to make this one work, post them!

“Take a Bow” 

This one, we’d actually started working on by ourselves over the past while.  Basically, it looks like a dog going into a big stretch, or wanting to play – front half down, front paws out in front, bum in the air.  The way we initially taught him was to slap at the ground in a “lets play” kind of way, and clicking (clicker training teaches the dog that the click means a treat is going to follow – so that you can mark the exact moment he’s doing something right, but don’t have to give him the treat immediately – he now knows he’s done it right, and that he’ll get a treat in a moment.), or saying “YES” (the equivalent of clicking) when he bowed in return.  We got to the point that, if he was in the right mood, crouching a bit and slapping your knee three times would usually get him to bow.  The way she taught it was to get a dog into ‘stand’, and draw the treat down between their front legs, until they crouched their front end.  A trick she gave us for if the dog is really set on just lying down to get the treat, and it’s a medium/large dog, you can hold the treat under a chair, and he will have to crouch his front end down in order to get the treat – it worked really well for one of the other dogs in the class.  For smaller dogs, you can do the same thing, by sitting with your legs out in front in a triangular shape, and luring your dog under that space. 

“Winding through legs” 

This one was a bit tricky, because Dog isn’t exactly petite.  Tall sister had much more success at it than I do, because she’s taller than me, and has a higher leg : total height ratio than I do – much longer legs, much bigger spaces to lure Dog through.  For now, we’re still at the using lures phase, but eventually, we should be able to say something (“Through”… “Wind” (not like the thing that blows through trees, but like winding your way down a path)… “Weave”… I think we might try to make it “Weave”, now that I think further on it.) that makes him do this trick.  The trick, for people with large dogs, involves walking like a giant midway through terrorizing a city, while the dog weaves from the center of your body through your leading leg, and around, then across your body, through your other leg (which, once the dog was through the first leg, is stepped forward to create a new space), and repeat.  Kind of a travelling figure 8 pattern.  When using a lure, the trick involves standing with your legs wide apart in an almost-Warrior-pose, for an indeterminate period of time, pretzeling until your treat-bearing hand is reaching around your front leg from the outside, and doing whatever is necessary to convince your dog that he wants to come through your leg, then giving him that treat only when he’s come around front of that leg.  It was good exercise, at any rate.

Now I just need to practice these tricks with Dog, enough so that we can go to next week’s class without completely embarrassing ourselves!  If you have any suggestions for a good trick to teach Dog, or suggestions about how to train a trick, post them, and I’ll do my best.  Once he’s got some of his tricks down a bit better, I’ll post some videos and pics of him doing them.

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