First and foremost… the best way to ensure that your dog learns the tricks is to actually practice them, something I pretty much failed at this past week. To be fair, I was crazy-busy a lot of the time. My hectic schedule for the week included a deep clean of our basement, to make it liveable for some of the guests we’re having over this weekend, helping out with DECA judging, dog obedience class, cross-country skiing, going to the Days of Wine and Chocolate tour in Niagara on the Lake… by Tuesday night I was so exhausted, I felt like I was jetlagged. So, Tuesday night was our only practice day, and we did not conquer the ‘backup’ trick.
We didn’t conquer it in the prep time in class either, unfortunately. Dog was basically circling backwards – any way he could move to avoid going in a line, he used. I was seriously beginning to think my dog was a failure at life, but luckily, we moved on to other tricks, and I rediscovered the smart puppy buried deep inside my dog when he wasn’t showing his obsession with going to check out what treats the other dogs were getting (Seriously, Dog… you get dehydrated liver and home-made pumpkin biscuits… you have no reason to be so obsessed with what they’re getting. You didn’t even like that type of treat when I bought it for you!). However, we did learn some of the things you can do with the backup command, so I’ll pass those on to you all, and wish you the best with the walking in a straight line. Anyone with other suggestions for teaching backup, please post… I need some help with this one!
Backup with me – You and your dog back up, standing side by side and facing in the same direction. If your dog does ‘backup’ well, but starts curving around when you’re doing it beside him, try practicing right up against a straight piece of wall. Slowly working your way away from the wall will help them figure out that they have to stay next to you for the trick.
Backup through my legs – fairly self explanatory, and very cute. Once you get your dog into the position between your legs, it’s pretty impressive to see them backup without being lured or pushed, through your legs.
Backup and do a trick – that way, your dog isn’t performing ‘Bow’, or ‘play dead’ right at your feet (or, in Dog’s case, on your feet), which gives your audience a better show.
“Twist and Turn”
The aim of this trick is to get your dog to spin in a tight circle in one direction (twist) and then the other. Dog is picking up on this fairly quickly, and even did a few without an actual treat in my hand (though, to be honest, I had so much treat-smell on my hand, he might have thought there was one). Standing by your dog, you lure them in a full circle, so that their head returns to the place it started at, and give them the treat. The instructor used a favourite Frisbee for teaching this to her dog. For us, an actual food treat worked best, though maybe eventually he’ll become attached enough to a toy to want to chase it in circles. We worked on counter-clockwise, and will be trying clockwise once we get that one down. Apparently dogs can seem right or left handed for this trick – sometimes they just don’t get the other direction, or they aren’t anywhere near as good at it as the other way.
One of the people in our class had already trained his dog in this, and did a fantastic demo – this is how I want Dog to do this one! He got his dog to backup, then aimed his finger gun at her and said, BANG. She rolled from standing onto her back, in a very dramatic death scene. Hilarious! I doubt he trained her in the cautious semi-staggering start of the roll but it was perfect, like a cheesy death-collapse. He said he learned this off a youtube video, so that could be your source of inspiration for this one, if you prefer a visual on how to teach your dog the trick.
It figures that our instructor picked Dog for the demo of teaching this – he is strangely anti-roll-over, despite my many attempts at teaching him. I’ve gotten into the habit of starting off trying to teach him to roll over, giving up, and finding that he’s doing something else that warrants ‘trick training’, so I put a word or signal on that instead. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that she failed at roll-over as well – happy that it isn’t just me failing at dog training, but sad that she didn’t fix this issue for me. While we were practicing, though, we actually got him to roll onto his side a few times, and right over onto his back and then his other side – there’s hope for us yet!
The trick itself is taught in stages – you start off getting your dog to lie down on his side on command, then proceed to rolling onto his back, then you teach it from a distance, and add a signal or command that represents the entire thing. To get your dog to roll onto his side, you get him into a down, and draw a treat up over his head/neck area from the side you want to be up, and reward him when he gets into a full lie down on his side. You’ll progress this, continuing with moving the treat until he’s lying on his back, or rolled entirely over. It should be short steps to get from this to one continuous roll, which means you’ve got ‘roll over’. You could teach roll-over to be something they do a few times in a row, or you can go on to teaching the play dead. Once you’ve got roll-over, you want to train them to lie down and roll over once on a single command or command and hand-signal. I think the clicker is really going to help with this one.
“Shake a Paw”
We already trained Dog to do this one, so I’ll explain my method of teaching him, and then the trainer’s.
With Dog lying down or sitting in front of me, I would slap the ground in front of me with my hand. If your dog is like mine, he’ll quickly start smacking either your hand or the ground near it pretty quickly. If he doesn’t seem to be picking up on this, try tapping the paw, and then smacking the ground. Every time your dog taps your hand, you click, or mark the movement, and reward it. Once that seems to be going well, flip your hand so that it’s your palm he’s hitting. Continue rewarding success. To start raising your hand above the ground (at this point, you should get your dog into a sitting position if he wasn’t already), make an exaggerated movement to put your hand out (as though you’re going to slap the ground), palm up, in front of your dog. If this doesn’t catch quickly, try tapping the desired leg and then exaggeratedly holding your hand out. You can add the command word (Shake, or Shake a Paw, or “Put ‘er there, pardner”, or whatever) at this point, or at the point where your dog is slapping your palm while it is on the ground. It sounds like a long process, but it only took me about 15 minutes to get him enthusiastically plopping his paw into my hand with gesture and command, and in no time at all, he was shaking hands with me (and other people) pretty much wherever I asked him to do it.
Our instructor taught it this way: pick up the dog’s paw when he’s in a sit, mark the movement and reward. Repeat this a few times, and (as we saw with the dog she was using as an example) it doesn’t take long before the dog realises that ‘paw in the air = treat’. Eventually, holding your hand out should make the dog want to put their paw in it, in order to get a treat. Since not all dogs are as interested in the ‘slap game’ as Dog, this method is probably more generally applicable, and probably wouldn’t take too long to do.
Once you’ve got shake-a-paw down, it’s fairly simple to progress to wave – our instructor used us as a demonstrator yesterday, and it worked on the first try. Standing a bit further back from your dog than if you were going to ask for a shake, hold your hand out (not close enough for him to reach), and ask him to shake. He will likely lift his paw (click, or mark to reward this), and might actually reach out towards your hand, in a way that looks very much like a wave. Dog picked up on this quickly, and I don’t think it’ll take too much time to switch from holding my hand out to waving my hand.
I am definitely hopeful that my instructor will decide to do more trick classes – they’re very entertaining, and she has a lot of solutions I would never have thought of for making a trick work. It is also helpful in furthering my goal of Dog listening to me even when there are other dogs around. Obedience class is good for that as well – he’s learning that at the beginning and end of the class, he gets time to greet the other dogs, but that, when he’s being asked to sit, he really does need to sit, and not try to go off and hang out with the other dogs.
It seems unlikely that I’ll have much time in the next week to practice tricks (craziness is on tap, with hardly any time for sleep/relaxation, let alone convincing Dog to backup in a straight line), but I’ll do my best, and try to post some success-videos of tricks soon. Once I’ve got these ones down, I’ll be looking for new things, so post if you’ve got an idea for something hilarious for Dog and I to learn.