a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Clicker Training

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Clicker Training

SUMMARY: So much to learn, so many dogs, so little time.

I taught Tika and Boost to stretch on command (and Boost her back legs, too), at least more or less, by following Susan Garrett's suggestion to have a clicker and treats right after you get up while you're sitting on the -- throne. Yes. Because dogs will get up off their beds and come in and stretch. What a great time to catch them doing that.

So every morning they get the commands for that while I'm there to practice, except Tika stopped wanting to several months ago, so then it was mostly Boost.

To keep things hopping, so that that's not the only thing that Boost does while we're there, I mix it up with nose touches, hand shakes, left and right. And I keep saying, Boost, I should teach you more tricks.

Now I have Chip. Chip is cheating me because he comes in to see what's going on, then goes back out into the bedroom and around the corner and I can just barely see one of his leg when he stretches. Meanwhile Boost is right in front of me, staring at me, so she'll think that any click and treat is for her.  It will be challenging to teach Chip to stretch on command.

But he has figured out that treats are being handed out, so he comes in and wants in on the action. But all he knows is a wimpy nose touch. Which gets boring. So I need to teach *him* more tricks.

Next, I'm dogsitting my sister's dog, Abby. Abby likes to greet you at any time with something in her mouth. Her most favoritest thing is socks, but anything else will suffice if the mean humans have hidden all the socks.

Me find stick!

So now *she* comes in in the morning where treats are being handed out and wants some, too. She knows "sit". But that gets boring really fast. So I decided to teach her a nose touch to the back of my hand. She seemed to get it right away. I'm experimenting with doing it in different places in the house to see whether it's really a thing or whether she's just hoping that there's food in the hand. Have worked on that for a minute or so a couple of times a day for the last 4 days.

She also hates having her paws touched or held. So I started working on that with a clicker and tasty treats, just touch her paw and click really fast before she moves it and treat. Over and over and over. I was able to touch longer and with more pressure, but always on the top of her foot. As soon as I started trying to touch the sides, it was harder because she always moved right away.

[Note about training sessions: If I have time, I do multiple passes with each dog. So, 10 treats worth of work with Tika, then with Boost, then with Chip, then back around again. For the moment, Abby is in the mix, too. This gives the dogs' brains a chance to relax and not stress out between times.  If things seem to be going well and no signs of stress, or if I need a lot of rewards in a very short period, I'll do more than 10 treats worth, maybe 20 or 30. When desensitizing Chip to the flap of the dog door, I just stood there for 5 minutes or so with a hot dog in my hand and flapped flapped flapped over and over while he just licked at the hot dog and got tiny nibbles of it. That process wouldn't have worked, I don't think, 10 treats at a time.]

So back to Chip, I decided to teach him Shake, since he doesn't yet. Have had three sessions during which I worked on shaping that (holding a treat with my thumb in my open palm, waiting for him to move a paw, then move it more, then touch my hand, etc.) with the clicker. He's starting to get it--much less time licking and much quicker to lift his paw to my hand now.

Only thing is that he much prefers his left paw than his right paw. I did teach Tika different commands and cues for left and right shake, apparently I need to do the same with him. Thinking about that, or whether it's better to find ways to make it easier for him to use his right paw first. Training tricks is so easy and yet there are so many decisions!

Then it occurred to me that maybe learning "Shake" was a better way to teach Abby to let someone hold her paw. So yesterday morning I switched to that. She was much quicker to use her paw to begin with, so after a couple of sessions, she's also already lifting her paw to my hand--but she does it at the same time as she's rooting firmly into my hand with her nose. Trying to not let her get her nose on my hand before her paw gets there now. Tricky. Have to be persistent at keeping my hand away from her nose without her getting frustrated and stop trying before she uses her paw. I think I can manage that OK.

I have probably this morning and this evening for a couple more sessions of working on that before she goes home; will see how far I get.

Meanwhile, back to Boost. Decided to work on her walking backwards. Never did solidify that thing. Making progress. She also by default wants to try to lift her back legs onto something, because I've put so many sessions into the work for her to do a handstand. But she's getting over that.

And Tika wants in on it, too. I'm trying to get her to sit up and other things to strengthen her core, but her back end is pretty weak these days. I should do this a couple of times a day every day, but just never feel like I have the time. So mostly we just do the good old tricks, anything to get her moving in tight circles or backing up.

All of this is good to give all the dogs practice at lying down and waiting their turns. Some dogs aren't quite as cooperative about this...right, CHIP??

This is also challenging when my back is killing me, which it has been doing excessively the last few days. Sucks. Working with the doctors to figure out what next.

But dogs are enjoying their treats and the attention. That's the important thing.

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