a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: About teaching tricks

Thursday, February 21, 2019

About teaching tricks

SUMMARY: Do I work on more than one at a time?

(Started this post back in 2018 sometime in response to someone's question and left it as a draft. I have over 40 draft posts that I never finished! Maybe I'll keep working on clearing them out and queueing them up for weeks in advance!)

I work on more than one trick at a time for various reasons. This includes keeping me from getting bored and keeping them from thinking that Trick Time means only [whatever we’ve been working on in recent days/weeks]. If the tricks are different enough from each other, dogs shouldn’t get confused. For example, I started with crawl backwards with Luke while he was still learning left and right (which he’s still a little iffy on). I started blowing bubbles in a water bowl while working on other things.

Like anything else, I try not to do more than 3-5 minutes or maybe 20 treats for one dog, depending on where I am in the process, then switch back and forth with maybe 4 or 5 turns for each dog. Other dog(s) are supposed to wait quietly on their bed or in a down while I work with that dog; this is good training for staying in one place even with distractions. So I'm training two dogs at once! (Early in the wait/stay/go to your bed stage, I need to reward that dog periodically, too.

I might work on the same trick all 4 or 5 times in a session if I’m looking for some kind of breakthrough or if the dog is progressing rapidly and I want to reinforce or push it just a tiny bit farther. If dog looks confused or starts seeming stressed, I quickly go back to a couple of trick that she already knows well (often a hand touch and a Shake) and let her lie down to relax while I work with the other dog. I usually finish with a play session at the end, which is, of course, always a little bit of training (Give, Down, Bring It, do a trick and get the ball again, etc.).

I will concentrate on more repetitions of things that they’ve more or less started to grasp to build the skill, and possibly fewer repetitions of something that’s completely new (so not to stress them out or to give myself a chance to think about how i can chunk it differently or present it differently to help them) and of something that they know well. But, still, I'll mix in a few instances of more familiar tricks.

I always try to end with things that they know. (Anything, even if it’s just at the “I know how to Sit and nothing else” stage—then it would be a couple of sits (with rewards, of course)and done.)

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