trick of the week: stand on my feet

Photo from that dog dancing guy

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about this trick.

If you are playing along at home, please let me know how you’re going with your tricks, if you’re having any problems (maybe I can help!?) if you’re succeeding, if I’m giving you too many assignments too quickly.

This trick was one of the early ones I taught to Lumen- I think she had a natural tendency to barge between my legs though anyway so it was a pretty natural progression from there.

For this trick, I think it would be helpful if your dog it used to playing with its feet- eg, experimenting while shaping by using its feet to touch things, climb on things, etc. It’s only front feet this time and most dogs seem to have a better understanding of their front feet over their rear feet.

So, here’s what you do.

edited: in case you feel lazy, you can just watch a video instead!!!



Stand on my feet (and walk)

You’ll need:
Clicker or marker word (eg. yes!)
Hungry dog
Maybe some toys for jackpots.

First, start by luring your dog with a bit of food to go around your leg (this can be a trick in itself) toward your back. You might want a bit of food in both hands to stop your dog turning to look back at the first hand to get the food.

With open legs, reward your dog through the legs. You’ll want to work on this lure and reward bit so the dog gets used to being between your legs. I can imagine some dogs wouldn’t like it so you have to make it a fairly valuable place to be with plenty of treats. You can make the circling around and coming through a trick in itself, or if you wanted to skip it you could just step over your dog, I guess, but it’s more fun if they get into position themselves. 
So, say you want them to come around on your right side because you’re right handed like me so that makes sense (or switch this around), you’d have a bit of food in your right and left hands. You’d lure them from in front of you, around the right side of your body, as far as you can before they are bending weird from trying to get the food in your right hand… then you need to get their attention with the food in your left hand, and feed them for coming through your legs. I think it’s less complicated than it sounds, give it a try. 

Ok, that’s part 1 to set your dog up.
Now that it’s happy to be between your legs, you’ll want to curl your toes up to make your feet nice and flat. I suggest also wearing shoes as socks and bare feet are very slippy and even Lu has trouble staying on. You’ll also want to start being a little pigeon toed.. means your feet are closer without you having to crush your dog with your legs. 

Now comes the shaping. You can lure a little here too but not in great amounts- I find Lumen does some of her best thinking while gnawing on my hand that has food in it, and will naturally shuffle around and try different things with her feet while she’s doing this- your dog may or may not, but you need to find a way to get those feet moving without necessarily encouraging the dog to leave the leg zone. 
If they lift a foot, click and reward- I think Lu crept forward a bit while learning this, so I’d push her back with food to the nose. Essentially, you start clicking front feet movement, jackpotting and going crazy if their foot even accidentally touches yours.
It’s a bit of trial and error to get to the standing on your feet bit, but once they get it you’ll be right…
Eventually your dog should get one foot one, and then it’s a matter of getting them to put the other on… as most dogs are left or right-paw dominant, one will be easier than the other. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about having two paws on at once at first if you need to work on the non-dominant paw… I’d probably want them to understand that either/or paw can go on, particularly the non-dominant paw, and from there start waiting it out once one paw is on your foot to see if they move the other one.

For the walking, you just start small, even just shifting your weight and clicking them for staying on your feet. Then a little step, click for staying on your feet. Keep doing this, step by step, until you can take a few steps in a row before rewarding.
I didn’t name this trick, apart from the circling around and through my legs bit- she knows if she goes through, she should probably stand on my feet next. I suppose you could name it if you want.

Troubleshooting

My dog isn’t moving its feet or doing anything.


So I’d probably recommend other tricks to get your dog thinking about its feet, eg. paw touches/targets, standing on shoes (not on your feet), climbing on a saucepan, etc. I also helped get Lumen’s attention sometimes by wiggling my toes if I had my shoes off. The movement helped her focus on my feet and she figured she probably needed to do something with them. Like I said, you can use food a bit to help shift your dog’s weight to encourage them to move their feet, too.


My dog hops off whenever I move forward.

Work on just staying still but shifting your weight like you’re about to take a step but don’t really take a step. Get the dog to understand that their job is to keep its feet on yours.


Let me know if you have any other problems and I’ll post the questions up here, and happy training!

trick of the week: circle

Hello again.

2nd installment of trick of the week. 

Once again, this is a great foundation trick for a lot of things. It teaches hind-end awareness especially well, a bit of independence (Lumen found it hard to do the bit where she had to turn her back on me), a bit of balance, and as a base for a lot of other tricks. It’s the trick I used to begin teaching Lumen the ‘heel’ position, and to do a backward figure-8. 
Again, this is a trick you can teach to even a young puppy. If you have an older dog (like Mallei) who doesn’t have rear-end awareness, they might find this much more difficult than your young dog. Mal is hopeless at this. 

Circle on an object.



You will need:
Something like a saucepan, pot or similar.
Clicker.
Treats.

How to do it:
Your dog needs a basic understanding of clicker training to begin with.
Assuming it has this, shape your dog to put its front feet only on the pot. Be careful of getting all 4 feet on because although that’s a really cool trick, it’ll ‘muddy the waters’ of this one for now. 
Ok. When it knows to get its front feet up there, start looking for rear-end movement. That can be a shift of weight from one foot to another, a lift of one foot, whatever. Click, treat. Keep doing this. When the dog is shifting around (Mallei does this and it’s about as far as we get), stop clicking for a bit and hold out. If the dog takes a step in either direction, jackpot!!! Play, reward, have a party.
Keep going. Soon, one step isn’t good enough. Look for two. Three… Four. 
I found with Lumen that she needed a little help to get around the part where she can no longer watch me (and the food) but had to have her back turned to me. In one direction I reached down and helped her turn her head to then swing her butt around… and in the other direction, I shaped a head drop. As soon as she was comfortable dropping her head (eg no longer looking up at me) she found it much easier to then swing around on her own. This is sort of a matter of practise and experimentation I think. 
Once they begin circling, make sure to reward in different places so they never expect to stop in one spot. 
Then… go the other way. Essentially, you’ll start from scratch. You’ll probably get a few frenzied circles as your dog tries to figure out why the circles aren’t working, and then maybe you’ll get a weight shift in the other direction. Hurrah!!! Usually it takes less time to shape the other way because they kind of already know the game.
Most dogs will have a preferred way, and that’s where they’ll default to. It’s important to teach them both ways though. 
Once they’re circling, you could add a cue – I have a hand flick for Lumen, which helps her know the direction I want, and when she’s going to side, she has “flip” to get to my right side, and “side” to go to my left side. 
In the video, I begin to step into her way and I click when she bumps me. That ‘bump’ becomes the foundation of her heel and ‘return to side’ position. If she’s bumping, she’s close and in the right place. 

Troubleshooting

My dog won’t go around, will only dance on the spot.
Ah yes, I know this problem well, thanks Mallei. I’d suggest doing other rear-end awareness tricks like 4-in, targetting back, etc. Luring could also be beneficial though I think this could make the training process take longer. Possibly you could try foot pods, or a book or something, so the dog has something solid and tangible to step onto, and can aim for that thing- you could keep moving the book further and further around until the dog is doing a full circle to get to the book with its hind legs, and then fade out the book. I might try that with Mallei and let you know how it goes.

Dog doesn’t stay on the pot.
Might need to do some more shaping with that one to get them to understand that their job is to put their front feet on the pot and keep them there!

Good luck, and happy training!

trick of the week: 4-in


Hello, welcome to trick of the week.

I’ve recently had a couple of people ask me to set them ‘assignments’ to help with training their dog, so hopefully it will make me more diligent about updating the blog, about filming our training, and about thinking of new tricks.
Feel free to share this around for anybody else who might enjoy it.

I think first and foremost, before trying any of this, your dog needs to have a pretty solid understanding of what the clicker is, and what a click means…. That being said, this was one of the very very first tricks that I was teaching Lumen as an 8 week old pup, so it’s definitely do-able, even if it looks complicated!!

This is one of my favourite tricks for a number of reasons: it helps your dog’s balance and strength, teaches then amazing rear-end awareness (absolutely necessary for agility training), looks freaking cool,  and really requires them to think about what their job is.


4-in.

You’ll need:
A LARGE bowl, box, or plastic tub – I used those see-through plastic storage tubs for puppy Lumen, made her job easier.
A smaller bowl, box or saucepan (see photo above, Lu at probably 12 weeks, so keep in mind that the saucepan is relative to her size (e.g.. still pretty big. You might want to use a large tupperware container or slightly smaller box than the first).
An even smaller bowl – I use a plastic tupperware bowl which you’ll see on the video above. The edges are a bit sharper than I’d like so you can use whatever you have lying around, or get a small metal dog water bowl from the pet-store. I’ve been meaning to do this, but I’ve been slack.
The idea is to step it down gradually- if that takes 4 sizes, then it takes 4 sizes! Set your dog up to succeed, don’t make it so impossible that they (and you) get frustrated. 

How to do it:
First, shape your dog to get in the largest box. This doesn’t usually take long, though for some, getting their back legs in takes longer than their front. Click for one front leg, the other, then any movement of the back-legs – this will start them thinking about their rear-end, and eventually they’ll lift them up and get them in the box. Jackpot for all 4 feet in the box.
Great. When you’ve done this step (and most dogs should find this relatively straightforward especially if the box is big enough to fit them), get your next smallest item. Repeat the process as above. This time they might struggle with the back-feet, so it’ll take longer. Again, click and reward back-feet movement, especially movement that suggests they’re trying to work their feet toward the bowl/box/saucepan. Don’t be surprised if this step takes a while – sometimes it’s worth jackpotting three legs in the bowl, just so they get the idea that their hind legs are really important and exciting. 
Last step, you guessed it, small bowl. Start all the way from the start, but because of your pre-work, it should be pretty easy. 
Then you want to start extending duration but keep in mind that to balance in this position is quite tricky for dogs- I haven’t got much duration at all with Lumen (and I haven’t really been working on it since she ‘got’ the trick). 
Cues? The bowl is the cue. I don’t tell Lumen to ‘get in’ or do anything, she just sees the bowl and knows her job (after a little trial and error sometimes).

Troubleshooting:

Dog doesn’t put hind-feet in, ever. 
Ok, so you need to back up and train more tricks. A great one for rear end awareness is circling on top of the saucepan. I’ll post this one next week. Once you have that, the dog should have more understanding of its hind-feet and give that a try.

My dog got in the big box with all legs, but won’t get in the next smaller box.
I’d either alternate between the big box/bowl and the littler box/bowl and try and help them generalize between one and the other, or get a less small box as the 2nd one, to help them ‘step down’ in size. I know this is really frustrating because Mallei (my older boy) wouldn’t get in the smaller one even though he understood getting in the bigger one. 

My dog only touches its 4th foot in for a second then gets out.
That’s ok, I think your dog just doesn’t have enough strength to hold the position for a while yet. Keep working on the trick and also do other tricks for strength and balance (watch this space) and conditioning your dog through hill walks, running through the forest, over roots, etc, tugging and playing. Possibly your smallest bowl is too small- I know Lumen finds it tricky to stay in position because her feet are standing on her feet… Possibly if I used a slightly bigger bowl she could build strength and balance, which she could transfer to the smaller bowl. 

Let me know how you get on! Post your videos in the comments, or ask me if you’re having any other problems and I’ll add it to the trouble-shooting section.

Good luck, happy training!

Next week’s trick: circling an object keeping front paws still.