Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tug

I’ve been working on Spike’s new trick with him (opening a cupboard door by pulling on a fabric rope), but the last step is going slowly.

When your dog knows the clicker training “game” it is pretty neat to watch them learn. Teaching with the clicker requires the trainer to break the behaviour down into small steps, reinforcing with treats as you go; the click becomes the signal that yes, that is what I want you to do. I usually “free shape” a behaviour, which means no touching or physical guiding.

The first step was for him to come close to the rope, (click/treat), then touch it with his nose (click/treat), and so on as the behaviour is built. Some steps have to be repeated several times before they are truly understood. On the first click his head snapped around to look at me (and get the treat). The game was on!

As we progressed through the steps, he would offer part of the behaviour, then pause and wait for the click. If the click didn’t come he would go to the next step, and again pause. Sometimes I would be too slow, or expect too much and he would get frustrated and offer a bow, spin, down, or even a play dead. (trainer, take heed!)

DSCN4720

It took less than 10 minutes before he was pulling on the rope consistently. And that’s where we stalled. He would pick up the rope and put tension on it, but we couldn’t advance to him pulling hard enough to open the door. How could I get him to pull harder? I pondered this over the next day, and realized that we don’t even have tug games with his toys – those sorts of games are discouraged. Since that revelation I’ve tried playing tug with him and clicking for a harder pull, but we are still not getting it.

The next thing I’m going to try is to use higher value treats. I might be too stingy with the treats for this more difficult step. But other than that, I’m not sure how we are going to get past this – any suggestions are welcomed!

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My little dog - a heartbeat at my feet.  ~Edith Wharton