Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tricks: Not Just For Hookers!

How long do I have to hold this down stay......? I think she's going to eat me....

My dachshund knows a lot of tricks... The following is a quick video of Gaius' tricks from almost a year ago (so he's only one year old in this video). Since then he's learned MANY more. I might make a new one at some point. Excuse my ridiculously high pitched voice while training. If you follow this blog you'll just have to get used to it :)

I love training tricks! Its probably my favorite thing to do in the dog training world. Mostly because shaping is just fascinating (I almost ALWAYS use shaping to teach tricks). I love watching my dog's brain work. Letting him figure things out on his own. Its like actively watching his brain grow (But shaping and clicker training is a whole post in and of itself). Another great thing about using shaping to teach tricks is that you never know what kind of trick you're going to end up with. You let the animal lead the way to a certain extent (For example I clicker trained a cat to give me a high five earlier today... but more on that later). Lastly tricks are just freakin adorable. And isn't that what having a dog is all about?

There are other reasons to teach your dog tricks. Its a great way to build a relationship with your dog. I remember when I first started dog training someone said that to me. I have to admit my first reaction was "What the heck does 'build a relationship' with my dog mean". It sounded like some artsy, spiritual crap to me. I was expecting her to pull out crystals and make me hum, but now I think I understand. It means it's a way of making the dog like you more, making you an interesting and fun person to be around. Dogs that are taught tricks have fun, you have fun and they love you more for it.

Another reason to teach tricks is for the ups and the downs. Let me explain... Tricks are a great way to psych your dog up! I use this a lot on hot days when Gaius is dragging on the agility field (Ok, ok I just started doing this, but come on, I'm new here! ). I'll call him out of his crate and ask him to do four or five tricks which he knows like the back of his hand (paw). Then I reward each one. This way he gets excited. He thinks "Oh! these are easy, I can do this, and look at all the treats I'm getting!" Then when I ask him to do the more difficult behavior (running an agility sequence) he is more excited.

The next reason to teach tricks, I think is by far the MOST IMPORTANT REASON is to keep your dog under threshold (the downs). Not all of us have perfectly well adjusted, well socialized dogs (ahem... more on this later). In fact since I've started in dog training (I'd say, for real about 1.5 years ago. I don't think Petsmart counts.) I'd say a HUGE number of dogs have issues with socialization. Tricks are an amazing distractions.

Do you have a pomeranian that hates other dogs? You're out on a walk and the worst thing in the world happens. Suddenly you turn a corner and there is a Saint Bernard pulling its owner down the street! OH NO!! If your pompom knows a few tricks you can turn to them and say. "Cujo shake! (All pom poms should be named Cujo) Cujo dance! Cujo spin!" and before you know it the slobbery lug has gone along his way and Cujo barley even noticed! Its magic!

Now a lot of "serious" dog trainers don't like to teach their dogs tricks (I put serious in quotations because if you are serious when you dog train you are totally doing it wrong). They think that it isn't important or is somehow demeaning to their champion agility border collie or disciplined Doberman Schutzhund. Well let me tell you something, my dachshund doesn't mind being demeaned if cookies are involved! And regardless, even if trick training isn't necessarily what the cool kids do, I think it's awesome! And I was on the chess team in high school, so obviously I'm an expert on cool. (insert picture of me doing a Fonz impression here)

Anyhow I leave you with one last video. This is a video of me in the process of teaching the command IN. We had practiced this several times before but this is the first time I used the wine glass (a much smaller target). Here he isn't yet to the point were I can add the command (Maybe I'll talk to you about the steps of shaping a little later). I make a few mistakes in this training session. The first of which is it went on WAY too long. His best repetitions are at the beginning of the training session (I went on long mostly because this was how he was getting dinner and I wanted to finish feeding him, but still no excuses). I also could have fed him over the wine glass which may have help him understand where his head needed to be. Look at me, record keeping. That is what the blog is here for right? I'm sure there will be many more videos like this to come. Enjoy :)

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