A new trick? Something to make her look sweet

Teaching the youngest dog new tricks

Over the Christmas holidays, I was sent a link to a video from Sarah showing how to teach a ‘head down’ trick.  Here is the video:

The Head Down Trick

Now here is my effort to teach this to Ounce:

I think you can make a number of observations from watching these two videos.  First of all, Sarah and Smurf (and Wilma) are professionals; they really know how to put on a show.  We have much to learn.  Smurf is clearly extremely talented and obedient, as well as being quick to learn.  He is able to follow commands at a distance, which is the main thing we are not yet able to do.

I have waited to post about this because I wanted to video our very first attempt to learn it.  I thought this would be more interesting for my followers than showing Ounce being able to do it already – it’s all about the learning process.

So this is literally me switching on the video and beginning to teach it.  Because of that, it is not the finished production.  You cannot hope to teach a puppy a trick in one sitting.  What you can see, hopefully, is some progression.

To start with, I hold the bottle cap (I didn’t want to use a coin, too hard to handle and was worried she might swallow it for some reason).  I try to get her to touch it with her nose, when I say ‘yes’ and give her a treat.  Can you see how inept I am at doing this compared with Sarah?  You might notice that I don’t have to put a treat behind the cap for Ounce to touch it with her nose.  That is because I have already taught her to ‘touch’ something – a bigger lid – on one or two other occasions.  Just holding out something is enough for her to sniff it.

You can see in the middle of my video that I am trying to get her to sit.  I want to try and put the cap on the floor between her feet.  But she doesn’t really know ‘sit’ as a command on its own, or if she did she has forgotten it.  Instead, she offers me a whole range of other tricks; twisting, lying down, giving a paw etc.  Bless her heart, she is eager to please!

We get there in the end.  She then lies down and I manage to put the cap between her front legs.  Ounce looks at it but doesn’t touch it, twice.  I should then wait for her to figure it out. This is called ‘shaping’, where we wait for the desired behaviour.  Unfortunately I interfere and move the cap, which gives her a massive cue to do what I want.  I do then manage to reward it, but again, it’s pretty poorly managed.

I am not beating myself up about it – it’s hard!  I am trying to demonstrate that even though it is hard, it is manageable.  You can get there, you just need to persevere.  And be patient.

I will try again tomorrow.  One of the things that is confusing me at the moment is the use of the voice commands.  Sarah doesn’t say anything until she has the coin on the floor.  When Smurf starts to put his head down, she says ‘head down’.  I started off saying ‘touch’ meaning ‘put your nose on the lid’.  There are two things wrong with that.  One is that I want ‘touch’ to mean ‘go to the end of the agility equipment and stop with your front feet touching the ground’ and secondly that if I am saying touch the lid, how will Ounce know what to do when the lid is not there?

Hmm.  Maybe you can teach a young dog new tricks but this old dog is finding it quite a challenge!


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