Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Long overdue post: Teach your dog 5 commands in 30 days

So Lindsay over at ThatMutt.com had issued a 30-day challenge in July: can you teach your dog 5 new commands in 30 days? Read all about Lindsay and Ace's hard work HERE. Given Biggie's love for learning new tricks, I thought it would be just the push we needed to get some new tricks under our belt. We were not quite as successful as Lindsay and Ace were, but then again we had some bonus issues to work with w/r/t the Biggietude and his behavior at day care...

Biggie's puppy trainer had given us some suggestions on this command last year, so really, we weren't copying Lindsay and Ace! We started with Biggie in "down" and lured him slowly forward with a treat. We didn't think to use Lindsay's tactic of keeping a gentle hand on Biggie's back to prevent him from popping up, but when we tried it, I realized why it would have had limited success with Biggie. While the hand on the back did help remind Biggie to keep his butt down, it took almost my entire wingspsan to keep one hand on his back and another one forward of Biggie's nose and paws. That dog can STRETCH!

Also, there were some physical limitations to how often I could practice this trick with Biggie. Picture a mountain climber scaling an ice wall with axes in either hand, and you will get an idea of how Biggie pulled himself along the floor. Biggie is not the most light-of-paw, and he tended to crawl forward by smashing his front paw into the hand holding the treat and pulling himself along, then smashing the other paw in and digging in to pull all 100 pounds of him along the floor. It was just physically difficult for a dog of his bulk to crawl. If he got too excited he'd get up a few inches from the floor and pounce on my hand with both bear paws. OUCH. Ace's video looks positively nimble in comparison.

Overall, I give Biggie a B+ for his efforts here. He learned very quickly what the command meant, but he had some difficulty executing it for more than a few feet.

Biggie's been working on loose-lead walking in the heel position without using the "heel" command, so this "trick" was really designed to reinforce his leash manners. Again, I used a food lure in my left hand, coiled into a loose fist, which I would tap against my left thigh to get Biggie's attention. To get him to sit when we stopped, I would stop, open my hand palm up and raise it slightly, which is Biggie's hand signal for "sit." I'd reinforce a good heel position by feeding him treats as he walked and sat. When he sits from a heel, Biggie leans against my leg and looks up with a big smile on his face. My sister's old German Shepherd, Kiva, used to do the same thing.

Biggie gets a B+ for this one, too. We have yet to do this successfully outdoors with distractions, and when Biggie gets too excited he tries to run ahead to where he thinks we're going, but working on this command has improved his on-lead heeling tremendously.

As in, "get in your crate and park your butt in a sit." It took Biggie less than 5 tries to get this one down. It was pretty easy since he eats in his crate and he is a very food-motivated pup. Biggie's breeder, Mama Clare, taught Biggie to sit for his supper before he was even 8 weeks old, so it was pretty simple to transition to "go in your crate and sit and wait for something good to happen." I taught this by walking with Biggie to his crate, dinner bowl in hand. Then I'd gesture with one hand into his crate, and wait for him to go in. I swear I saw the light bulb go off over his head when he did this correctly the first time.

Grade: A+. The puppy whose only speed seemed to be "slow walk" trots to his crate now, and not just for meals! As an added bonus, he likes hanging out in his crate even more, and doesn't need to be roused from whatever random sleeping spot he's in when we go to bed, because he will often just put himself to bed in our bedroom or in his crate when it gets to be 11pm or so. (Or, he sees us getting ready for bed and gets himself up.)

4. BANG!
Again, we tried this before we knew Lindsay and Ace were working on it, and Biggie does a Monty-Python-esque, "I'm not dead yet" slow, operatic death, as if he had to think about how dead he feels. I taught this by getting Biggie in a down, and then gesturing in a quasi-gun arm wave, in the direction Biggie was already leaning, and shouting "Baaaang!" The first couple times I held the treat on the floor so the only way he could get it is if his body and head were flat on the floor. I used a clicker to mark the precise behavior I wanted (head touches floor) the first two times, and then we were done. He knew it.

Another A+ here. We just capitalized on his lazy temperament. My mother in law tried it this weekend and he did it for her, and she's no dog trainer. It really took me two tries to get this one: the first time, I thought it was an accident; when he did it a second time with that look in his eye I knew he had it down.

We failed miserably on this one, but I don't blame Biggie. The main reason was because I couldn't decide what exactly I wanted Biggie to do: stick his head in P-Daddy's lap? nuzzle his hand? arm? which side of P-Daddy to come up to? what if P-Daddy is lying down? what if he's standing or sitting?

We got the idea for this trick from friends who had a pomeranian who would run across the room and put her paw on her daddy's or mommy's leg, but since Biggie's 10 times the size of a pom and we don't want to teach him to jump on anyone, so needed to reinforce a different behavior. As you can tell, P-Daddy is not the main trainer in the household - he'll reinforce behaviors I've already trained, but he won't do much in the way of original tricks, other than his aborted attempts to teach Biggie how to unlock his crate. (Me: "P-Daddy, don't you think that if the crate is locked while Biggie is not in it, it means someone locked it on purpose and we don't WANT him to go in the crate?" Even now, when Biggie opens his crate he goes for the handle with his mouth.)

So initially I conceived of this "trick" to annoy P-Daddy while he was sleeping on the couch or trying to do work. I'd put biscuits on his lap or stick pieces of cheese between P-Daddy's toes while he was napping on the couch. (P-Daddy is a very sound sleeper.) This caused me all sorts of amusement while also bothering P-Daddy, which was fun for me, but we didn't really get anywhere with it. If anyone can suggest an appropriate behavior to reinforce with this command, I'll give it another try.


Booker the Treeing Walker said...

H-Mom loves this post! Now she is trying to think of 5 commands to add to Booker's roster.

MAKE FRIENDS (sniff butt)
TELL US HOW YOU FEEL (howl at imaginary raccoons)
YAWN (an elevator-reflex, but timing of the command could impress the unwitting)

hahahahahhahaha ... no really, H-Mom is going to make a chart and have everyone work on 5 new commands for Booker.

Lindsay said...

Hey! Glad to hear about Biggie's success learning the five commands. He did way, way better than Ace on BANG. Ace is still very slow at that one. I should try a clicker. Ace sucks at crawl, too. I just went too fast on that one. He thinks crawl means run over to me and then crawl from two feet away. Oh well. And I think Biggie could learn "where's daddy?" with more practice, especially with the treats. I think all he'd have to do is go and sit by "daddy."

Chris & Mackenzie said...

We taught Mackenzie, "Where's Laurie" (my wife) which is like a hide-n-seek game. Now, whenever Laurie leaves the room, Mackenzie tears after her as if she's going to hide. I think we gave her a complex!


Mango said...

Biggie! I LOVE learning tricks. We usually have special Mango only time in the yard (no pee-wee) after dinner and I can practice my moves. It takes me way longer to learn than you. You are very smart.

I am trying to learn roll over, but its hard to do if you're on an incline.

I sometimes grab Momma's hand by accident too when I am crawling.


Georgeous said...

Wow BiggieZ Mumma, what synchronicity. I've been doing new tricks too, some the same as Biggie! Like Biggie, I go to bed without being told (I go there so THEY leave me alone and don't keep Bang Bang at me or doing cute stuff) Boy it's tiring for us big fellas - Biggies crawl sounds like mine LOL, not too elegant?
Keep up the mentally draining work Biggie!
Love George

River said...

That's so much work and Biggie is so smart. Can you do videos of his tricks?

love & wags,

Kess And Her Mama said...

Well done Biggie Z. The latest trick I learnt was High 5! Mum is too lazy to teach new ones, altho after your post, she may give 1 or 2 a go. BTW, we've added you to our blog link. Hope you don't mind :-)