17 May 2010

Team Small Dog offers semi useful tips about tricks.

So some of my agility students were asking the other night, how do we think of good tricks? I'm always on them, tricks, tricks, tricks. They thought they were boring and couldn't think of ANYTHING to train their dogs to do. Boring? No way. Teaching your dogs tricks should be something that makes you laugh and your dog go crazy with the funness of it all. If your dog is into good grammar and says that funness isn't a word, then get him to do his trick and see if he explodes into happy giggles to do it to get his toy or treat and then gets off your back about the sloppy grammarizing. Anybody can do that!

I teach all 3 of my dogs different tricks based on who they are. There's some tricks they all know how to do, and some group tricks they do together, and some that are their very own special ones. Those tricks, I just figure out based on what I think would amuse me and amuse them. Right now, that includes teaching them to ride Roomba vacuum cleaning robots. And Ruby and Otterpop are learning to ride a skateboard together. Mostly because I think this is super funny and I am more likely to spend a lot of time teaching something if it cracks me up. The goal is that Otterpop flings herself onto the skateboard to launch it and sticks in a down, and Ruby runs behind, jumps her front feet on, then pushes Otterpop down the driveway. When no cars are coming.

Will this ever be useful for agility? Not directly. I am pretty sure there will never be a skateboard obstacle, judging from all the current broohaha over 24" poles and safety tires. But teaching skateboarding strengthens our teamwork, helps their brains solve complex problems, improves focus, and teaches them to stick to moving objects, all useful things in agility.

Otterpop is easy to teach tricks to. Right now, she's learning to sit on the Roomba when it drives around the room. Just because it's funny. I must need a life. Otterpop is somewhat reactive, ie, her fearfulness makes her behave like a complete ass, and tricks reorient and reboot her in stressful situations. So sometimes when she's running through her cute tricks routine, we're just rebooting her hard drive, and life goes on. Her nose touch and basketball trick brings her back to planet manners when she starts to go all hairy eyeball. If you see me outside the ring, running her through the stupid pet tricks mill, it's because it makes us both laugh, which is a good thing for relieving the stress of stepping in that agility ring.

I suspect that the reason she's such a good trickster is that I started teaching her tricks as a survival skill to keep her from locking the stink eye on anybody she decided was evil and it helped and we just rolled with it. Now that she has an injury in one of her legs, I try to find tricks that help her strengthen her muscles, as well as giving her a break from doing agility. If someone could find me a pilates class because it was disguised as stuntwork where they throw pie at you for doing it right, sign me up. Otterpop came hardwired to love a toy as much as food, and this makes teaching tricks very easy with her as well.

Ruby gets all jacked up and fired up with tricks, to the point of insanity, which is super funny until she starts bashing her heads against things. She is the leader of mosh pit version of tricks at our house and probably should wear a helmet. Ruby was the first dog I tried to shape to do things and this is what sloppy timing of click and reward created. She used to push Timmy around on his skateboard by bashing it with her head and arms. She is one of those dogs that offers behaviors so fast and furious that I always end up shaping something different than what I intended. Her tricks all have this verb vibe to them: hit the bucket with your feet, push the skateboard by hitting it, tap dance on a roomba. Which actually works just fine.

Ruby did not come hardwired to fetch balls and play with toys, and I am most proud of teaching her to fetch balls and tug with me with a toy. Chasing a little tennis ball is one of her best rewards now. Ruby loves to learn tricks, she offers behaviors so fast that her tricks usually end up a little sloppy. Having dogs that are so different to teach things to certainly has sharpened up my training skills.

Gustavo is the hardest of all my dogs for me to teach tricks to, I will admit it. And I should work much harder at this than I do. He is a huge hit on the nursing home circuit with his very vanilla sit, stay, down, nosetouch, rollover and spin. Each and every simple trick that he has learned has taken a long time to master. Sit was months. It's just how he learns. Differently. Everything gets broken into the teensiest, tiniest baby steps. We work hard at tricks, me and him. He is learning a running dogwalk contact right now. He thinks this is the funnest trick ever because it involves running really fast and he gets to use his Robot, a Manners Minder treat dispenser with a remote control. We're just going to call this a trick for now. This has been really fun, and is the trick we work on every single day right now. Yes, it's an agility skill. But I want it to be the funnest thing ever for him, so the end result is a ligthning fast, rock solid running contact.

Have a bunch of dogs? Group tricks are a great way to keep order in the group. I wish I had the skill of those old skool dog trainers where the dogs all do a conga line and jump rope. Hard enough to teach them to do the Thriller dance. Someday. I try to make sure everyone gets their own turn practicing things, without the other dogs, and we also do things together. We do a lot of group stays with dogs being released only on their name for the toy, to eat or to play. Sometimes they all stay in a clump, sometimes they all go to their own designated "place."

So a list of potential tricks? Here's a start, this is just stuff that we do around the house:
Bouncing basketball nosetouches
Stand on a bucket
Back feet on a bucket and pivot around
Front feet on a bucket and tap it like a drum
Ride the skateboard
Run as fast as you can to a bed or mat and lay down
Bang bang you're dead
Sitting up circus dog
Crouch walking like a penguin
Walk backwards
Spin left and right
Go get your ball
Rollover once, keep rolling over
Handstand, with back feet kicking up on a wall
Left and right spins
Jump up into my arms

My favorite trick resource is one of my agility heroes, Silvia Trkman. Silvia's, from Slovenia, has been an international champion with her dogs for years. Her website has millions of good ideas, and try to find the video she made of her dogs cleaning her house. Holy smokes. Her trick training is the foundation of her amazing agility skills, watch some of her videos and you'll see why.

Silvia's Website is http://silvia.trkman.net/

Susan Garrett is a great resource for all kinds of training ideas. Susan is a Canadian agility champ and force of nature. I think I still owe her money. Here's a post from her website that has a list of great behaviors that you can shape. http://susangarrettdogagility.com/2009/02/idea-list-for-shaping.html .


Chris and Ricky said...

I love this post about trick-training! YouTube is full of really good ideas for tricks - Sylvia of course but here are a few more:

We learn new tricks all the time and you are right - it is so fun!!!

Elf said...

"I am pretty sure there will never be a skateboard obstacle, judging from all the current broohaha over 24" poles and safety tires." Best agility quote in months!

Common people, aka muggles or non-dog people, are astonished by things like your dog sitting when you tell it to and then, like, actually staying there for more than a nanosecond.

I find that tricks are a great bonding exercise between the dog and human. You really have to pay attention to each other and learn how the other one works. I like the going backwards when you say "beep beep" like big trucks do, or doing a high 5, simple things that people enjoy seeing. Fetching the newspaper is a great trick that's particularly useful when it's wet or cold outside.

Anonymous said...

A helpful trick I taught Max the BC is to get the clothes out of the dryer and hand them to me. You say, my dogs are short... Nubby legged Nub, the JRT, wanted in on the cookie action so he stands in the dryer and hands me stuff. Nub, though, always has to give a little tug before he hands stuff over:) Beep the BC mix has a "bad horsie" trick where he rears and strikes the air with his front legs.