Trick Training Bloopers

Zani cross paws
Zani and I succeeded quickly with the “cross your paws” trick

I decided a while back to teach my dogs to cross their paws as a trick. I followed the instructions on one of Emily Larlham’s excellent videos: Dog Tricks Tutorial: Cross Your Paws. But I didn’t end up making the neat, quick progression shown in the movie when I tried it with my dog Summer.

I think that besides my rather clumsy training, it is just not a very natural behavior for her. I used a target, and when I finally got the behavior (sometimes), it took a long time before she would repeat it consistently. That’s very unlike most other training experiences I’ve had with her. That created a vicious circle, since one of my weaknesses as a trainer is that I am slow to raise criteria. So between the two of us we stayed at interim behaviors way too long.

One of our problems was that she kept creeping forward. Emily’s dogs stay tidily in their down position and daintily move only their paws. (And actually, so did my Zani, to whom I taught this behavior much more quickly). But Summer was perennially creeping forward or hurling herself after her moving paw and heaving sideways.

Another favorite of hers was to correctly cross her paw over, then instantly remove the bottom paw and scoot one body width to the side. I reinforced that one way too much as well. My reasoning: Well, she is crossing her paw!

I’ve said before that I had an epiphany about my dogs’ behaviors being a “map of reinforcement.” These outtakes show that in a microcosm. All these behaviors that Summer covers–and she is really good at variety–have gotten reinforced somewhere and somehow. You will see her target various parts of my body: my hand, foot, and leg. That’s because at some point I decided that if she was using the correct paw and reaching over the other one, it was OK if she targeted me a couple of times instead of the little coaster I was using. BIG mistake on my part. You’ll also see her enthusiastically whack with the wrong foot (that was not recently reinforced, but certainly has been before), and do a lot of general foot movement. You’ll even see her “give up” and put her head down on her paws. But as despondent as that looks, that’s actually an offered behavior as well.

All the outtakes make for an amusing video (except that being targeted with extended nails hurts) but there’s a lesson here. If you don’t raise criteria fast enough and instead reinforce all these approximation behaviors too often, this is the kind of thing you get. I’m working on a post about the Matching Law, but suffice it to say at this point that dwelling on intermediate steps and reinforcing approximate behaviors a lot means those behaviors are going to stick around. It will take that much longer to clean them out of the final behavior.

No Reinforcement?

This video doesn’t show me reinforcing Summer. That’s because I edited together a bunch of “mistakes” that I had finally stopped reinforcing. But don’t worry. My rate of reinforcement was generally very high. And when you think about it, that makes sense. It was high, and directed inappropriately a lot of the time. She wouldn’t be trying all this stuff otherwise.

I have tons of footage of her doing it right and getting food reinforcers. But it made for a more entertaining video when I included only the bloopers.

Training Hint

If you use a target for this behavior, it may be hard to fade. The dog is concentrating on hitting the target; the tactile sensation of crossing the paws (which is really what we want) is overshadowed. My friend Yvette Van Veen of Awesome Dogs suggests using a lightweight target (like a piece of paper) and actually putting it on the dog’s paw (the one that will end up on the bottom). Clever!

What about the rest of you who trained this trick? What method did you use? How did the progression go?

Related Posts

Using a Training Plan to Retrain Summer’s “Target” This is another example of my having reinforced a bunch of approximations and sloppy versions of a behavior. But then I cleaned it up.

Welcome/Bloopers. My very first blog post with my original blooper video.

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

My other website: Dog Dementia: Help and Support

15 thoughts on “Trick Training Bloopers

  1. Eileen, while I don’t have a dog to train I totally agree with your idea that if you target a behavior, sometimes the lesson of the body part movement isn’t learned. I have experienced this with horses, who have followed their “nose target” but failed to realize I was really wanted them to focus on moving their feet.
    Thanks for your post. 🙂

  2. I think trick training, or training of other complex behaviors (all tricks to the dog), is one of those scenarios where a clear training plan, combined with using, for example, Jean Donaldson’s suggested “push, drop, stick” rules for criteria setting can help.

  3. This post made me smile. I have been attempting this trick on and off for 5 years or so. Yes, Emily Larlham makes it look so easy. I’m sure I have blooped so many times.

    I often find that stopping training on things I’m stuck on and trying again a couple of months later, resolves the problem. Not with this trick. I quickly gave up using my hand as a target. A wooden spatula seemed to work for a while but then George’s claws clung on to it as tight as fingers and I couldn’t move it away.

    I’m going to have another stab at this and have just remembered someone mentioning foot target wearing sheepskin boots

    1. Ha! I’m giving up on all body part targets. You see where they got me! Something I didn’t show was the sessions where I was standing up. I decided to stand up to get most of my body out of range. My standing up, bent over, quickly became part of the cue, sigh! One thing that I successfully changed from Emily’s method was the placement of the target. Summer just couldn’t fathom it when I placed it the way Emily did, to the side, almost in line with her elbow. She could do it, though, when I placed it to the side and a tiny bit forward of her paws. Good luck!

  4. Great post! I taught this to my dog, I’ve taught this in a tricks class, and also to clients’ dogs for enrichment. I also followed Emily Larlham’s video. I usually start with a plastic lid as a target, then transfer to a paper target (post it on top of the lid), then fade the paper target to a hand motion, then fade the hand motion. For another dog (a big dog with big claws!) I folded a piece of paper longways and used the end as the target, so I could keep my hand well out of the way, and could fade the target by folding the paper into a pencil-thin piece.

  5. i haven’t trained this trick but i might try. i’ve been working on having her stand between my legs and put one front paw on each of my feet. we quickly got to her putting ONE paw on ONE foot and have been stuck at moving up to both paws on both feet. i need to try something different…..

    the other trick we’re working on is to take a tissue from a tissue box. put box on floor, jarah whacks it with her foot. mom isn’t fast enough with clicker so reinforces whack. ok. mom gets faster with clicker and gets the click in before the foot whack… most of the time. and ends up still clicking the foot whack. stop for night. jarah wants to keep going and in frustration pulls out a wad of tissue with her mouth. shoot. wasn’t ready with clicker or treats. ok. mom finally wises up and holds box in air. success. now jarah grabs it with her mouth. slowly lowers box. when it’s low enough jarah tries to whack it with her foot. and mom clicks! ooops. yep. easy tricks are difficult when we reinforce for “wrong” behaviors especially when combined with a history of reinforcement for the ‘wrong” behavior” which was correct in different circumstance.

    1. Gosh, a lot of that sounds very familiar! For a while I was trying the “walk on the feet” trick with Zani–and that one was very foreign to her. Just getting her into position in the first place was tough. In going through my training videos with Summer I realized that the behavior she has learned is “reach out and clobber anything that comes into range with my left foot.” I finally rearranged my environment a little better tonight (put her lying down longways on a step so she couldn’t keep lunging sideways) and actually cleared out some of the extraneous clobbering and got her crossing her paws quite deliberately. There is still hope! Thanks for telling me about you and Jarah. Makes me feel better!

  6. I think my favorite part was when she picked it up in her teeth and held it. “I’m pretty sure this is what you want!” I’ve never tried to teach this behavior, and this is basically why–I’m just not good enough at shaping yet not to get a ton of extra junk in the behavior.

    I just read a blog post by Hannah Branigan about a talk she heard at Clicker Expo by Jesus Rosalez-Ruiz on how to raise your rate of reinforcement without getting all this extra stuff. Something about creating clean loops, having reasonable criteria. It all sounds so reasonable! I just don’t know how to make it happen. Here’s the post, in case you can demystify for me.

    1. Yeah, the hold was funny. I have worked really hard on proofing her hold, so of course when I tried to take it away from her without a release cue she hung on harder. Good girl! Yes, I’ve read that blog too, and it does all sound reasonable. Wish I could have heard the original talk!

      I’m starting to think that I could have gotten the behavior faster and with less junk if I had just free shaped it. I had never realized before how much junk could get carried along with a targeting exercise….

      1. I tried training this with free-shaping and didn’t do any better, despite trying to split it into tiny steps – we could have made the exact same film (sans target, and with less enthusiasm). “That’s because at some point I decided that if she was using the correct paw and reaching over the other one, it was OK if she targeted me a couple of times instead of the little coaster I was using. BIG mistake on my part.” DITTO!

        So we’ve put it aside, as it was causing frustration for both of us. If we give it a try again, I’ll experiment with the paper target on stationary paw. Thanks for passing along that tip. And as always, thanks for showing us the bloopers – they’re very reassuring. 🙂 (and educational!)

        1. Thanks, Chris! I’m not glad you struggled, of course, but it is heartening to me to hear others say this trick can be…tricky. I had one more really bad session (literally couldn’t even get the target on the ground because Summer was flailing at any part of me she could reach), then thought about how to arrange the environment to make the behavior I wanted more likely and those others less likely. Got a pretty good solution and we’re making progress again. Stay tuned!

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