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Clara’s Tricks: Treat on Nose, Carpet Roll, & Paws in Box

Yes, Clara has a piece of kibble on her head

Clara and I are learning so much! Here is a quick trick update with a couple of videos.

Treat on the Nose Trick

We are taking the treat on the nose exercise nice and slow. I can now put a piece of flat kibble on the top of Clara’s head for a second or two. I’ll work up to an actual dog biscuit.

There are lots of aspects to the trick.

  1. There’s the Zen aspect: the dog can’t grab for the treat as you are putting it on her face. I’m stating the obvious, but most treats coming to a dog’s face are heading for their mouth, and trained dogs have a huge history of that.
  2. There’s the “something is on my face!” aspect.
  3. There’s the balance aspect, which means holding the head still. Clara knows various stays, but this has never been a criterion.
  4. There’s the duration aspect.

We are still working on #1 and #2. There’s not really balance involved with the kibble on the forehead. She just needs to stay moderately still, which is a good first step.

The kibble does often fall off when I release her, but that’s fine for now. I usually give it to her, so she’s getting bits of mozzarella cheese from my right hand and a kibble now and then from my left. No wonder she thinks this is a great game.

This nice flat kibble works for practicing this trick

Our leave it cue is “Pas.” (So when I say that, I’m not referring to her foot.) I love how she snaps into forward focus when I say that cue as I put the kibble on her head.

The most interesting thing to me is that she had a very hard time leaving the treat alone when I tried to put it on her head with my right hand. She could do it when I used my left. You can see both in the movie. There is something in her reinforcement history or the current environment that is causing that, but I’m not sure what. I thought at first that I use my right hand more commonly for a hand target and she was trying to target it. I know I have a “target hand” and a “Zen hand.” Bad Eileen. But I looked at last week’s video and I was using my left hand for targeting. So that probably wasn’t it.

Two training concepts I’m passionate about are reinforcement history and the matching law. Whatever your dog does reflects their reinforcement history. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out where a behavior or difficulty is coming from. I have a splendid example for the next post. But this right-hand business is still a mystery. One thing I know for sure: she’s not “being stubborn” or “blowing me off.” We all can see how into the game she is. When I use my right hand, it paints a different picture for her from when I use the left.

Treat on the nose is such a common trick, but I’ve never noticed how people teach it. I was never interested before. I’m interested in the trick now, and I’ve decided not to check into how other positive reinforcement-based trainers do it. I want to see what I come up with first. I think I can do this successfully in my own way and keep it fun. Mozzarella cheese is guaranteeing that Clara thinks it’s great. Watch her tail wag!

Roll out the Carpet Trick

This has gotten almost too easy. I switched to using the yoga mat because that length is required, but it often rolls out completely in one or two pushes. It’s easy money for Clara. We’re still practicing with the bathmat because even though it’s half the length, it’s more work to unroll. I’m not bothering with a video here. I just remembered that I have a couple of long bathmats and I’ll use one of those when we record the trick. Hopefully, it will take her more than one push to roll it out.


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Paws in a Box Trick

The joys of mat training! If you teach your dog to get on a mat, it becomes a target. Then you can put the mat anywhere to tell your dog that you want them to get there, even if it’s inside or on top of something else. Clara is one of those dogs who is so magnetized to her mat that I have to throw treats to distract her so she doesn’t try to get on it before it hits the ground!

I couldn’t find a cardboard box that was the right size, so we started with a shallow plastic box. We did two reps of just the mat, then a few reps with the mat inside the box. Then I slipped the mat out, and voilà, she got right into the box. Stationing at its best! What we recorded today would probably qualify for the trick, but I still plan to get her into a real cardboard box. How can she be an R+ dog if she’s never been in a box?

This series of posts is about teaching an old dog new tricks. But Clara doesn’t respond like an old dog. Even so, part of the challenge with teaching completely new things to an older dog is the matching law. Older dogs trained with positive reinforcement carry with them huge reinforcement histories for common behaviors over the years. Clara is mentally as sharp as ever, and she is fast. But getting out of ruts (that I put her in) can be a challenge. My next post will show some of the behaviors that keep popping up because of past training we have done together.

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Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

4 thoughts on “Clara’s Tricks: Treat on Nose, Carpet Roll, & Paws in Box

  1. I just love your posts, Eileen. You inspire me to teach my own dogs some of these tricks. I’m not a very good trainer, but the dogs can usually learn eventually (although there are some that still elude us). Would love to go to a Clicker Training Expo, but that’s cost prohibitive for me.

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