eileenanddogs

Category: Handling and Husbandry

Just a Trick?

Just a Trick?

Zani's useful "Trick"
Zani’s useful “Trick”

“Crossing over” is a phrase dog trainers use to refer to the act of giving up training that uses aversives and changing over to training that uses principally positive reinforcement: becoming a Humane Hierarchy trainer, a force-free trainer, or a clicker trainer. (We have lots of phrases to describe ourselves.) Folks who have made this change (and those who never trained traditionally) will attest that this is more than just a different set of skills. It is a change of world view, and it runs counter to the emphasis on and acceptance of punishment in our culture. For many of us, it is not an easy thing to do. Social and technical support are both very important.

My friend Marge Rogers is a crossover trainer who crossed over with no local mentor, although she would credit her wonderful dog Chase, as well as books and internet resources. She wanted to change the way she trained and she needed to do it on her own.  She came from a competitive obedience background. She decided, brilliantly, to throw off everything she knew, put her obedience goals temporarily on hold, and train her dogs to do tricks.

Why Tricks?

Here’s what she told me:

  1. Teaching tricks improves mechanical skills like observation and timing.
  2. Teaching tricks helps trainers learn to create training plans and break down behavior (cognitive skills).
  3. It helps develop critical thinking skills. (How different are the skills for teaching dust the coffee table or blow bubbles in water than teaching drop on recall?)
  4. There is no pressure for the handler. Or the dog.
  5. Trick training encourages creative thinking and problem solving.
  6. Trick training give immediate feedback for the handler (via the dog’s behavior).
  7. There is no handler baggage.
  8. And the best reason for teaching tricks – you’re not burdened by the curse of knowledge for stuff you’ve never trained before.  No old habits to unlearn. In short: it’s the perfect way to become a better trainer.

P.S. You can make your own chicken camp.

The Result of Chicken Camp
The Result of Chicken Camp

Marge is referring to Bob Bailey’s well known chicken camps where trainers learn to hone their mechanical skills. This picture is the outcome of one of her personal “chicken camps,” where she taught her Rhodesian Ridgeback Pride a high leg lift to emulate taking a pee (he normally squatted to pee, by the way). She shaped that leg lift all the way up from a twitch.

Marge’s trick skills resulted in her fame as the “Ridgeback lady” on YouTube, who featured her Rhodesian Ridgebacks in videos such as these:

By the way, Ridgebacks have a reputation among traditional trainers as being an untrainable breed.

Finally!

Many was the time that Marge exhorted me to train tricks. I generally declined, saying that it’s all tricks (true, but perhaps evading her point a little bit), and that I had my hands full with polite pet behaviors and agility (also tricks!)

So a funny thing happened. Recently I broke down and trained my dogs a couple of tricks. It was supposed to be just for the heck of it, but two of the tricks immediately became very useful.

Marge says, “That figures!”

1) Sit Pretty. I’ve been teaching little Zani to “sit pretty.” We went slowly, so she could build up her abdominal muscles, but she really took to it. What’s a more classic “trick” that sitting up? Adorable but useless, right? But no sooner did we have a few seconds’ duration than it came in incredibly handy.

I’m teaching all my dogs to sit or stand on the bathroom scale by themselves. I thought I would have to manipulate the dogs’ feet a little bit so that I could see the readout. But Zani solved that problem by offering her “useless” trick.

Link to video for email subscribers

If I were Marge, though, I’d probably teach the dogs to curl their tails around as well, so they didn’t brace any of their weight on them if they were on the floor. That’s a little more than I have the patience for, though. I’ll just elevate the scale if I need to.

2) Leg weaves. I don’t remember why I decided to do this, but I taught Clara how to weave through my legs. Let me be frank: I think that is one of the silliest behaviors ever. Even when the most accomplished freestylers do it, it’s mostly a “yawn” from me.

But as soon as I taught Clara the rudiments, I discovered something. It’s fun! No wonder people do it. Clara and I both enjoyed it, although I’m sure we looked even dorkier than average. And no, I’m not sharing a video!

Two photos of a tan dog with a  black muzzle and tail pressing up against a woman's feet and legs. The woman is sitting in a chair and the dog is walking under her legs in one photo, and backed up and pressing into her feet in anther
Clara enjoying pressing against my feet and legs

The added benefit of this one is a little harder to describe, but no less real. Clara is a very “touchy” dog. She likes to lean against me, touch me, cuddle, and be as close as she can. So she loved the leg weaves. She got to be right “inside” my personal space. And darned if she didn’t make up a new game: she comes and weaves her way through my legs when I am sitting down, just for fun. Kind of like a very large, pushy cat. She clearly likes the sensation.

I couldn’t get a shot of the actual weaving when I was sitting down, but here she is walking under my leg and pressing against my foot. See how she is pushing toward me in both photos?

So Clara and I have not only discovered a new way to play one-on-one that needs no  toy or prop.  With a little finesse, I could even use it as a reinforcer. But right now, it’s just another way to have fun with my dog.

So thanks Marge, for urging me to train pure “tricks,” but they keep turning out to be useful! Or was that part of what you were trying to show me all along….?

Coming Up:

  • Punishment is not a Feeling
  • Why Counterconditioning Didn’t “Work”
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • What if Respondent Learning Didn’t Work?

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How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

Zani mainlining spray cheese
Zani mainlining spray cheese

Emergency Method: If you are currently in a struggle trying to administer a pill to a reluctant dog, try the multiple meatball method. The other techniques in this blog are specialized and probably won’t help in an emergency situation.

Link to the video on the multiple meatball method for email subscribers.

Longterm Training Method: If you are in the opposite situation and have the time to train your dog from scratch to take any kind of pill you need her to, without force or disguising the pill,  read my post on how I taught my dog to take a (plain) pill with positive reinforcement.  Also check out where I originally got the idea: Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s post “An Easy Pill to Swallow.”  In my opinion, this is the gold standard method.

Now that I’ve sent half of you away, is anybody still here? Following is the original inspiration for writing this post.

Administering Pills with Spray Cheese and Food Tubes

If your dogs already eat spray cheese sometimes, or will eat a moist mixture out of a food tube, this idea could save you some time and hassle. 

I realized a few months back that spray cheese extruding out of the can, as well as moist food exiting a squeeze tube, both make excellent “carriers” for pills.

Link to the video on giving pills with spray cheese and food tubes for e-mail subscribers.

My dog Summer takes a small thyroid pill twice a day, and having several options for administering it makes it easy. I often have a food tube with some leftovers from a training session in the refrigerator, and the spray cheese is a staple at my house. For Summer, it only takes a tiny bit.

We Can Train This

When I read Laura Baugh’s post on teaching a dog to take a pill, I was chagrined. Why had it never occurred to me that we could teach a dog to swallow pills just like we teach them other behaviors? Zoo and marine mammal trainers train this kind of thing all the time, so why not dogs? Most of the pill administration methods out there for dogs (including most of the ones linked in this post) depend on trying to disguise the pill. Older ones use plain old force to open the dog’s mouth and put the pill in, then hold the dog’s mouth closed. That’s unnecessary in this day and age.

So I really appreciate Laura’s post about training the behavior: An Easy Pill to Swallow. And I was delighted to find out how straightforward it was to train!

I haven’t had to put a bunch of energy into disguising pills over the years. My dogs have a huge reinforcement history for sucking cheese and other goodies out of gizmos and for eating gobs of peanut butter. They get these things daily whether they are taking pills or not. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal when there are pills present. Still, I’m glad that I finally got around to teaching Clara to take pills in a straightforward manner. It’s a useful behavior, whether I use it every time or not.

 More Good Tips

Donna Hill has a video with some great tips for giving pills: 4 Tips to Give Your Dog a Pill.

More inspiration for those of us teetering on the edge of training this behavior. See Michelle Chan shape her sheltie Juliet to take pills in one impressive, less than three minute session: Juliet Pops Pills.

And check out mymeowz blog: Here we have a cat getting trained to take pills. Can it get any better than that?

Kathy Sdao has a really nice article with information on all sorts of husbandry techniques: Husbandry Training for Dog Owners.

Nickala Squire points out that crunchy peanut butter disguises pills better than smooth. What a good observation! I’ve been using it ever since.

And Tegan Whalen suggests washing one’s hands between handling the pill and administering the treat. Another great idea.

Food Tube Info

Summer is ready for the food tube
Summer is ready for the food tube, pill or not!

I use food tubes for high value treats, both for Clara’s socialization sessions, where we do lots of counterconditioning, and in agility. I actually throw these tubes ahead of the running dog in agility, so they are tough. I’ve never had one come apart or have the lid or clamp pop off. I buy them online at REI. (Google “Coughlan squeeze tube” if that URL ever goes out of date.)

You don’t always have to use high calorie or high fat treats in them, either. I’ve made a mixture of pumpkin, low fat yogurt, and some peanut butter that my dogs really like. The trick is to get the right texture. If it’s too runny or not homogeneous, it will drip out of the tube and make a mess. If it’s too thick or has lumps, it won’t come out well. Experiment a little to find the Goldilocks point and you will be in business.

 Let me know if you try anything new, either from this post and the linked resources, or from something completely different. Especially if it works!

Coming up:

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