Monday, October 6, 2014

The Box Game-A Lesson for Handlers

First Monday of the month, it's Positive Pet Training Blog Hop time!  The theme this month is 101 Things to do with a Box and I just happen to have a very recent story all about it!
I just taught a short course at our Dog Training Club called Clicker 101/Tricks.  During the first meeting I covered clicker basics like priming the clicker, timing, body language, adding cues, etc.  Then each class after that we covered a different type of training and how to apply the clicker.  Luring and using a clicker to mark the exact moment the dog is in the correct position.  Capturing behaviors the dog naturally offers with a clicker.  And, of course, shaping.  Teaching shaping, what I would consider the most useful for teaching tricks, was by far the hardest!  And by that I mean it was hardest to teach to the HANDLERS!
I don't have any pictures of the box game so you get pics of the dogs enjoying the outdoors.  This is classic Dot, watching birds and squirrels, ready to run!
The class had all had experience with traditional training, mostly with treats and leash corrections.  So when I introduced free shaping, I tried to explain that you will not start out with the final product but will instead take whatever the dog offers and move on from there to create the final picture that you had in mind.  One trick we introduced was sitting on a Bosu ball.  Instantly they all wanted to give their dog commands to get then into position.  One handler said "if I give her a " paws up" command, I know she'll put her feet on it."  But the class was about learning a new skill, not using old skills to get your dog to do each trick.  Another trick was teaching the dog to flick a light switch.  Handlers were pointing to the switch, putting treats at the switch and giving "go touch" commands instead of simply waiting and letting the dog puzzle it out for themselves.
And classic Taco, sunbathing in the hottest part of the yard.  He is solar-powered and needs to recharge.
FINALLY, I had to admit to myself and the class that I had obviously not explained it well enough.  I broke out the box game!  The rules are simple, concrete, and easy to explain.  NO COMMANDS!  NO LURING, POINTING, OR COACHING!  Just waiting and watching for the slightest inclination of the dog showing interest in the box.  And it took what seemed like a very long time to the handlers, (but was actually less than 5 minutes) for the dogs to start looking at, sniffing, stepping, pawing, licking and otherwise recognizing the box as something to interact with.

And it finally dawned on the handlers that their dogs have minds of their own!  They are smart and capable beings that don't need to be handheld through every step of their lives.  Next time I teach this class, we will start with the box game and the instructions to "Shut up and learn."

6 comments:

  1. It's the shut up part that is hardest for me and has been most difficult for all the trainers in shaping classes and workshops I have been in! But I love those simple instructions for such a simple thing. And what is up with humans terrible sense of time while training? I thought it was the dogs that were supposed to have trouble telling time! 101 Things To Do With A Box is one of the very best beginner shaping games... but it turns out you can eventually shape some pretty advanced tricks with a box too! Thanks for joining the hop this month. I'll shut up now. :)

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    1. Thanks for hosting, it was fun! I was so glad to remember the box game and it really helped the students!

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  2. It's difficult crossing over from luring to shaping. I had some trouble with it when we first started clicker shaping. Dogs are indeed very smart and capable!

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    1. It's certainly a different mindset. I'm not sure all the students in this class were really prepared to start over from scratch learning a new technique!

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  3. We love 101 things to do with a box. My dogs have a great time. :D I do agree with Bethany, though. It can be hard for people to shut up. I've actually been criticized before for not talking to my dog enough! I think it's easier for her to learn without my excessive commentary, though. :)

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    1. In agility, I sometimes get called out for not talking enough which I can see when I give really late commands or don't communicate a turn. But I have a dog (and maybe lots of dogs are like this) that would really just like me to shut up and let her do what she knows how to do. If I chatter at her while she does her weaves, like almost EVERYONE who competes in agility does, she pops out and gives me the stink eye. She does not need a backseat driver!

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