Today I thought I would share what we’re working on and some trick cards I bought, plus my clicker.
Lately we’ve been really focusing on every walk being a training opportunity, as Cascadian Nomads’ wrote about last month. I have a really bad habit of just getting lost in my own world while walking Petal and not noticing she’s getting amped up by something until she starts barking and bouncing. It’s easier to calm her down if I have her attention before she gets over excited, but I have to pay attention in order to do that. So I made it a goal to pay attention during our walks, to reward every good thing she does, to help her through the difficult things and to ask for random tricks along the way, to keep her interested and on her toes.
I’ve already noticed a huge improvement in her behavior when we go for walks. Her biggest problem is that she gets over excited about other dogs, especially if they are both visible and barking. So I’ve been clicking and treating every time we pass any dogs. I set her up for success by clicking and treating her for simply walking past the dogs, even if she’s barking and/or bouncing as we walk. She’s starting to realize that seeing and/or hearing other dogs = treats for her and that eating treats is tough to do when you’re being crazy so we’d better just be as calm as we can because we can eat more treats that way.
Petal gets especially crazy when a pickup truck with barking dogs in the back drives past us. It got to the point where she would bark and lunge towards any pickup truck, regardless of whether or not there was a dog inside. This is a habit that scares me nearly to death. It’s dangerous and it had to be taken care of right away. I had been clicking and treating before, but only if there was a dog, that was not enough. I also realized that a good part of the reason she reacts so strongly is because it scares the heck out of me and she picks up on that. It scares me for two reasons, 1) it’s incredibly startling when a barking truck comes zooming up behind you as you walk down a normally quiet street and 2) I get so nervous that these barking and bouncing dogs are going to hop out of the truck bed and be killed right in front of me (why can’t people at least kennel their dogs when riding in a truck bed?). I realized I had to change my own reaction in order to change Petal’s. I also needed to click and treat for every pickup truck, not just the ones with barking dogs in the back.
Changing my reaction was the hardest part. My startled jump is involuntary. I started bracing ourselves for barking whenever I heard a car coming. I braced Petal by clicking and treating and talking calmly to her. I braced myself by chanting, in my head (don’t want a passerby to think I’m a lunatic), “bark! bark! bark!” which sounds silly but when/if the real barking came, I was not startled by it. In fact, I started to find it amusing that my mental chanting was sometimes followed by the real deal and instead of jumping I would laugh. This was great because laughter is a sound that has fascinated Petal since she was a puppy. She LOVES laughter. That paired with clicking and treating until Petal has settled down has done wonders. She rarely lunges anymore and she quits barking fairly quickly. Occasionally she doesn’t bark at all and then we really celebrate with loads of treats and praise. It also helps to walk her in town along busy Main Street where cars are constantly driving by us, the constant noise and movement takes away the surprise of a dog suddenly barking.
Speaking of clickers, I learned the hard way that getting a good clicker does make a difference. Not all are created equal as I once thought. Personally, I have found that I like the “button” type ones (as pictured below) the best. When I first started clicker training I used the clickers from Petsmart (this one here (this is not an affiliated link, just sharing so we’re all on the same page)). These clickers worked great so long as you…
a) use only your thumb to click it
b) knew how to click it without pinching your thumb (I’m a dumb-butt who pinched my thumb constantly)
c) you did not try to click it with a slobbery thumb, which caused sliding and more thumb pinching and smashing and whining.
But it worked and I wasn’t about to replace a working clicker. So I dealt with it. Until one day, about a year ago, I was placing a food order on Chewy.com and was just 2ish dollars away from free shipping. I could either spend 2 more dollars on another item or $4.95 on shipping. Um, duh. I bought myself a new clicker.
I’ve gotta say, I felt really silly for not shoveling out another dollar or two for this clicker over the Petsmart one much sooner. It is a thousand times better. It’s easier to click which means I can mark Petal’s good behavior much faster which is very important with training. I can click it with any one of my fingers, not just my thumb, even when they’re slimy or slobbery and it doesn’t pinch!
Last year, towards the end of February, I was looking for something low key to do with Lassie and Petal. I had had surgery a few months prior and was still recovering, but I was getting very bored and I was missing doing more than snuggling with my dogs (don’t worry, my family not only took great care of me, they took great care of Lassie and Petal too and exercised them for me daily). I was able to take them on short walks, but I wanted more to do. So I took to the Internet to find some fun tricks to teach them. That’s when I found this book on Amazon:
I was really intrigued by the trick cards. They sounded like a fun way to keep tricks we were learning organized and to remind me we’re working them. I sometimes forget about tricks before we’ve mastered them, oops. Plus these would be easy to tote around. I could easily take the trick card I was working on to a separate room in the house or outside or into town so we could work on it in high distraction areas. I could easily toss one trick card aside and work on a different one instead. You can also keep track of how many times you’ve practiced the trick on the back of the card.
The book recommends you mark a box for every 5 repetitions of the trick with the intention that after 100 repetitions your dog will have learned/mastered the trick.
The trick cards come in four levels of difficulty and are color coded for each level of difficulty. Orange is level 1 and teaches you about timing. Green is level 2 and technique. Dark blue is level 3 and motivation. Light blue is level 4 and building. The tricks vary from “sit” to “cover your eyes” to “get your leash” to “tidy up your toys”. The book is color coded as well and gives greater detail into each trick and has some troubleshooting tips and more. It is, as it says, a workbook and is meant to be written in and worked through. I have not done that. I haven’t watched the DVD it came with either. I bought this book for the cards, honestly. I have read through the book though and it’s a really fun and helpful book. I learned a few things and gained more confidence in what I already knew. I plan on actually using it for it’s intended purpose (a workbook) for my next dog and starting from the beginning.
The book is a great way to track your progress with your tricks and has lots of fun ideas for bonding with your dog. With this book Petal has learned (or is working on) the following tricks:
Take a Bow (“bow”)
Say Your Prayers (“prayers”)
Wave Goodbye (“wave”)
Get Your Leash
Tricks included in the book that Petal already knew:
Turn Off the Light (“Get the Light!“)
Petal knows many other tricks and commands as well, these are just the tricks that she knows from the book. We are also expanding on the “Get Your Leash” trick and she is learning to get my shoes and my coat. Admittedly, she expanded on this trick all on her own I’m just trying to get her to do it on command and only on command, haha.
Be sure to check back tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a recipe for homemade training treats!
Note: this is not an “official” review of either the clicker or the book. I wasn’t asked to write about either item and I haven’t been compensated in any way. I bought both items myself, a year ago, and have found them both useful so thought I would share; who knows, someone else might find them useful too. 😉