(by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA)
I don’t know what it is – maybe her lack of early training experience, maybe her part Husky-ness, or maybe she’s just not Lassie when it comes to the smarts department – but Finley can sometimes be quite difficult to train.
She knows basics like sit, down and stay, and she also knows quite a few tricks, like spin and twirl, wave, weave through my legs, etc. But most of the things she knows have been lured. Luring is when you take a treat (or something your dog is focused on) and move it around to get her to do something. For sit, you move the lure up and back over the dog’s head, and usually the butt goes down as the head goes up, and you have a sit. Finley (who even after having been a stray for at least 3 months was a little overweight when I adopted her) likes her food a lot, and she can be lured to do quite a bit, but when I ask her to think about things more, she often gives up and lies down with her head on the floor looking pathetic.
My most current example of this is working on teaching Fin to pick up a toy and put it in the basket (a trick my Aussie Payton learned in about 10 minutes). This behavior is a shaping process (rewarding approximations of the goal behavior). I had done several sessions with her that ended in frustration for me. She could take and drop the toy if I held it right over the basket, but that was about it – not a very impressive trick.
So I decided, rather than get irritated that she’s not as fast a learner as Mr. Smarty-Pants Aussie Payton, I asked myself how I could make it easier for her. I thought it might help to just get her to understand the concept that she has to carry the toy to a specific spot, rather than drop it (or fling it –that’s the Husky in her) anywhere she wants. So I took a piece of paper and put it on the floor and did a few repetitions of holding the toy over the paper, and asking her to take and drop, with the toy falling onto the paper. Then I took the leap and set the toy right next to the paper. Now she has to pick it up herself and drop it on the paper. This she also did fairly easily (but it could be done easily because the toy was very close to the paper). Then I moved on to placing the toy farther away from the paper. Here she was stumped a bit, as it involved a longer distance to carry the toy.
She made a few attempts, picking up and dropping the toy several times, and occasionally getting lucky and hitting the paper (click & treat!). Then, on one of these trials, she looked at me, then looked at the paper, then looked at the toy, and picked it up and carried it to the paper (click & Jackpot!). It very much seemed like a “light bulb moment”, when the dog finally understands something. Since these moments are very rewarding for me as a trainer, I just got reinforced for setting my dog up for success! I might have to repeat that behavior.