Monday, March 2, 2009

Tools for Trainers

ANNOUNCEMENT- - - It's now OFFICIAL - the Interactive Dog Toy will be shipped to "Luna" Horton, of WA! Congratulations Luna, on being the Lucky Dog of the Day, and Congrats to Sabrina Horton, as being the owner of the Lucky Dog!!!

In my years of experience in animal training, there have been many tools that have worked well for me, depending on what type of animal I'm trying to train, or what behavior I wish to encourage. Teaching animals is one of my favorite hobbies and I have worked with: a chicken, a full size horse, a mini-horse, a pot-belly pig, many different breeds of dogs, and lovebirds, among other animals. At our place, rabbits know the ins and outs of strolling with a harness and leash, guinea pigs have learned to trust a human for bathing in a shallow sink, and my horse knows how to count, shake hands (or HOOVES, for our purposes here!) and has learned the beginnings of line dancing. What has been most valuable to me in working with each individual is, #1 - to find out what causes a 'natural' behavior that I would like to encourage, and #2 - to find the one thing that the animal would consider a prize.

This weekend, I found another cool tool - a funky chicken! (No, Luna, you are not getting the ugly chicken for YOUR prize!) It's a squeezeable plastic bird about 5 inches long, ugly as sin, but it squawks a crazy squawk, and the corgi girls LOVE IT! I don't let them get their teeth into it, nor do they get to actually see or smell it, but it's worked well for calling them in from their romps on the very brisk Michigan Mornings we've had most recently, it provides an air of 'mystery' when they hear it - PLUS - they get a food nubbin for showing up to the squawk noise! So UGLY, yet so COOL!

Treats for the dogs range from simple ice cubes, a carrot or hotdog tidbit, a piece of cheese flavored PUPCORN, or a cookie treat bone made for tiny dogs by Science Diet or IAMS. Sometimes, the rewards can be play time earned by a correct movement, too, so food isn't always the reward. I try to move away from 'treat activation' in a short period of time, weaning the animal onto a pat or "Good Dog!" as the prize; There are times when food isn't always a safe option, as in the case of letting a child perform a trick with a mini-horse that could deliver an unexpected NIP in its anxiousness to obtain a treat from tiny fingers.
My mini horse used to value carrot bits as his reward when learning. I trained him for pet therapy at a local long term care facility, and he learned various entertaining tricks, to the delight of the young and old! When I was teaching him to ride on an elevator, I thought I would need something to feed him, but he was so curious, he simply walked right in, no bribe necessary! Other things were more difficult, and he required something more valuable to get him started, but in the end, he needed little more than a light tap on the shoulder as a cue to perform his funny acts! I miss owning him, but he taught ME a lot, as well, and I'm forever indebted to him for the lessons, experiences and joy that he brought to me and the people that would ask for his return visits.


Rechelle ~Walnuthaven Cottage~ said...

Congrats again to little Luna. I hope she enjoys her new toy.
I really found your post interesting. I'm, by no means a dog trainer, but I have managed to get my dogs to do simple commands and found their "currency" to be huge hugs and maybe a bit of cheese.

Infrared Goggles said...

Oh, how beautiful your mini therapy horse was! Wow, I am very impressed. :) Valuable info about the treats versus "good dog" reward. Especially with dogs, who live to please their human parents...