5-Minute Games: Shape it Up!

Do you and your dog like shaping? Great! This is the game for you! Don’t worry about doing anything fancy or impressive – this is purely for fun. Keep your rate of reinforcement high, and enjoy your dog’s creativity!

1. Find an object your dog has never interacted with – ideally, she has never even seen it. It can be anything: a book, a chair, a couch cushion, binoculars, a sauce pan, a pencil, a hair brush, a bottle of shampoo, a beer can, a newspaper.

2. Grab a hand full of small (and delicious!) treats.

3. Take your dog, your object, and your treats to a distraction-free room in your house.

4. Set the timer on your phone to 1 minute.

5. Put the object down, and shape your dog. No need to have a goal behavior – see what she offers, and go from there!

6. When your timer goes off, pick up the object, and take a break.

7. Set your timer for a minute, and play, goof around or cuddle your dog until the timer goes off again.

8. Set the timer for another minute, and put down the object again. Continue shaping!

9.  Take another 1-minute play or cuddle break, and then shape for a third minute.

Example, minute 1: Phoebe and the plant!

 

The video shows the first minute of Shape it Up! with Phoebe. I grabbed the first object that caught my eye from a room the dogs are rarely allowed in: a potted plant. I put it down, and saw what Phoebe would give me!

It’s your turn! Find a novel object, and Shape It Up! I’d love to see a clip from your session in the comments!

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If  you liked this game, join Chrissi in Finding Five – Training for a Busy World at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! Class starts on December 1st, and registration is open now!

Crate Expectations Part 3: Adding a Cue and Extending Duration

This is part 3 of a 4-part crate training series. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2.

We’re picking up right where we left off last time!

Test your dog’s understanding!

  • Once you can count to 10 without your dog getting up, it’s time to test her understanding! In your next session, click and treat her for lying down in her crate.
  • Then, count to 10 in your head without intermediary steps.
  • Click, and feed in position.
  • Use your release word and throw a reset treat out of the crate.

Phoebe demonstrates the test. Her marker word is “Good!”.

Successful? Excellent! You’re ready for the next step!

Did your dog get up before you had counted to 10? That’s okay – you’ll explain the exercise again:

  • Go back to slowly building duration: count to 1 in your head – mark and feed. Count to 2 in your head – mark and feed, etc.
  • After counting to 10 without your dog getting up, give her a break.
  •  In your next session, test her understanding again.

Adding the Cue

  • Say the cue of your choice (for example “Go in your crate!”) right before your dog is about to do the behavior. To an observer, it should look as if she was going in the crate because you told her to.
  • Mark as she lies down in the crate, and feed in position.
  • Count to ten in your head. Mark and feed in position.
  • Say your release cue and throw a reset cookie out of the crate.
  • As soon as she is done eating it, say your crate cue again.
  • Mark and feed her for lying down in her crate.
  • Count to 10 in your head. Mark and feed in position.
  • Say your release cue and throw another reset treat out of the crate.

Feel free to talk to and praise your dog when increasing the duration of a behavior! The next video shows how chatty I am when building duration on real-life behaviors.

Phoebe’s crate cue is, “In die Box!” (German for “In your crate!”). I use two different marker words in this video (“Good!” when feeding her in position, and “Okay, get it!” when throwing a cookie for her to chase). Don’t worry about this if you only have one marker cue for your dog – just use your usual click or marker word!

So far, I’ve asked you to count in your head. This allowed you to increase duration in steps smaller than a second if necessary. From now on, you’ll work with real seconds to keep track of your further progress. Use the timer on your phone for help!

Extending the Duration

10-20 Seconds

Now that your dog knows her crate cue and can lie in her crate for 10 seconds, it’s time to extend the duration even more.

  • Say your crate cue, and click and feed in position as your dog lies down in her crate.
  • Wait for 10 seconds. Mark and feed in position.
  • Wait for 12 seconds. Mark and feed in position.
  • Wait for 14 seconds. Mark and feed in position.
  • Wait for 16 seconds etc.
  • If your dog ever sits up, stands up or leaves the crate, wait for her to go back in and start with 10 seconds again. (Back to 10 – 12 – 14 etc.)

Work your way up to 20 seconds in 2-second steps.

20-60 Seconds

From 20 to 60 seconds, you’ll increase the time between treats in 5-second steps: 20 seconds – 25 – 30 – 35 – 40 – 45 – 50 – 55 – 60 seconds. The time between treats is getting longer!

Even though you marked and treated in between, your dog has now spent quite a long time lying in her crate without getting up – substantially longer than the 60 seconds of your very last rep! And you didn’t even need to close the crate door in order to convince her to stay in!

Stay at this stage until your dog can work all the way up to 60 seconds!

You don’t need to watch all of this video … take a look at the beginning and the end to get an idea of the progress. Feel free to talk to your dog throughout your session.

Test your dog’s understanding!

  • Send your dog in her crate, mark, and feed in position.
  • Then wait for 60 seconds right away. Mark, and feed the 60-second treat in position.
  • Say your release cue and throw a reset treat for her to chase out of the crate.
  • If your dog struggles with this step, explain the game again: start over with 10 seconds – 12 – 14 – etc. between treats before testing her understanding again.

Phoebe demonstrates the test for building duration on a mat. Just imagine the mat were a crate – my training process for both these skills is exactly the same.

Up until now, what we’ve been working on could just as well have been an obedience stay. In the video you just watched, Phoebe holds a sphinx down and concentrates on me – this is not the relaxed crate (or mat) behavior we eventually want! Check back for part 4 to see how I transition to relaxation and extend the duration further next week!

If you’ve been following this tutorial with your own dog, leave me a comment – I’d love to hear how it’s going!

Chrissi travels internationally learning about dogs, and makes money to support her roaming by teaching online at FDSA, in person in Guatemala, and seminars around the world. Contact Chrissi for more information, or join her December class at FDSA: Finding Five – Training for a Busy World.

Crate Expectations Part 2: Lying down in the crate and starting to build duration

crate training, dog training, dog crate

This is part 2 of a 4-part crate training tutorial. Click here for Part 1: Shaping Interactions with a New Crate.  

We’re picking up right where we left off – with Hadley’s third crate training session. Hadley is a fast and active little Border Collie. Staying still doesn’t come naturally to him! I need to build duration in tiny increments. The most important part throughout the teaching process? We’re both having a good time!

Hadley – Session 3

00:04 Since Hadley offered a down outside the crate just before, I click for one paw in, “Yes, we’re still talking about the crate.”
00:20 I was going to click for 2 paws in, but he went all the way in – so I jackpot with a hand full of treats.
00:45 Since he did so well with all 4 paws, I wait for him to go all the way in again.
00:54 “Will you choose to stay inside if I delay the click?” Yes! Good boy!
01:00 Building duration for standing in the crate.
01:07 Hadley leaves the crate …
01:10 … so I start building duration from scratch once he is in the crate again.
01:33 He offers to sit! Jackpot!

  • Start each session just a little easier than you ended the previous one in order to set your dog up for success. Then raise criteria again. Once your dog has offered a sit, gradually expand the duration. Sooner or later, she should offer a down: sitting gets boring!
  • Jackpot the down, then gradually build duration again – this time with the dog lying down in the crate.
  • Just like you did with the standing and sitting dog, go back to an easier version of the exercise any time your dog gets up and/or leaves the crate. If you made it up to counting to 6 in your head with your dog lying down, but then she gets up and leaves the crate, start with immediately clicking for walking in and lying down, then clicking for lying down while you count to 1 in your head, lying down while you count to 2 in your head, lying down while you count to 3 in your head, etc. The reason we click a lot is that we want our dogs to be successful and have fun rather than be frustrated and give up. This is especially important for dogs who are new to clicker training and shaping.
  • If your dog gets up after the click, feed him in the position you just clicked – just use the cookie to lure him back into a sit or down.

Hadley – Session 4

In this session, I try to build duration for the down. Hadley is having a hard time staying down. That’s okay. When he gets up, I just lower criteria and go back to clicking as soon as he downs, and counting to 1 or 2 in my head. We’re not in a rush. Note that when he gets up after the click, I feed him in a down position. I just use the cookie to lure him back down. Feeding in position speeds up the learning process!

01:47 You can see me click and then say “Get it!” in the end of this session. You’ll observe the same thing in some of my other videos in this series. The trainer I am today would not click before saying “Get it!” “Get it!” itself serves as a marker cue.

  • Build duration in a down position until you can count to 10 in your head without your dog getting up!

Hadley – Session 5

Building duration of lying in the crate. Hadley is still tempted to get up a lot. I’ll patiently explain what I want him to do until he understands – and he will understand. It’s just a matter of time and patience. Always work at your dog’s pace!

Hadley – Session 6

Hadley is getting better at staying down! At 02:17, I count to 9 in my head before he gets up. (I’m counting fast with Hadley, who needs the duration to increase in steps smaller than one-second increments. In his case, counting to 9 is not the same as 9 seconds.)

Check back next week for part 3 of the crate training series! If you’ve been following this tutorial with your own dog, leave me a comment – I’d love to hear how it’s going!

Chrissi travels internationally learning about dogs, and makes money to support her roaming by teaching online at FDSA, in person in Guatemala, and seminars around the world. Contact Chrissi for more information, or join her December class at FDSA: Finding Five – Training for a Busy World.

Crate Expectations Part 1: Shaping interactions with a new crate

I have been helping a student get her dog used to a crate, which reminded me of the crate training tutorial I wrote a year ago, and never ended up sharing anywhere! I’m going to split it into 4 blog posts. If you try this protocol with your own dog and run into problems, feel free to ask your questions in the comments, and I’ll try to help you out!

Traditionally, dogs used to be “trained” to spend time in their crates by means of just putting them in the crate, closing the door, and not letting them out until they stopped whining or barking. Not only is this stressful for your dog, it’s also hard on your neighbors, who might not approve of your dog barking in her crate all night. The good news is that there are other, less stressful ways of getting a dog used to a crate. It might take a little longer to get duration than if you just locked your dog in, but it will be much less stressful for both you and your dog.

dog training, life skills, crate training, dog crate, dog kennel

If your dog already has negative associations with her crate, I recommend getting a different model (plastic instead of wire or wire instead of plastic) and starting from scratch with a new crate in a different location. It’s easier to build positive associations to an entirely new object than to change your dog’s feelings about a crate she already dislikes.

I usually use a combination of shaping and luring to get started. If you are an experienced shaper, feel free to free shape the behavior instead. Also, please note there is more than just one way to train your dog to enjoy spending time in her crate. The steps I’m sharing here with you have worked well for me – that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get equally good results with a different and equally stress-free training technique.

Crate Training Setup

  • Remove all other objects around your crate to make it obvious to your dog that your training session is about the crate.
  • If your dog has a tendency to wander off or is a young puppy with a short attention span, put an x-pen around yourself and the crate, or keep her on a leash.
  • Keep each session to 1 minute – set a timer to remind you to stop training and give your dog a break.

Click any Interaction and Feed in the Crate

  • Click any and all interactions with the crate. Throw a treat into the crate so the dog eats inside the crate! If your dog hesitates to step in the crate, put the treat near the door so all she has to do is stick in her head to get it. With every click, put the treat a little further inside the crate until your dog has to step in to get it – first one paw, then two, three, and finally four.
  • Can you get in three to five more clicks and treats while your dog is still in the crate, has just finished eating her previous treat, but hasn’t had time yet to come out again? Great!
  • After three to five rapid-fire clicks and treats, wait a little. If your dog comes out of the crate, wait to click until she shows interest again. If she stays in and waits, add another click and treat inside the crate, then click and throw a treat out to set her up for another rep.

Hadley – Session 1

At the time I worked on this tutorial, Hadley was the least crate-trained dog in our house, so I’m using him to demo the first steps. I chose a crate he has never been in, and a location I have never worked on crate training before: out on the patio. In order to keep him from running off, I put an x-pen around Hadley, myself and the crate. He’s making it easy and has no trouble going all the way in when I feed in the crate after the first click. Note that I don’t wait for him to go all the way in before each click – I really do click any interaction with the crate. Looking at it is enough at first! That’s the shaping part of this exercise. However, I feed in the crate so he has to go all the way in for his treat. That’s the luring part of it!

00:54 Now I want more than just looking at it – walk towards it to get a click!
01:23 For the first time, I wait a little bit to see if he’ll stay in on his own, or come out again. Just a fraction of a second … He stops and looks at me, and I immediately reinforce this choice with a click and treat.

Hadley – Session 2

00:13 I delay the click a tiny little bit to see if Hadley chooses to stay in the crate rather than come out … And he does, and looks at me expectantly! Yey!
00:23 Click for sticking the head in the crate.
00:51 Click for one paw in.
01:08 Click for two paws.
01:16 Again, I delay the click, and Hadley chooses to stay in the crate rather than come out.

  • Delay the click just a little longer once your dog is successful: you started with clicking for looking at the crate and proceeded to clicking for sticking the head in, putting one paw in, then two paws, three paws, and finally all four paws.
  • Once you get four paws in, start adding duration: with your dog standing in the crate, delay the click longer and longer: dog in the crate – click immediately. Dog in the crate – count to 1 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate – count to 2 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate – count to 3 in your head, click, and treat.
  • When your dog leaves the crate before the click, wait for her to go back in, and start building duration from scratch: dog in the crate – click immediately. Dog in the crate – count to 1 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate, count to 2 in your head, click, and treat. Etc.
  • Eventually, most dogs will offer a sit or a down in the crate – just standing there gets boring. Jackpot the sit or down with praise and a hand full of treats!

Check back next week for the following steps!

Chrissi travels internationally learning about dogs, and makes money to support her roaming by teaching online at FDSA, in person in Guatemala, and seminars around the world. Contact Chrissi for more information, or join her December class at FDSA: Finding Five – Training for a Busy World.

Scent Discrimination Part 3: Introducing It’s Your Choice

Yesterday (Thursday), Grit had her two daily sessions again. In session 5, I introduced the It’s Your Choice Game: in one hand, I have food, and in the other one the coaster. In order to get the food, Grit has to put her nose on the coaster. She’ll then receive the food out of the food hand, and I’ll have her eat it off the coaster. I love how if you pay attention to Grit’s eyes and facial expression in this session, you can see the wheels turning! Duration isn’t a criterion for now – I want to click the moment she makes the right choice. Teaching the dog to choose the target over the food is not a game I invented – there are lots of variations on the It’s Your Choice theme. I’ve learned this particular version in the Nosework classes at FDSA, where Phoebe learned to put her nose on top of a hot container in order to get the food from the other hand.

Session 5

In session 6, I got rid of the food hand and focused on duration again. I want to make sure Grit doesn’t loose her duration when I introduce other criteria! You can see her duration has already deteriorated, so it’s a good idea to build it back up. I’ll work on duration some more in the next session before I go back to It’s Your Choice.

Session 6

Scent Discrimination Part 2

Grit had her 3rd and 4th session on Wednesday. In session 3, I asked her to target the coaster (rather than my hand) right away. Since I didn’t warm up with the chin target on my hand, I lowered the duration criterion. I fed her on top of the coaster to raise value for the target and pair my own scent with the smell of food, and I built a little duration back up.

Session 3:

In session 4, I was going to continue what I had started in session 3. However, Grit felt a little intense this session – if you’ve got a Malinois, you’re probably familiar with this: sometimes, she’s so fast trying to get things right that she forgets what exactly we are working on. This is what happened in session 4. Grit targets things – but not necessarily the coaster. At 00:02, it’s my knees. At 00:03, she offers a down, followed by a spin at 00:07. At 00:34 and 00:46, she targets my wrist. At 00:48, it’s my forearm (I want her nose a little further down, on the coaster). At 00:53, she tries to run around the camera and tips it over. At 01:04, she targets my knees again, followed by my forearm and offering a spin, and my forearm again. (Yes, she’s an operant dog!) I lower the duration criterion, and immediately click her for choosing the coaster. I keep the duration low, and she recovers by the end of the session.

You can recognize she’s in one of her intense states of mind due to the way she looks at me and her response speed. She already showed signs of this in session 3 a few minutes earlier. That’s neither good nor bad – it’s just part of who Grit is. Once she knows this relatively new behavior really well, she’ll be just as fast, but get it right even when she doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the behavior.

Session 4:

Does your dog have moments of increased intensity? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Scent Discrimination Part 1

I decided to journal Grit’s scent discrimination training in order to keep myself accountable and follow through. I started a month or two ago, but somehow stopped working on it soon after. This time, we’ll keep at it – we want to get our TEAM 1 title soon, after all, and this is the last behavior we’re missing.

I’ve never taught scent discrimination before, so this is new to me. I’m going to use a mix of the method Denise Fenzi showed me when she was visiting in September (using flat articles the dog can’t pick up, and starting with handler scent rather than a food lure from the beginning), and the way Phoebe learned nosework in Melissa Chandler’s Introduction to Nosework class at FDSA.

I’m not using anything resembling an actual article for FCI obedience. If I screw up, it’ll be on a random object rather than a competition object – so I have nothing to worry about and can experiment. For now, my goal is just an indication of the article that smells like me. Until Grit can do this perfectly, I don’t worry about the retrieve required in FCI obedience. In fact, I use flat objects precisely because they cannot be picked up. The indication I’m going for is a sustained nose/muzzle target, as if it were a nosework hide. Once Grit can reliably find and indicate the object with my scent, I can then transfer the indication to actual FCI articles and add the retrieve.

Step 1: teach a chin/muzzle target with 5 seconds of duration (we’ve already got that).

Session 1: warming up the chin/muzzle target (only asking for very little duration).

Step 2: transfer the chin/muzzle target to a coaster held in my hand.

Step 3: get 5 seconds duration on the coaster target.

… to be continued tomorrow!

Shaping Confidence, or How to Deal with Penguins

In Hadley’s book, quite a number of things are alarming. One of them: new objects in familiar spaces, like the neighbor’s trash bag that hasn’t been sitting out the day before, or a penguin wearing a hat, standing provocatively at a doorway where no one used to stand. (I totally get that. Penguins are not supposed to wear hats; now that’s just weird!)

My favorite way to deal with scary stuff is to make it part of a game. I’ve done this with Phoebe back in the day when she had a random-objects-are-scary phase in her adolescence, and now I’m using the same strategy for Hadley. By means of shaping, I want to give Hadley the experience that he controls the situation, and can turn scary stuff into cookie vending machines by means of choosing to engage with it.

Engaging with scary objects in return for a cookie is entirely his choice, not mine. I’m not luring him closer, and I’m not forcing him to engage with the scary object in any other way. Hadley decided whether he goes all the way up to an object, touches it, or just plays a little LAT from a distance. If he chooses to disengage after a little while, that’s okay, too.

Now that I’ve finally decluttered my camera phone, I got to film today’s encounter with a penguin wearing a hat. We met that weird bird on our way home from a walk in the neighborhood. We frequently walk past this house, and never before has there been a penguin standing in front of it. Obviously, Hadley was concerned. It looked quite devious in its green hat, pretending to be all innocent, just standing there provocatively. It might just have been planning to murder us all, and Hadley was right to point this out to me.

This is what our penguin session looked like:

Note that rather than using strategic points of reinforcement, I’m feeding away from the penguin, so the increase of distance acts as an additional reinforcer (R-). The whole thing took about 5 minutes, including a few breaks whenever either Hadley chose to disengage and do sth. else for a little bit, or when I went to reinforce Phoebe who I had put in a sit-stay. When Hadley offered looking at the penguin or approaching it again after a break, we were back in the game. At 0.30 in the video, you can see from Hadley’s body language that he’s getting too close. I should have clicked sooner, i.e. after fewer steps towards the penguin. He trusts me enough to keep playing, so for the next click, I lower criteria to just a few steps, something he can easily do. Then I gradually increase criteria again. At the end, you see his first bold touch. He’s not worried anymore and recognizes the penguin as the latest cookie-vending machine that has been placed here for his convenience! Engage with it, get a cookie from mum. Sweet!