Ever regretted training your dog to perform a specific task or trick? Now, before you say it, I know that in theory the dog should never offer the behaviour once it’s under ‘stimulus control’ unless you ask for it, but real life and theory don’t always match up…
I’m in a confessional mood today, so here’s my confession. Some years ago, I taught my little Collie-Jack, to take people’s socks off. She learned the behaviour way too fast – I should have known it was one I’d regret, but my young nephews loved it so! Much laughter ensued, much practise and much reinforcement for a behaviour that was clearly one the dog loved in every way – after all, it involved tugging, capturing and killing (the sock, not the toes!). Thankfully she was very careful with her teeth, but so much for getting the behaviour on cue – before this had happened, she graduated from socks, to shoes, then (on one poor hapless chap) started work on his trousers!! Let me tell you, it sounds awfully lame to protest that the dog simply hasn’t learned to do the behaviour only on cue yet as she tries to yank his trousers off…
Thankfully, down the line, I did get control of this one… but go on, confess your worst and make me feel better! In the meantime, how do you teach potentially hilarious tricks without the risk that the dog will take them over, and start teaching not only you – but other members of the human species to reward them for doing it whenever they fancy? Well, maybe the following guidelines will help you to triumph where others have failed.
1. Think before you reward!
For example, if you own a noisy breed, think carefully before embarking on teaching them to speak for their supper. Think about the breed or type characteristics of your dog and just how integrally rewarding a certain behaviour may be.
2. Go all the way!
You simply cannot be half-hearted about teaching some tricks – if you start, you must finish – and that means teaching the trick, getting it on cue and then never – I repeat never – reward it unless you have asked for it.
3. Live by yourself and ban other people from accidentally rewarding your dog’s new behaviour when he shows them what he’s learned!
OK, I’m joking – but you get the drift. Unfortunately, it only takes a few well-timed rewards from other folk to ensure that your dog performs the behaviours randomly, just in case he gets lucky.