Training Yorik

I knew I was going to teach Yorik lots of tricks because I had a plan to develop a dog Trick Show that we could put on at local nursing homes. 

He is my first clicker-trained dog, and after the success I have had with him, the clicker will be my first choice from now on. Elkhounds love food and to a clicker-trained dog, the sound of that click means "I did something right and I'm going to get FOOD!"  What could be better? I will not go into clicker basics here, as anyone can Google many great websites that describe the method in detail. I will just describe it as using the "click" sound (which the dog has associated with reward) to instantly let the dog know when he is doing the behavior you want. The "click" lets him know he did correctly and a reward is coming soon.  

Yorik the day we picked him up.

One important point I want to stress is that the earlier you start training the better. Yorik's training began the day he arrived at our home, and it continues every day. I am always thinking about new tricks for him to learn and how to improve on the tricks he already knows. 

Another equally important point is one I learned from my friend Karyl Parks in Ohio. It is - don't be afraid to think outside the box! Just because your earlier dogs couldn't learn something, or just because you never saw a dog do something before, doesn't mean that THIS particular dog here and now can't learn it! Prove this to yourself ONE TIME and you will never look at training the same.

Yorik loves to learn and he loves practicing his tricks. I have always made it fun and positive for him. We train all day long, but not in a formal training session. Yorik just has to work for things!  There is a training philosophy called Nothing in Life is Free. We use it a lot. 

If he gets a reward it's because he did something to earn it. Rewards come in many forms. It might be that a sit-stay when the door opens gets you a trip outside. Come in when called and you get a treat. Go in your crate and sit and you get breakfast. Sit calmly beside me on the couch or lay calmly in my lap and I will rub your ears. On the other hand - bark at me or paw me for attention gets you nowhere. I have a very hard-working dog, who is always trying to get more rewards from me.

Most of the tricks Yorik knows are elaborate combinations of just a few basics. Probably the most important behavior he has learned is to retrieve.
Here is what we did to get it: I always had my clicker handy. At any time during the day, whenever Yorik would pick up one of his toys, I clicked and gave him a treat. Pretty soon he was picking toys up and looking at me to see if I saw him. If he ever had the toy in his mouth and moved even slightly in my direction I said "bring it here" as I clicked and then treated. It didn't take long before he was bringing the toys closer and closer. Each effort was rewarded, even if he stopped part of the way to me. After a while, I completely stopped rewarding just for picking up the toys, and rewarded only for bringing toys toward me. The next step was only rewarding for bringing the toys all the way to me. Each time this happened I said "bring it here" and rewarded with a click and treat. This was Karyl's method and it worked fast. In less that 2 weeks I could throw a toy, say "bring it here" and he would bring it right back to me.  He was showing off the retrieve in his first puppy obedience class (Home Manners) by retrieving a checkbook.

No matter what it is, I never discourage from Yorik bringing things to me. He sees things as objects of value, that can be bartered for something he wants more. Sometimes he gets his entire supper one piece of kibble at a time by bartering for each bite. He barters all day long. Sometimes he brings me toys, other times paper, cardboard, shoes, bowls, just anything he can pick up, and I always reward him. Some trainers say dogs are reluctant to pick up metal objects, but Yorik doesn't seem to mind at all. He will barter with spoons, keys, or dog bowls. 

One day at lunch he bartered all these things for kibble, except the binoculars and toy phone.

"Shake" is another behavior that is simple but can be used to develop other, more complicated, behaviors. I taught "shake" by saying the word and touching his front leg at the same time, then click and treat every time he lifted his leg off the ground. Soon I rewarded only when the foot was raised without me touching it, and then when it was held high.  Then to get the piano playing started, I sat him in front of the piano and held my hand out like I wanted to shake, but when he held his foot out, I didn't grab it, but instead I let it hit the keyboard and play a note while I said "play", clicked and treated.  The same basic idea was used to get him to open the cash register. 

The third important behavior was "pull".  I got him tugging on a floss toy and said "pull", clicked and treated. After a while I could show him the toy, say "pull" and he would grab it and start pulling. Then I started tying a cloth to the door knob and saying "pull" and he pulled the door open!  Whenever I want him to pull on something, I tie a little piece of cloth on it where I want him to put his mouth. It makes it easier for him to understand what to do.

Now for examples - "Get the Mail" combines the "pull" (open the mailbox door) with the retrieve (bring the mail to me). The trick "Play Basketball" is a retrieve that is brought to a basketball hoop instead of my hand, but I started out by having my hand in the hoop when he brought the ball and let him put it in my hand inside the hoop. Then I just eliminated my hand and he didn't seem to notice any difference. 

I think the important thing in training is learning HOW to train. When you hit on what makes your dog motivated and what makes him understand what you want, pretty much the sky is the limit.

If you have any questions about Yorik or trick training, please feel free to Contact me. .