Monday, November 21, 2011

Silly dog

I'll probably never be a trainer who uses pure shaping for everything but I have used it with great success on some things. Teaching Phoenix to scratch the center stanchion on go-outs is one of them. I've used about every method there is to teach go-outs and each has found great success with different dogs: the shelties loved squeeze cheese on the gate, Jamie loved retrieving his dowels and Phoenix loves to scratch.

Admittedly, this was not how I originally taught his go-outs. He started with food on the gate and that was all fine and good but I saw the "destination behavior" technique at a Laura Romaik seminar this summer and was enchanted. (Seriously. Some women are enchanted by jewelry and shoes. I'm enchanted by training methods.) So I switched. I'm all about making the work as fun as I possibly can for my dog and for whatever reason, Phoenix loves to touch things - nose touch, paw touch, you name it. So I put that to work for us.

Phoenix had been doing "scratch" go-outs with increasing enthusiasm and accuracy throughout the fall. I was eager to test them at the match we went to in Des Moines over the weekend, since he had never done go-outs there.

But they didn't have the back of the Utility ring gated. There was no center stanchion to scratch. Okay. Well then. What to do?

Before our run, I set him up a few feet from a blank wall and asked him to scratch. Apparently that behavior transferred easily from stanchions to walls because was happily scratching the wall in no time. Yes! And treat!

When we did go-outs in the ring, I marked him to his (nonexistent) go-out spot and sent him with the command "Go scratch!" This presumes he will go out and scratch the gate unless I tell him otherwise to sit, in which case he's expected to stop and sit, not keep going to scratch the gate. The turn and sit has been heavily rewarded, too, so it's pretty much a win/win situation for him. 

Phoenix ran across the ring. He stopped dead center, he turned sideways, he looked at me . . .

. . . and he pawed the air right where the center stanchion would have been. If it had been there, he would have smacked it good.

What a wonderful brilliant clever talented awesome Skinny Little Dog.

I ran out and he got a cookie and then we practiced scratching the actual wall, which he was happy to do on the next go out.

I wish everything was that easy.


  1. Hysterical!! That is awesome! We need film please!!

  2. HA! I actually laughed out loud on that one!

  3. Too funny. That would have been something to see. :-)

  4. Where is the video camera when you need it?!?

  5. Love it. Like you, I don't shape everything, but what I love about clicker training is that you have a thinking dog who is not afraid to try things. Which, if nothing else, ends up being more amusing that what you would get otherwise. And I'm all about the amusing. (One example of the entertainment value of clicker training is when I was first using a clicker to teach Taz scent articles he didn't understand why I was clicking for his picking up one article and not the other. So he neatly piled one three bar article on top of the other and brought me both simultaneously. Adorable!)

  6. i'm the stancion wasn't there, but would be there when it was time for you and Phoenix in the ring? he was just stopping and telling you, ok, this is where it is so we'll just stop here and scratch it?

    i don't know what a go out is... but i worked on something similar with Loki and Denise. and like Phoenix, loki LOVES to touch with his nose so we used that on a PVC pipe. and he'd go out and touch it, then sit at it... then we started directing him to jumps from there. it was a lot of fun.

    i love reading about Phoenix. it's almost like, hey i KNOW you! LOL...

  7. You made me smile, Melinda :-) I have taught the paw scratch to dozens of dogs now, hundreds if you count seminars, and I have found that a high percentage of dogs really like to do it. It must tap into something instinctual. And yes, it's a good idea to teach them to scratch walls too. I wish I could have seen Phoenix air swiping the non-existent stanchion. I'll have to remember that one the next time someone asks me, but what if there isn't gating? Answer: your dog might not notice that. Ha Ha!

    Laura Romanik