Recently I posted this question on a dog training Facebook page – “What training tip or approach gave you that magic touch or simply surprised you how easy it was to implement and see results?” Rarely are there training hacks or magic wands in dog training, but sometimes there is something THAT simple that gets results. Based on the responses to my post, here are the top 6 most popular “magic” training tricks!
#1: Reverse Luring
Luring in reverse means our dog is making a choice to stay away from the reinforcement versus being lured by it. When they make this choice, the dog is offering some duration. You can apply this to many duration behaviors like a positional stay, dumbbell hold, and staying at source for Nosework. It can also be seen as a mixture of “It’s your choice” or using a focal point. A visual example I often give is a handler baiting a dog in the conformation ring as they are stacked for judging. Once a dog understands the concept, you can apply it to any duration behavior! You can also test the behavior by opening your hand with treats when they are right and closing it when they move out of position. Here is an example teaching a young wiggly dog to stay on a foot target for the very first time!
#2 Treat Scatters
A treat scatter is probably one of the simplest techniques we can use to reduce a dog’s arousal or refocus them before an environmental trigger happens. You simply scatter a handful of treats on the ground for your dog to find. A treat scatter activates the SEEKING systems which is one of the seven major emotional functions of the brain. It is the system responsible for motivation and desire to explore. Dogs learn about the world around them through their nose so it gives them pleasure (dopamine release), is soothing and provides security. You can put a cue to it also, so the dog learns when a scatter will occur.
#3 Location Specific Markers
A treat scatter is an example of a Location Specific Marker. They bring clarity to how we communicate with our dogs. The marker cue can describe not only where the reward is being given, but also the type of reinforcement. It’s simple to train as you simply say the cue/marker and then deliver where they should get the reinforcement. By using classical conditioning, the dog will associate the marker with the reward type/placement. It’s also believed that dogs who learn these early on, show a stronger aptitude for learning other verbal cues!
Here’s a short video example of 3 of my location specific markers:
- “Good” – treats are brought to the dog
- “Get it” – dog can release to tossed treat
- “Break” – dog comes to me for treat.
For an in-depth presentation on location specific markers, check out Shade’s free offer by joining her email list: http://shadesdogtraining.net/location-specific-marker-cues-chopping-up-the-clicker-into-different-reinforcement-procedures
#4 Reward placement
The power of reward placement! Simply put, if we reward where we want our dog to be or go, they will seek out that position! If my dogs are left to their own devices, they are perched on a foot target that was left out or in a 2 off/2 on position on the end of an agility contact board. These are positions I reward A LOT. I also build value for heel zone, a stand, and the line I want my dog to continue on or turn for agility,
#5: Clean Training Loops
The concept of Loopy Training was developed by horse trainer Alexandra Kurland. A clean loop refers to the order of events in a training session. Cue – Behavior – Mark – Reinforcement. And then we loop back to cuing the behavior and the loop repeats. The loop needs to have a clear beginning and end. When a loop ends, it should be clear to the dog what comes next – to either immediately reorient to the handler or setup from a known starting point (often a platform when starting out). We can help restart a loop by transporting a dog to the starting position (cookie magnet on their nose) or tossing a reset cookie.
Alexandra’s loopy training mantra is: “When a loop is clean you get to move on, and not only do you get to move on, you should move on.” Clean loops help you split behaviors into small chunks so that you can achieve fluency with a small part before moving on to the next step in the behavior chain.
The benefit of clean loops is that the nature of the small chunk allows you to remove unwanted behaviors during the order of events. Unwanted behaviors could be: sniffing, wandering off, visiting people/dogs, taking off with a toy.
Here’s an example of Ann and Dare working angled “retrieves” over the high jump.
#6: Obedience Figure 8
A simple change for your figure 8 handling if you tend to go left to avoid a lag, is to think of it in a different way of building drive from the start by going right around the outside. Not only will training this way build more energy off the start, it will also line you up for a straighter halt after the inside turn when your dog is already working to bring their rear into heel position. I definitely increased my obedience score with this one change! Here’s a great example from Esther and Taxi!