If you’re one of those people who, while at work all day, dreams about what you will do with your dogs when you get home, only to find that the time you had slips away from you between chores, children, spouses, and the other little necessities of life, then you’re not alone! In this series of articles, following the Bob Bailey motto of “Think, Plan, Do”, I’ll outline plans for skills that you can train in ten minutes or less, so that you can find the time you didn’t think you had to train your dogs!
In this episode of the 10-Minute Trainer, I’m going share some tricks that I use for keeping my dog engaged while waiting for my turn to go in to the ring at a competition. I find that it can be very helpful in this situation to have at least a handful of tricks that meet the following criteria:
- Tricks that don’t require props (other than your leash, perhaps), or much space
- Tricks that keep the dog looking at you, but don’t require you to look at your dog.
Obviously, I don’t want to have to take lots of props to the collecting area with me to keep my dog engaged, although I know I’ll have a leash, so that prop is alright! And, the reason I want to have at least some behaviors that don’t require me to look at my dog is that I need to be able to look around while we’re waiting – either to see where we are in the line of dogs waiting to go in to the ring, to see if anything has changed in the ring since I walked the course, or to be able to make sure that things are safe around my dog and me. I also like tricks that help keep my dog’s muscles warmed up while we’re waiting for our turn.
I like to have 5-10 tricks that I can cycle through while my dog and I are waiting for our turn, so that neither of us gets bored. Tugging on a tug toy ringside can be a rewarding game for many dogs, but for some, it can be too arousing, or even unsafe, if the collecting area is filled with highly aroused dogs. And, as is the case with one of my dogs, Juno, tugging may be an activity that your dog does not want to engage in “in public”, due to being over aroused, or not feeling safe enough to engage in a game of tug with you ringside. I like tricks that give me lots of opportunities to engage my dog’s brain, and to reward Juno for focusing on me and trusting that I will keep her safe in a busy environment.
Teach your dog these tricks away from the agility competition ring first, and get comfortable with a few different ‘routines’, and then when you get ringside, have fun passing the time by cycling through all of your options!
This is a fairly simple trick that most dogs will do with almost no prior training. I like it because it can easily take the place of a warm up jump, if none is provided, if it’s outside in inclement weather, or if I don’t have time to use it.
I’ll simply use a piece of food, and hold it high up against a wall, or up against my own body, to entice my dog to jump up and put his front feet up on the wall, or me. While my dog is eating the treat, I’ve got a brief opportunity to look around, see how things are moving along, and then look back at my dog and ask him to return to the ground for another treat.
This is another fun trick that mimics jumping at the warm up jump, keeps my dog engaged, and doesn’t take much time or space. I’ll hold a treat high above my dog’s head, and when he rises up to get the treat, I’ll simply say “yes” and then reward my dog with the treat still held high, so that he is standing on his hind legs to get the treat. For this one, I don’t encourage my dog to rest his front feet on me, and so it’s a little more difficult. I’ll only ask my dog to do this for a few seconds at most, and then I’ll move on to another trick, although I may come back to it.
Where’s Your Nose
I admit, I “cheat” when training this trick. At home, I’ll use a piece of strong duct tape, and put it on the side of my dog’s muzzle. I’ll have my clicker and treats at the ready, because as soon as my dog paws at the tape, I will click and treat! After only a few click/treats, I’ll pretend to put the tape on my dog’s nose, and after pretending to rub it on his nose, I’ll be ready to click/treat. After a few more click/treats, I’ll pretend to put the tape on my dog’s nose, and as I move my hand away, I’ll give the verbal cue I’ve chosen for the trick (in my case, “where’s your nose?”), and as my dog touches his paw to his nose, I’ll click/treat. This does require you to watch your dog carefully to make sure you’re rewarding for paw contact with the dog’s nose.
Foot To Foot
With my dog sitting in front of me, I’ll take my foot, and reach under one of his front feet, and lift his foot on to my foot. As I do so, I’ll mark and reward my dog for that foot-to-foot contact. As long as my dog’s foot is on top of my foot, I’ll keep giving him treats. And, since I can tell that his foot is on my foot by feel, rather than by looking, this is another trick that allows me to look around and keep tabs on the environment. I can also switch feet, and encourage my dog to put his other foot on my foot, so I have two tricks in one!
Dance On My Feet
This is a great trick to use when space is tight, and you want to help your dog feel a little safer by defining a space around him. It’s also a crowd pleaser, and, another trick that doesn’t require you to look at your dog – you can reward based on feel.
For this one, cue or lure your dog between your legs so that the two of you are facing the same direction. Put your feet as close together as you can, and continue to lure your dog forward, so that he must step on your feet to come forward from between your legs. You’ll probably want to point your toes toward one another, or you’ll end up squeezing your dog with your legs!
When your dog makes contact with your foot by putting his paw on it, mark and reward. Be sure to reward a little high, since rewarding your dog with his head slightly elevated will encourage him to pick up his front feet, and will increase the chance that his other front foot will bump in to your other foot.
When you’ve got both of your dog’s feet on your feet, keep rewarding him for that contact, and then start wiggling your toes, to see if he’ll maintain that contact. If he comes off your feet, stop rewarding, and try again, and begin rewarding heavily for foot on foot contact.
Once your dog can keep each of his front feet on your feet (one paw per foot), start shuffling your feet forward in small increments, rewarding all the way, until you can take a few steps, with your dog’s front paws on your feet, the two of you progressing forward together.
Put Your Mouth On The Leash
I’ve had dogs that like to tug, and dogs that don’t like to tug. Some of the dogs that don’t like to tug ringside absolutely love tugging at home – they just don’t feel comfortable enough ringside to tug, and me pressuring them to tug in that environment isn’t going to do anything to help them. However, one of the nice things about tugging is that it does allow me to steal short moments to look away and survey the environment while waiting for our turn in the ring. This trick can accomplish the same thing as tugging; it keeps my dog engaged, earning rewards, and allows me to steal glances at the environment. I’m feeling when to reward my dog for putting her mouth on the leash, rather than looking at her to see if she is.
Start at home with this one, because at first you may need to look at your dog. Take your leash, and make a 6-8” loop out of it, so that the loop comes out of your fist. Make sure that the end of the loop is big enough for your dog’s mouth to fit comfortably.
At first, reward your dog for nose touching the loop. Then, progress to rewarding your dog for mouthing the loop. Usually, a dog that is enthusiastic about nose touching the loop will mouth it if you “forget” to give a cookie for the nose touch, as if to say, “hey you, can’t you see I’m touching this thing?!”.
Hold the loop loosely enough that you can progress to rewarding your dog for pulling a short length of the loop through your hand (maybe just 0.25 inches at first!). Then, withhold treats until your dog pulls a half-inch or so through your hand.
Work up to being able to hold out a loop of leash, while you are looking away, and reward your dog when you feel the loop being pulled through your hand! You can progress to holding the loop a little more firmly to encourage your dog to pull harder, or not, your choice! Dogs that are more food than toy motivated can sometimes learn to enjoy pulling on the loop of leash just for the sake of pulling – however, if you use the power of random reinforcement, you’ll find that your food motivated dog will keep pulling and pulling on that loop, hoping for a cookie, keeping her occupied, and giving you a chance to survey the environment. Don’t forget to pay up, though!
This is one of the more obvious tricks, and there are perhaps a lot more creative tricks out there, but it’s a classic for a good reason – it is a great trick that you can train and reward by feel rather than by look, and you’re most likely going to have your hands with you when you head to the ring, and so it fits the criteria at the start of this article perfectly. You can do this trick quickly, repeatedly, with either hand, and while you’re doing it, feeling your dog bump your hand with his nose, you can reward your dog and simultaneously survey your surroundings. And as with some of the other tricks mentioned here, it’s a two-for-one trick, because you can switch hands and ask your dog to target your other hand as well!
Nose targeting is another classic trick, and you can use anything that is readily available as a target for your dog to touch her nose to. One of my dogs, who is not terribly confident about going in to the ring, has benefited greatly from repeated nose targets on the ring gates and ring fencing. While we’re waiting our turn, we’ll approach the gate, and she’ll get rewarded for touching her nose to it, and then we’ll move away and approach again when we’re able. Now, instead of looking unsure as we approach the ring gates, she’s pulling to go toward the opportunity to get a cookie for touching the gate with her nose!
Also, at a recent trial, my puppy was a little unsure about a man with two knee braces on. With his permission, we spent a little time working up to nose targeting the braces on his knees, and soon, my puppy was looking to poke everybody he could find in the knees!
Lift Your Leg
With this trick, I’ve taught my dog to lift his or her back leg, moving it toward a target. If I reach my hand back toward my dog’s back leg, he’ll usually lift up his hind leg to target my hand. If he’s near a chair, a wall, or another person, he’ll try to target them with his hind leg.
To start with this trick, I typically start on the floor, with my dog in a stand near me. I’ll reach back to touch a back toe, and when he moves his foot, I’ll click and treat. Since I’m typically touching his back toe with one hand, and holding food for him in the other hand, I’ll often put my clicker under my knee and click with my knee, or some other body part other than my hands, which are otherwise occupied. With button-style clickers, you can get creative with how you make them click!
Eventually, as my hand is reaching back toward my dog’s back foot, he’ll raise his toe up to meet my hand, particularly if I’m making sure to click when I see motion upward instead of waiting for downward motion. If I do this near a wall, or a chair, and his back leg bumps in to the object, I can reward for that contact. I always make sure to do this trick on both sides, so that my dog develops muscle strength in the rear equally from doing this trick!
At the show, I can ask my dog to target my hand with his rear foot, or a nearby wall, or a chair, or pretty much anything I can come up with.
Weave Through My Legs
This trick can be a little tricky (no pun intended), because as your dog weaves through your legs, his leash is going to get wound up, and pretty soon both of you will be tangled up in one another. However, it’s a great game to play with at the warm up jump. It keeps your dog focused on you, helps warm up his back and spine for weaving through the weave poles, and it also keeps him physically near to you.
At the ring, you can still do this trick, if you’re careful to thread the leash through your legs as your dog goes, and if you’re careful to maintain control of the leash and not let it slip out of your hands.
Come Up With A Routine
What other tricks can you come up with that meet the criteria at the beginning of this article? Work on all of your tricks at home, when you just have a few minutes to spare, until you can go through your routine of tricks ringside without thinking, and in some cases, without looking! Work on your routine in class, while you’re waiting your turn to go, so your dog gets comfortable doing tricks with other dogs around. A tricks routine a great way to get a connection going with your dog ringside, as well as any other time!
Until next time, happy training!
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