Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Step 2: Teaching a dog to play pool

We left off yesterday with Sensi learning the command, “Push it” means to push the pool ball forward with his nose.
The next step, or laying of training, ups the ante just a tiny bit.
I started off with the normal training game, one pool ball on the floor in front of him.
But then I spread out the entire set of pool balls on the floor.
The game expanded to him having to push each pool ball as I pointed to it. After each one that he pushed, he got a treat and I picked up the ball and threw it in a bag — really smacking it against the other balls so he got used to the noise of pool balls colliding.
Because it was a small step, he caught on easily. I started with the game he knew and simply added more of the objects he played with.
The differences from step 1 to step 2 are this: more objects, and he had to move around to push them, and he had to follow my direction, aka, push the ball I pointed at.
This also gave me an opportunity to start decreasing his treat rewards.
Instead of getting a treat after each ball he pushed, I gradually decreased the reward to every other push, then every third push, eventually one in every five pushes, and then, just randomly.
Again, we played the “push it” game for 15 minutes each night for at least five days in a row.
Some of you out there may think it’s not worth the effort. We’re already at two weeks of training sessions.
But let’s think about it. Can you truly not spare a mere 15 minutes for a quick game with your dog?
The hardest part is week one, getting the dog to learn the command. But once that happens, it’s smooth sailing.
The 15 minutes pass so quickly. The dog knows the game and the training session just reinforces the command and gives you the opportunity to refine the behavior — perhaps no treat for a weak push and a really good treat for a strong push it.
It’s fantastic mental stimulation for your dog. The 15 minutes also helps your dog learn about you, how you communicate and respond. Inevitably, you also learn to refine your training skills — improving your reaction times to reward the dog and learning how to anticipate his moves by picking up on small body language communications.
All in all, positive reward training games — push it or other commands — help strengthen the bond between you and your dog by really improving the two-way communication going on between the two of you.
Tomorrow, we’ll really up the ante by introducing a whole new element of the “push it” game. And we’ll bring you very close to having a dog that can play pool with the best of ‘em.

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