Friday, July 3, 2009

Step 4: Teaching a dog to play pool

Your dog is now playing pool. But pushing pool balls around isn’t exactly going to wow your friends.
That dog of yours has got to start actually making some shots, so here’s how you do it.
During the step 3 training week, I hope you had enough common sense to know that if your dog actually made a shot it was time for a major celebration.
You need a real doozy of a reward ready to go for this amazing feat.
Maybe some pieces of chicken hidden conveniently near the pool table or just something that is new and novel to the dog. Perhaps even a new toy (I stock up on dollar store dog toys for just for these types of occasions).
And remember, the reward is not the only part of a major celebration. Verbally and physically, you need to really whoop it up.
Of course, if you clicker train, you know what to do. But most of us out there haven’t ventured into the magical world of clicker training yet.
So if you’re going to do it the old fashioned way, be sure to get the important things right.
1) Timing. The second that ball makes the noise of dropping in the pocket, start celebrating like someone just told you that you’ve won $1 million bucks.
2) Reward. For expediency, give the dog a couple of the treats you’ve been holding and then hurry to get his other “special” reward — the hidden chicken or new toy.
3) Make it a total celebration. Verbally, you had best sound so happy that your dog can’t miss the fact that he just won you the friggin’ lottery. And give your dog all the pats and neck rubs that come along with it.
Timing is always the most important. Why? Because your dog needs to learn that the best reward comes when the ball goes into the pocket and makes that noise that balls make when they drop in the pocket.
So, keep playing the game with your dog. You can’t force him to make a shot, but through refinement, you can teach him the best rewards come when he does make a shot.
Once he understands that, start decreasing all treat rewards for when he simply pushes the ball. Reserve the reward for when he makes shots only.
You might try lining up shots as best you can for him to increase his odds.
At some point, the dog will begin actively trying to push the balls into the pockets.
And now, you’ve got a four-legged pool shark that all of your friends will enjoy playing a game of pool with.

To use the cue ball or not use the cue ball?
I began training Sensi with the idea in mind that he would use the cue ball.
If you’re interested in doing this, go back to step 1 and change the game a little bit.
Instead of having him push just any ball with his nose, make sure he only pushes the cue ball. Then add in the other pool balls, but again, have him push the cue ball at those balls. When they connect, mark the noise of the connection with the reward.
I found that Sensi had an easier time making shots by just pushing one ball into the pocket, so I dropped the cue ball idea.
Our friends have never minded that the dog gets to play a modified version of the game of pool.
They’re just happy to be playing pool with a dog, nevermind that he gets to cheat a little bit.

The importance of the sit-stay
As soon as you begin alternating turns with your dog, make sure his sit-stays when it’s not his turn are perfect.
You absolutely do not want your dog to get the idea that he can be up at the pool table whenever.
If he does get away with jumping up on the pool table when it’s not his turn, he’ll ruin every game of pool you try to play.
The dog must understand that he plays when you tell him to, and he sits and waits patiently when you tell him to.

No comments:

Post a Comment