Un-cut trick training on Fit Dog Friday

Last week I told you about some of the conditioning exercises we do. This week, you’ll get to watch us learn a new one in real time! Hopefully it won’t resemble watching paint dry too closely.

As part of my resolution to post an unedited training video each week this month, I decided to fulfill a reader request (thanks, Romping and Rolling in the Rockies!) to show what a session shaping a new behavior looks like. And since it’s a conditioning and rear-end awareness exercise, what better time to share than Fit Dog Friday?

In this video, I’m using a combination of shaping and capturing! Take a look:

This is only our second session with this behavior, filmed over a week ago.

I start off trying to free shape her to back up onto the platform. Seeing that she’s still reluctant to back up into an object, I quickly switch to capturing. She gets a jackpot when she gets both feet all the way back onto the platform, and then I switch back to what we were doing before this–adding a cue to Nala’s tuck-sit behavior–at 1:03.
1:25 – Tuck-sits. I really like this one, so she gets a jackpot–three cookies and a behavior she loves (jumping up–yes, I put jumping on me on cue to solve our jumping on people to greet problem).
1:27 – Back to rear foot target.
1:50 – I switch to using a clicker and immediately get something to jackpot! I choose to rapid-fire click and treat for this one.
2:11 – I try a doomed set-up. This doesn’t give her enough room–the furniture creates spacial pressure that makes her worry that she will back up into something, so she avoids the platform. As a side note, this sensitivity to and worry about spacial pressure is why the channel method of shaping backing up didn’t work for us. Still, I was right to move the target around–that’s an important part of getting a head start on generalizing any target behavior.
2:19 – I try to work through it by clicking any interaction with the platform.
2:49 – That was a very late click. Don’t click like that. I pay for it anyway, because the click is a contract. And having to pay for bad clicks makes me less likely to be so sloppy–it’s punishing for me!
3:00 – I move the platform to a location that will set us up for more success. Then I switch to capturing–I rapid-fire click/treat for hitting the correct position by mistake.
3:17 – She backs off of the platform, which I don’t click, but I like what it indicates about her understanding of the behavior and willingness to interact with the platform as an obstacle.
3:50 – I move the board just a tiny bit. This is a much better way to introduce the idea that the platform is a rear-foot target than the big, scary lump I attempted at 2:11.
3:57 – Now we’re shaping–I raise the criteria to two feet on the platform even if you didn’t land there originally by accident.
4:19 – I really like this
4:39 – I lure her out of position with a reset treat and she repositions herself. Great!
4:47 – Even better–she’s backing into position more confidently now.
5:03 – This is a really important moment. Now that she has a big reinforcement history for back feet on the platform, I let her ask me some questions: “I just want to make sure. Do I sit? Do I back up around the platform?”
5:11 – She very deliberately puts her back feet onto the platform. I throw a party! By the way, this is what a party looks like for us–quiet, but enthusiastic, with free-flowing treats and personality. It’s not overwhelming, but 15 seconds of unbridled treats and joy make an impression on Nala.
5:26 – See how confidently she backs up onto it? Wagging tail, forward ears, major enthusiasm. That’s a great rep to end on, and so we do.

So, this is what it looks like when we revisit a relatively new behavior that’s pretty physically difficult for Nala. It pays for us to employ the concept of capturing–that is, setting Nala up to get it right and rewarding it very heavily, building value for the final position–before switching to free-shaping. This really helps Nala overcome any worry or reluctance she might have over, for instance, running into an object, or knocking it around. I make liberal use of jackpots whenever we shape; I think they both help keep Nala enthusiastic about the game and that they help keep me from holding out for criteria that’s too high for Nala’s current skill set. Instead of waiting continually for a big lump, like an entire paw lift, I can click any weight shift–then jackpot the paw lift. Or, with a retrieve, click any mouthing, but jackpot a bite and hold. It seems to work well for us–we revisited this behavior for the first time in a week the other day, and Nala needed barely any review before she was confidently backing up several steps to put her back feet on the platform. We’re just about ready to add a verbal cue (although I don’t know what to call it).

This post is, unfortunately, about a week behind–that’s the kind of week we had! So look out for more unedited training posts next week.


This post was part of the Fit Dog Friday blog hop! Be sure to check out the other posts to get inspired to keep doing fun things with your dog despite the lousy winter weather!

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10 thoughts on “Un-cut trick training on Fit Dog Friday

  1. That’s probably my problem – I get too excited when B finally “gets” it and I throw a party of treats, but I also verbally praise her in a way-too-excited voice. I should probably just keep it calm to avoid having my fingers almost gnawed off when she is overstimulated. Thanks for the tip!

    Great job by you and Nala! I like that it isn’t perfect, not that I celebrate other people’s failures, but it’s nice to see that training isn’t just a flawless step by step process that can only be achieved by super humans. 😉


    1. There are lots of ways to throw a party! And yes, gentle (or not so gentle) hand chomping happens around here when things get really exciting, too.

      ‘M so glad you like that, as it’s exactly what I am trying to show–even a rank amateur who makes tons of mistakes can still do this! Because dogs aren’t chickens.


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