ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

More 101 Things To Do with a Box

One of the ways to be more successful with "101 Things..." is to keep the rate of reinforcement high. If the handler is getting bored with the game, the dog's probably going to get bored as well.

Bob Bailey keeps hammering home the need for a very high rate of reinforcement to get initial behaviors. When I play "101 Things", which I like to think of as "The Thinking Game," I may get in 20-30 clicks per minute.

Obviously, with this high a rate of reinforcement, we have to keep the treats very tiny, and keep the sessions very short. I rarely go over 3 minutes in any given session, and this tends to keep the dogs excited about the thinkin' game, and eager to return to the game next time.

I usually only click a single behavior in these short sessions, but often, I'll be able to do 3 or 4 sessions in a day, and each time, I'll try to pick a new behavior to shape. It's fun to see which dogs become more paw oriented, and which become more nose oriented, mouth oriented, or body oriented.

I have one crossover dog who really, really hates to offer behaviors. He would sit staring a hole in my face for hours if he could, just waiting for his cue. But, with the thinkin' game, he will offer me several variations of known behaviors because he now knows the object of the game: Find some stupid thing to do to make mom click and feed. This is nearly the only time he will offer behaviors in abundance, non-cued.

This crossover dog is a combination paw and mouth dog. He usually picks behaviors which have something to do with pawing a box or retrieving a box. One time I happened to click him as he turned his head at a strange angle and grabbed the side edge of the box with his teeth. He's so tuned into that click making the exact moment in time now, that he immediately offered me this behavior again--on the next corner. And round that box he went, twisting his head at this awful angle and grabbing the edge of each panel corner the same way.

One time he used his paw and smacked the box like a cat would thwap at a mouse. I clicked him just as he sent that box sailing across the room. I continued to click each thwap of the paw, and the box began to look like a merry-go-round, moving around the floor in a circle. He'd run to me for this treat after each click, then quickly race back and thwap the box again, always in the exact same spot, keeping the box in nearly perpetual motion.

I think one of the keys to keeping this game fun for both handler and dog is to keep the reinforcements rapid--especially at first, where you may be only clicking and treating for a head turn, for an air sniff, for one paw moving toward the box a step. With crossover dogs, boredom can quickly set in if they are getting too low a rate of reinforcement. Yet, once they really catch on to the concept, you can begin lowering that rate of reinforcement, getting the dog just a bit frustrated so that he'll over another behavior, or a variation on a behavior. And at that point, beginning rapid reinforcement again for about a minute so that the dog really, really has the idea down.

If boxes are boring the handler, why limit the game to boxes? Try an empty gallon milk jug, a plastic glass, a banana, a scarf, etc. IF you find one object elicits more interaction than another, then go with the high-interest object for the game. You may find you get much more enthusiasm and more creative problem solving. And that's what this game is all about: problem solving! Getting the dog to think and respond by finding some behavior that will make you click and treat him.

I also can't stress enough that when you are just beginning this game, it will help if the treats are really enticing, out of the ordinary, and if the dog is a wee-bit hungry. The dog needs motivation to push beyond the first wave of frustration, and often some nuked chicken bits or squeeze cheese or liverwurst will be the key to pushing past that frustration wall. If I'm using a high powered treat like this, I may only squeeze out a teensy-tiny amount on my finger and allow the dog to lick it off. It's not the amount, it's the taste and the knowledge that they always get a little bit of the really good stuff.

Happy Clicking!

Debi Davis
Tuscon, AZ
copyright 1999 Debi Davis


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