Sunday, March 17, 2013

trick of the week: circle

Hello again.

2nd installment of trick of the week. 

Once again, this is a great foundation trick for a lot of things. It teaches hind-end awareness especially well, a bit of independence (Lumen found it hard to do the bit where she had to turn her back on me), a bit of balance, and as a base for a lot of other tricks. It's the trick I used to begin teaching Lumen the 'heel' position, and to do a backward figure-8. 
Again, this is a trick you can teach to even a young puppy. If you have an older dog (like Mallei) who doesn't have rear-end awareness, they might find this much more difficult than your young dog. Mal is hopeless at this. 

Circle on an object.

You will need:
Something like a saucepan, pot or similar.

How to do it:
Your dog needs a basic understanding of clicker training to begin with.
Assuming it has this, shape your dog to put its front feet only on the pot. Be careful of getting all 4 feet on because although that's a really cool trick, it'll 'muddy the waters' of this one for now. 
Ok. When it knows to get its front feet up there, start looking for rear-end movement. That can be a shift of weight from one foot to another, a lift of one foot, whatever. Click, treat. Keep doing this. When the dog is shifting around (Mallei does this and it's about as far as we get), stop clicking for a bit and hold out. If the dog takes a step in either direction, jackpot!!! Play, reward, have a party.
Keep going. Soon, one step isn't good enough. Look for two. Three... Four. 
I found with Lumen that she needed a little help to get around the part where she can no longer watch me (and the food) but had to have her back turned to me. In one direction I reached down and helped her turn her head to then swing her butt around... and in the other direction, I shaped a head drop. As soon as she was comfortable dropping her head (eg no longer looking up at me) she found it much easier to then swing around on her own. This is sort of a matter of practise and experimentation I think. 
Once they begin circling, make sure to reward in different places so they never expect to stop in one spot. 
Then... go the other way. Essentially, you'll start from scratch. You'll probably get a few frenzied circles as your dog tries to figure out why the circles aren't working, and then maybe you'll get a weight shift in the other direction. Hurrah!!! Usually it takes less time to shape the other way because they kind of already know the game.
Most dogs will have a preferred way, and that's where they'll default to. It's important to teach them both ways though. 
Once they're circling, you could add a cue - I have a hand flick for Lumen, which helps her know the direction I want, and when she's going to side, she has "flip" to get to my right side, and "side" to go to my left side. 
In the video, I begin to step into her way and I click when she bumps me. That 'bump' becomes the foundation of her heel and 'return to side' position. If she's bumping, she's close and in the right place. 


My dog won't go around, will only dance on the spot.
Ah yes, I know this problem well, thanks Mallei. I'd suggest doing other rear-end awareness tricks like 4-in, targetting back, etc. Luring could also be beneficial though I think this could make the training process take longer. Possibly you could try foot pods, or a book or something, so the dog has something solid and tangible to step onto, and can aim for that thing- you could keep moving the book further and further around until the dog is doing a full circle to get to the book with its hind legs, and then fade out the book. I might try that with Mallei and let you know how it goes.

Dog doesn't stay on the pot.
Might need to do some more shaping with that one to get them to understand that their job is to put their front feet on the pot and keep them there!

Good luck, and happy training!


  1. We have a platform which Cynder has learnt to do circling on... It's just a small square box for her front paws :D

    I should try that 4-in with her on that too once she gets it :D

    1. Yep! Small platform is perfect! And you can certainly use it for 4-in, assuming that the sides aren't too high (might make it a bit trickier).
      How's 4-in coming along? :)