Why Do We Teach Tricks?
Why do we teach tricks? Many reasons: we teach puppies motor skills, how to respond to signals and verbal cues, how to generalize, how to achieve stimulus control. All this is done through tricks before we teach actual exercises.
The tricks we teach are usually very useful motor skills for the puppy. For instance, “8s.” You stand with your legs wide apart, and the puppy goes around each leg, completing a version of a figure 8.
He learns coordination and tight turning to the left and right. It is a physically balanced exercise with as much work on the left side of the body as the right side of the body. In how many exercises will we need tight turning? Blinds, About-Turn, Finish, even Send Away, when the dog turns to face you while going Down.
While teaching a trick, we also teach the puppy how to learn Verbal Cues. We start by luring; we then fade it, continue with the body cue, and then we fade the body cue completely. The puppy learns to respond just to a word alone.
Then we teach the puppy the ability to generalize. We go elsewhere and do the same exercise. Here we can begin really testing the strength of food drive or toy drive. Will what we have be more important than distractions? Of course, we have to do it gradually. We do not expect to stand in the center of a football game and be able to do “8s.” By observing the puppy, we learn something else about him - how thin his nerves are - sound-sensitivity, motion-sensitivity, fear triggers, etc.
In our school of thought, when we train actual exercises, we have the puppy on a leash so we can control the outcome. When we do tricks and motor skills - we do not. It is too difficult at that age. This leads us to the next step.
We then work on Impulse Control of the trick. This means that the puppy can perform the “8s” anywhere when asked, not some other behavior, always in response to the same command and no other with the same quality of the performance.
We ask for the “8s,” and decide to build duration. Meaning the puppy needs to continue doing the trick until stopped. The puppy does it once and expects a reward. We ask for the behavior again (please remember this is not the way to teach a formal exercise). The puppy throws a fit. We now know how high or low the puppy’s level of frustration tolerance is. We can use this knowledge later when we design his training program.
As you can see, tricks can be a great way to study your puppy.
Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions at the bottom of the screen.
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