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Tricks and Treats

My daughter had an odd request for me. It was after she watched a dog show where dogs would run around laps and jump through hoops. She wanted me to teach Maui how to jump and do some tricks such as rolling over. Moreover, she wanted to watch me do it. 

It sounded like a good challenge. I finished cooking some of the chicken liver yesterday for training purposes, and it's not a bad way to spend a few afternoons. Maybe I can even teach my daughter how to train Maui, at least with the fun tricks. 

The question is, how? It was easy enough to make him sit and stay, and make him approach when he hears the beep. Knowing the principles behind this, it should not be that difficult to do it, so I planned it out.

I taught Maui to sit by making him follow the treat as it goes over his head, causing him to sit. That was when I said cue "Sit!", gave the good signal, then gave the treat. Eventually, he sits on his own without me moving the treat over his head. 

So, with this example, I should make him follow the treat, causing him to twirl, then I say "Spin!", signal, then treat. I'll do this a couple of times, then move on to just saying "Spin!" then signal, then treat. I think this is the easiest. 

The jump part will be tough. I could dangle the treat up for him to jump and reach, but I don't want Maui to learn that he's allowed to jump up to get food from my hand. I already know not to do this from owning cats. Give them an inch, they will take a mile. Instead, I'll use one of his chew toys and have him try and reach for it. As soon as does the jumping motion, I'll signal and provide a treat.

I'd love for him to play fetch, but until I can sort out his beef with the cats, it's going to be complicated and risky. 

Next is the Roll-Over. In this case, I think this requires two kinds of actions. One to make him lay down, the other to make him roll to his back, then to his belly. Getting him to lay on his belly should be simple enough. Just aim the treat down then when he aims his nose at it, move it back until he dives for it. I then say the cue, then the signal, then treat. 

To teach the roll-over, I'll have him lay on his belly, then guide the treat from the left side of his head towards the back. The expected result is him turning to his belly to get the treat, then back on his belly as moves it to the right side. 

This should be a simple plan. I'll teach him the tricks, then once he has some mastery of it, let my daughter do the reinforcement. She gets to enjoy, hopefully so does Maui. 

I had to put some effort to consider what kind of treats Maui should have during training. He has his basic mix of different dry food to eat for his regular meals, which I hope, highlights the other treats I feed him during training. The problem with these treats is how expensive they are in pet stores. 

Biscuits aren't that great because Maui often tries to break the biscuits as he chews and tries to get every crumb, which takes some time. This slightly breaks his concentration, and instead of getting 10 successive reinforcement training in one go, we only get 6 before he loses his attention and we have to stop the session and try again later. He also tends to go and drink water every now and then, so crunchy treats are out of the list as they reduce the rate of reinforcement. 

Chewy treats do the same. Maui takes time to chew them. Less than crunchy treats, but still breaks his focus. It's great though when I reward him when I command him to stop barking, as it also keeps his mouth and attention occupied. His barking is a bit of a problem as he is a somewhat large dog and has a somewhat deep bark that reverberates to the main bedroom.

Chewy treats do the same. Maui takes time to chew them. Less than crunchy treats, but still breaks his focus. It's great though when I reward him when I command him to stop barking, as it also keeps his mouth and attention occupied. His barking is a bit of a problem as he is a somewhat large dog and has a somewhat deep bark that reverberates to the main bedroom.

Sometimes I wonder if Maui intentionally barks so that I will stop him and provide treats. Such is the possible downside of Positive Reinforcement Training. 

Then there's the odd thing my friend recommended: Boiled Sweet Potatoes. Sliced into small cubes, apparently, they make for a soft, easy, and affordable treat. I know domesticated dogs are omnivores and can live on a diet of meat and vegetables combined. I have yet to try this, but worth a shot when I'm changing up his treats. I do know that my cats eat boiled potatoes. Not that I gave them any. I was boiling potatoes for some mashed potatoes, and I dropped one on the floor as I peeled them. I tossed it to the compost heap and the next thing I saw was them taking curious bites at it. Eventually, they finished it and they didn't get sick. 

Right now, Liver and Lean Pork or Beef are my go-to's. Sometimes, I mix it up with some of the Chicken that's been in the freezer for too long or other human food that isn't processed. They are soft, easy to eat, and for safe measure, I taste the liver and lean meats myself after they are cooked, to make sure they are good. I season them a bit with some salt and once it's done boiling, I take them out to dry for a bit, then place them in a sealable bag and toss them in the freezer. I just thaw them when I need them. Maui loves the smell, especially the liver. He perks up whenever it's training time. 

With the treat on hand, I started teaching Maui. The first was spin. I took out a piece of the liver, let Maui see it, and spun it around him. As expected, he did follow the treat and I gave him the treat. I did this a couple of times during the training session. He seemed to have fun with it, probably because my daughter was laughing as Maui spins and spins. He wagged his tail a lot.

After about a dozen times, I saw that Maui was running out of concentration juice because he was not responding to me as fast. I stopped the training and decided to play around with Maui, just to keep things positive. 

A few hours later, I resumed the training, and this time, I said the "Spin!" cue as I twirled the treat around him. I did this a couple of times until I saw that he was ever so slightly not following the treat anymore. We took a small break, took a dog brush, and relieved him of a big wad of stray hair. We then resumed training, and this time, I just said "Spin!" 

Wouldn't you know, he didn't. He just stared at me expectantly. So instead, I said "Spin!" while twirling my hands above him. Somehow, this worked and he did it again. It's progress!

Since my daughter was watching the entire time, I had her do it. Copying my exact actions to get Maui to spin. Sadly, Maui did not follow her. Either he only responds to my voice, or just doesn't see her as a commanding figure. 

So I let my wife give it a shot. 

Maui followed her and even did some of the basic commands he already knows. Maybe my daughter just didn't have that presence to her yet. If the goal is to make her say the trick commands for fun, then Maui should learn to follow her. 

I ended the training session there. Something also came up, or rather, came in. Later that afternoon, the shock collar arrived. 

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