ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Teach Your Dog to Be Creative

Hope you don't mind me jumping in and offering an idea to try with Jack, who prefers being lured and isn't anxious to problem solve. Smart boy!

I have a Pap like this, and of course, I realize I created the reliance on my telling him what to do rather than allowing him to solve the problem. It was easier for both of us, I guess. But, in order to surge forward, I had to go back, start at square one and teach him to search out creative options to make me click and treat him.

A big help was in finding the absolute BEST reinforcements for this dog, the sumptuous treats he would die to steal off the counter, if only he was tall enough to get there.

Then, I picked my times to teach creative problem solving carefully: I wanted him MOTIVATED, and a bit hungry. Early mornings were ideal: he was full of energy, hungry, and willing to push through his frustration walls a bit more than when his tummy wasn't growling, or when he was more interested in watching the cat scratch in the litter box.

Next, I picked the most boring, quiet environment I could find---THE BATHROOM! And I sat on the throne and opened up a book, read a few pages. The dog circled in boredom, flopped down, perked his ears up each time I turned a page, and tried to stare a hole in my forehead. Yep, it was time to begin.

I grabbed my clicker and sumptuous treats: Grueyere cheese covered chicken shreddings, and pitched a hairbrush on the floor. His eyes followed, and at that moment, I clicked and gave a treat. He stood watching me, staring a hole in my head.

I picked up the hairbrush from the floor and dropped it again, and this time he bent his head down to sniff at it. I caught the sniff at the moment it happened, clicked and treated. He started to stare a hole in my head, but after 3 seconds of watching my eyes back on the book pages, ignoring him, (but watching CLOSELY from my peripheral vision) he dipped his head and I clicked just as his nose touched the hairbrush, and delivered the treat. He stood staring a hole in my head, but within 2 seconds, dipped his head again, and again, I caught his nose touching the brush, clicked and treated.

He immediately dipped his head again and touched his nose to the brush. CLICK and treat. No staring, just immediate dipping of head right after taking the treat, which I again clicked and treated.

Can you see the pace picking up here? He's figured out what will make me click and treat him, and now he's eager to do the behavior he suspects will net him the booty. As he swallows the treat this time, his head is already moving down, and I click and treat again, then again, then again, keeping that reinforcement verrrrrry fast and rapid. He has no time to get bored, to get frustrated.

I kept the behavior simple, let him choose with just a bit of gentle direction at first (dropping the brush to attract his attention). By the time he figured out the game, he was so engaged---so motivated, it was like watching pistons pump up and down.

It was his first experience figuring out how to solve a problem---making me click and feed him. And he decided it was a pretty good game.

Each time I made a bathroom trip (I swear, I'm gonna write a book called "Training in the Loo!") he came with me. I never offered the same interactive item twice. There's so much in the bathroom to grab at any one time. I ripped a postit note off the pad and stuck it on the wall, very low. He looked at it and I clicked and treated. He looked at it again and I clicked and treated. Soon we were doing speed drills and he figured out the game was swiveling his head back and forth as fast as he could go.

I was thinking a paw thwack, but heck, I got this nice head swivel, so I took it, and continued shaping, going faster and faster so he wouldn't have a second to get bored.

Did it work? Yup! It was the beginning of true problem solving for this boy, and a final break away from that lure that plagued us forever. Also, we had to move past bribery. I'd be so subtle in my bribery, but the more subtle I tried to get, the more discriminating this boy became. I had to get the treats off of me, and introduce other reinforcers he found rewarding: his favorite non-food motivator? Tugging games.

The new game of creative problem solving then shifted to "something to do with the tug toy." I let him choose something creative, which was moving from growling, hard tugs to a release when I pursed my lips in a kiss. He just let go one time accidently when I'd pursed my lips and made a whispered kiss sound, and I clicked at that moment. By then, he knew how to play the game and immediately latched onto this new cue signal for release. The quicker he released, the quicker he got the tug rope back. We kept working rapidly, lots and lots of fast nonstop reinforcements for about 2 minutes.

We took the game on the road, into the living room, the bedroom, kitchen and finally outside, with more distractions. We used tons of items, and reinforced anything creative he offered: paw thwacks, lying down on an object, pushing objects with his nose, a paw thwack and a bark, whatever.

By keeping the sessions VERRRRRY short, breaking them up all through the day, keeping the reinforcement rate very high, and stopping before he was bored, frustrated or tired--he was able to learn the joy of creative problem solving.

I knew he was on the right track when my wheelchair rolled away one day in the house, and I cued him to retrieve it. En route bringing it back to me, a wheel caught on the table leg and he couldn't move it any further. He became instantly frustrated, went into a down position, turned his head and tried to will me to figure it out for him. I just ate the cheesey chicken and ignored him. He let out a "roooo!" and tried pulling right, left, pushing with his paws, and still the chair remained immobilized. Again, he looked at me, hoping I'd "rescue" him in some way, and again I ate the goodie and ignored him.

Finally, he let out a "ROO-ROOO---ROOOOO!" backed up, spun around, ran to the other end of the room, charged toward the chair and jumped up into the seat, effectively dislodging the wheel, and was then able to bring it to me the rest of the way. I gave him all the chicken.

It can be a challenging thing to teach a dog used to being directed, to start creative problem solving. Even if they have no background of aversives being used, they do get lazy and find the most efficient way to have their needs met. If walking away and giving up gets them the booty, then of course, they are going to repeat that behavior. They are real efficiency experts, in that way!

But, if they learn to find the JOY of problem solving, learning can take a totally new curve, and give them tons more satisfaction than they ever had while waiting for mom to make all the decisions.

Go for it, Sandy! Jack will love you for it. And life will never be boring again.

Debi Davis
copyright 2002 Debi Davis


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