Saturday, January 17, 2009

20. More Tugging: Training Tasks

Now she is ready to start the task training. Tie a soft rope onto the object you want her to pull. For a rope, I often use fleece or cotton tug toys made for dogs so the dog knows it’s okay for him/her to grab it. See the Free Tug & Chew Toys for Dogs' video. Later you can transition to thinner ropes or even use his leash looped over the handle that are more portable and easily detachable for use in public places.

A light cupboard door is a good door one to start with since it doesn’t take much tension to open the door. If you have a large exhuberant dog, start with the oven door or a outside door. These are less likely to get damaged if he pulls too hard. Once he is trained, his enthusiasm can be controlled to learn lighter doors.

Attach a long tug toy to the door making sure it reaches her face level. Wiggle it as you did when you started teaching her the tug game. This should entice her to take it. Now cue ‘pull’ and cue a release. She doesn’t even have to put enouhg tension on the door to open it the first few times, just take it in her mouth and pull the rope. Next fade holding the rope until it hangs in its natural position on the door and point to it. However, ethusiastic pullers amy pull it open in one motion so be ready. If you think she might do this, be ready with your leg, a chair or a pillow in place to prevent the door from being swung too open wide or hitting the wall.

Next use targeting by pointing to the rope and see what she does. If she doesn’t take it immediately, pick it up and pull it away a little. Likely, she will start taking it on her own. Cue ‘pull’ have her pull for on second and c/t a release! Most dogs will start tugging the rope on their own at this point.

You can also start shaping the behavior without any cues once she knows the game. Place her in front of the tug toy tied to the door and just wait to see what happens. If she just stands there, you may need to point to the rope and cue ‘pull’ when she takes it in her mouth. Some dogs have difficulty in the transition from you holding it to it being tied to the knob so it’s worth taking time to place your hand near the handle to make it look like you are holding the rope. As quickly as she allows, fade your hand. Now fade the use of the ‘pull’ cue so the dog takes the rope and pulls with no other direction other than you pointing to the rope (if needed). The presence of the rope and the dog’s proximity to the door with rope should be enough to cue the behavior.

Now wait a few seconds to see if she will pull the door open at all. Even a crack is a good start! Push it closed after each try. Shape the behavior to open the door as we did for the ‘shut the door’ in steps, asking for it to be a little more open at each step. As the door opens wider, she may need to take a step backwards. Click and treat when she does that. Next, c/t for backing up two steps (if needed).

When she is consistently opening the door all the way, add the cue “open” as she is in the middle of opening it, then just as she starts, then just before she starts, then from a step away, then two steps etc. Soon you can send her to the cupboard door from across the room.

Once she can do this successfully and understands this behavior, try another slightly heavier or larger drawer or door. Attach the handle to the door and ask her to open it a little way, then a little more, then more as she catches on. As the doors get heavier, she will have to put more of her body into it and back up further. A longer rope on heavier doors may make them easier to pull open. Be careful not to ask her to pull a door that is too heavy for her.

Problem Solving

Before you ask your dog to pull out a drawer make sure it has a drawer stop in the back along the runners to prevent her from being able to tug it all the way out.

If you are worried that she will open doors when you are not around, only attach the ropes to the handles during training sessions. Only when the behavior is under stimulus control (this means only performing the behavior when cued) can you reliably expect her to leave the doors closed unless asked. It also helps to choose cupboards with no food in them now or before to reduce the motivation for going into them on her own. Puppies genrally are not very reilable in self control to waiting until she has shown he has mentally matured before leaving handles on is also a good preventative approach.

Opening Heavy Public Doors
For heavy commercial doors, I would use a ‘braced’ open instead of a tug open. A braced open is when the dog is in harness and the harness takes the tension and weight of the door. The dog is usually facing away from the door and moving away from it with a rope attached to his shoulder harness. Only larger dogs should be trained to do braced door openings on heavy doors due to potential for injury.

Using Opposites
To cement the behavior of ‘open’, try training the ‘open’ cue with ‘shut’ cue she already knows. Start on a light drawer and progress to heavier doors. You may need to block the drawer with a leg or wheelchair (or mostly close it for her) to have it open just a little to make it easier for her to shut at first. Remember when introducing any new step, she doesn’t have to do it perfectly the first few times. This will help build her performance confidence so she can be successful!

Here's our video that summarizes the process.