Clicker Training: “Kong”

Otis – like many other dogs that had limited exposure to the world as a puppy – is rather clueless about a lot of concepts. We take so many behaviors our dogs do for granted as “natural activities” that they’re just born knowing – like playing, sniffing out treats, working for food, etc. In reality though, dogs often need help learning these skills. Additionally, even though these behaviors might not come naturally to some pups, they can be so beneficial (see: Chick’s love of play on Love & a Six-Foot Leash).

I’ve written before about Otis’ mental block when it comes to retrieving food out of a Kong. If it didn’t just naturally come out, he’d stare at it then promptly give up. He got better when it came time to slurp up yummy, frozen peanut butter – but he just couldn’t figure out how to make solid kibble (or other treats, for that matter) fall out of the Kong.

This is where FosterGrandma and I stepped in. After my last post about Otie’s difficulties with food puzzles, you all gave me a ton of great suggestions about how to help him figure it out. I have yet to try, well, (oops – confession time) most of them, but what my mom and I did do with him was some clicker training. When in doubt with an insecure, unsure dog – clicker train!

Our intent was to teach Otis to use his paw to move the Kong and make the kibble fall out. He’s already been exposed to the clicker, so he knows to expect a treat upon it’s use. We started by clicking and treating any time he moved his paw towards the Kong. Then we clicked and treated any time he touched the Kong. Slowly he got the hang of it, and we were able to pair the verbal “Kong” cue with him touching the toy.

It got to the point that whenever he was stuck, we just said, “Kong” and it would help him get the kibble out. Then he started using it all on his own!

He hasn’t caught on to using it all of the time yet, but he’s better than he was before we practiced this command. Plus, now whenever he is stuck we can just remind him that “Kong!” helps to get the kibble out. Chances he realizes the connection? Not sure. But, for now, it is support to his pretty wimpy valiant Kong-tackling efforts.

Next up is to try the recommendation of sticking his absolute favorite treat down at the bottom so that he doesn’t want to give up on fishing it out, and we’ll see how he does. That and then only feeding him from the Kong so he’ll have to figure out how to get his whole dinner out or go hungry – though I’m a little nervous he would let himself starve, the silly pup! But that’s a project for another day. In the mean time, I’ll just be proud of his most recent accomplishment.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.


The Bathtub Saga

Baxter has learned to tolerate, accept, and be brave towards many things in his new life as a house dog. He flies up and down stairs now, he hops in the car with no question, he doesn’t startle at the loud sound of someone dropping something upstairs. He has not, however, become friends yet with bath time.

For whatever reason (oh, I don’t know – maybe the small space, the loud rushing water, or the slippery floors) Baxter finds fear in the bathroom. He panics and shuts down as soon as the door closes. I could probably pick him up and force him to stay still while I quickly soap him up and rinse him off, but his poor trembling body its efforts to get out of the tub for the entire time just makes it a traumatizing experience for both of us.

So what do I do? Turn to Baxter’s always reliable friend: food.

This feat of luring with food was more difficult with the tub than it’s been with other hurdles. I put Baxter’s whole meal inside the tub so he had to climb in on his own. This is pretty irresistible for a little chubster like Baxter. He initially had some trouble figuring out how to get in the tub, walking back and forth to me in my room many times making his “mama, I can’t get my dinner!” noises [insert serious puppy eyes here]. I’m not sure if that was fear based or just plain dumb-dog syndrome.

After a few meals Baxter is now fine with getting in to the tub on his own to eat his kibble (you can see in the pictures below I had to make him a little step stool out of towels).  He still gets a little nervous when I walk into the bathroom with him, scared that I’ll pull the dreaded spitting snake out of the sky to terrorize him. For now, I just walk in and out calmly while he is eating so he doesn’t associate me with the spitting snake. I have even gotten him to eat his dinner in the tub with the water running softly!

It will still take a long time for him to be okay with me in there with him, not to mention putting water and sudsy stuff all over him. I haven’t been as diligent about desensitizing him as I should be, so I don’t doubt that this situation will be similar to the other obstacles he’s overcome – once he figures it out he’ll be okay with it. Silly Bax just needs a little bit of extra reassurance, and that is what foster homes are for

I’ll try to keep you updated with Baxter’s progress on the bathtub. We will continue to work on it and be patient in hopes that someday in the next few weeks we can produce soapy dog pictures!

For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.