I have taught my four dogs many pet tricks, most of them by accident. For example, I didn’t mean to train my dog to turn his dog dish upside down and kick it across the kitchen floor when he wants a drink of water. Nor did I intend to imply to my puppy that if she paws at my arm relentlessly that I will eventually give in and pet her. However, though unintended, the fact that my dogs did learn these simple behaviors so easily on their own taught me something. It taught me how quickly my dogs learned to respond to being rewarded for their actions. And it is precisely this principle that you can use to teach your dog.
You will need bite-sized dog treats, a clicker, a toy basketball, a toy basketball hoop, and your dog, of course. A clicker is a commonly used dog training device. It makes a clicking sound like the top of a metal bottle cap. They are sold at most dog supply stores. Purchase the toy basketball and hoop at your local toy store. However, realize that these toys were not made for dogs. Be careful that the set you purchase does not pose a choking hazard for your dog. Do not leave your dog unsupervised with these toys or allow him or her to chew on them.
The following steps will take you through a process that in clicker training is called shaping a behavior. This means that you will wait for your dog to perform an action, all on his or her own, and then reward that behavior. The most important thing to remember is that you must click the clicker at the exact second your dog performs the desired behavior. Also note that you should not go backwards through the steps.
Set-up your basketball hoop, place the basketball on the ground, grab your clicker, treats, and your dog, and get started.
Click and treat your dog. Your dog doesn’t have to do anything for this. You’re just letting him or her know that where there’s a click, there’s a treat. Step 1 is very easy. But don’t be fooled! It does get harder.
This step is simply for your dog to look at the basketball. Click and treat your dog just for looking at the basketball. Once he or she offers this behavior reliably several times, move on.
Click and treat your dog for picking-up the basketball in his or her mouth. Again, you want your dog to do this many times before moving to the next step. It will be almost as if he or she knows you are going to give a treat for a picked-up ball. This is what you want. Realize that your dog will likely spit out the ball as soon as they hear the clicker, it works well as a lead-in to the next step.
Now, you want your dog to voluntarily drop the ball in order to get the treat. This may not be too difficult since he or she has been enthusiastically picking-up the ball in Step 3. He or she probably will realize that to eat the treat, the ball will need to be expelled. Once he or she has been picking-up and dropping the ball reliably several times, move on to Step 5.
In this step, you will now only click and treat your dog if he or she happens to drop the ball so that it touches the basketball hoop. This may be one of the most difficult steps in the process. You may find your dog doing all sorts of things with the ball, trying to figure out what he or she is getting the treat for. Once the dog happens to drop the ball into the hoop – believe it or not, this will eventually happen…it may take hours or days, but it will happen – move onto Step 6.
From this point on, you will only click and treat your dog for dropping the ball into the hoop. They have it once; it will happen again. It will take a lot of patience and willpower and your part, but don’t be tempted to click and treat for anything else here, or your dog will never figure out what you really want.
You’ve done it! If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! This means that your dog is now reliably dropping the ball into the basketball hoop. Now it’s time to add a word to your behavior, such as Dunk. Getting drafted by the NBA is no easy matter nor is teaching your dog how to shoot hoops. However, with a little patience, the process of trying to learn how can be a lot of fun for you and your dog. And, if you do make it all the way through the seven steps, you will have a great new pet trick your dog has learned. Maybe you have the next NBA star on your hands?
Contributed by Rain Patchett, Associated Content