One of my goals for the year is to teach Maisy twelve tricks. Today, I bring you the first one: Prairie Dog!
My husband chose the cue word, which is good, because I would probably have chosen something boring like “beg.” Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I do appreciate fun cues for fun behaviors, and I’m horrible at coming up with them. The hand signal is my right hand held palm up and moved towards Maisy/away from my body.
I have to confess, I taught this trick with luring. I tend to prefer shaping behaviors, but luring just made so much sense for this one. I was careful to do it right, and only used the lure half a dozen times or so before moving to air cookies. I did air cookies for a session or two (so maybe 10-15 reps- I didn’t write it down, and should have), then switched to the hand signal.
Once she was reliably sitting up for the hand signal, I started adding the verbal cue. Since I was curious how long it would take her to figure it out, I kept good records on this. In her book The Thinking Dog, Gail Fisher says that it takes 25 to 50 reps to attach a verbal cue to a behavior. Initially, I thought Maisy was going to do well, because performed the behavior following the verbal cue only on the 23rd time. Unfortunately, that must have been a fluke, because she didn’t do it again until the 57th time!
Here’s the video of trials 56 to 65:
Out of those ten times, she only got it on the verbal three times. (I didn’t reward the offered behavior between trials 7 and 8 because Gail says that once you name a behavior, you should only reinforce the dog when you’ve asked for the behavior. This is supposed to help get behaviors under stimulus control.) During the next ten times, Maisy got it on the verbal cue 9 out of 10 times- and that was in a room I hadn’t trained in at all! Therefore, I’m going to call this behavior done!