Show Me Something Different

Shari and Jace
Photo by The Dog Sport Photographers

by Shari Bryant, North Carolina Canine Freestyle Guild

CanineFreestyle DogWork® is about being creative and letting your dog be an equal part of the team. I used lure and reward to teach behaviors to my previous dogs. It worked well, but it did not allow them to be a full partner in developing their freestyle behaviors. So with Jace I decided to let him show me what he wanted to do. I had learned about Karen Pryor’s “101 Things to Do with a Box” that is based on a training game played with dolphins where novel behaviors are rewarded. So, I played this game with Jace, except without the box, to see what behaviors he would offer me.

When we play the game, I click and give a cookie for each new behavior Jace offers. If he offers the same behavior a second time, I waited momentarily, or simply ask “What else?” Jace can do a lot of behaviors in a short time. Sometimes it is hard to capture all of his new behaviors, and it can be challenging trying to figure out what a new behavior is. Since Jace gets frustrated easily, sometimes I will consider behaviors performed in a different direction or for a longer duration as “new” because it keeps him in the game.

Below is a creative session with Jace. Some of the behaviors he does I never would have thought of teaching him such as when he does a down then rests his head between his front paws, pushes his hips forward, and wags his tail (0:20 and 0:38). If Jace does a behavior he has never done before, I will quit the session on that behavior. This was the first time I saw him rest his chin on his paws while in a play bow so we quit the session on that behavior. Unfortunately, I was a bit late with the click. Sometimes my brain doesn’t work as fast as he does.

Shari working with Jace on ‘Show Me Something Different”

Each creative session is different and can be affected by cookie placement. In the video, when Jace was in a down, sometimes I tossed the cookie to him to see what else he might do while in a down. Other times I tossed it to the side so he had to get up to get the cookie.

If you want to try to play this game with your dog, you may need to click and give a cookie for very small behaviors at first. When I first played with Sky, one of my lure/reward dogs, we just stared at each other. I was waiting for him to do something, and he was waiting for me to show or tell him what to do. So, I started clicking ear flicks, blinking, and weight shifting. Soon he caught on that movement got a click and cookie.

Nearly all of the Jace’s freestyle behaviors have come about through playing this game. Some behaviors, such as backing and laterals, needed additional work to refine so these are performed in one of the reference positions, but he figured out how to move backwards and laterally on his own. Also, I have found the behaviors developed through this game are stronger and more self-rewarding than the same behaviors I taught my other dogs using a lure.

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