Ginger and I have been working on Doggie Zen, which is an exercise from Sue Ailsby’s training levels. Doggie Zen is a leave it type exercise. At the early stages, you teach the dog to ignore and leave alone a piece of food in your open hand. Later on, this evolves into more complicated exercises, such as telling the dog to ignore a treat in a stranger’s hand or calling the dog and having the dog come running past several treats scattered on the floor.
Those last ones sound pretty hard to me! However, the key to Zen, as with anything else you want to teach your dog, is to shape the behavior gradually. You don’t start out by asking the dog to leave along a treat on the couch for 30 seconds! Instead, you adopt the splitter strategy and build the behavior gradually in a series of small steps.
(Side note: If you aren’t familiar with Sue Ailsby’s training levels program, you need to check them out now! Here’s the link to the levels. Sue Ailsby’s training levels program is one of the best, if not the best, step-by-step dog clicker training curriculum. Better yet, it’s free! The explanations and instructions are well written and easy to follow and the behaviors are built gradually. It’s great as a home study course and as well, many trainers use it for their obedience and dog manners classes.)
I’ve been teaching this in short sessions, each about 1-2 minutes (and about 10 treats). I’ve video taped quite a few of the early sessions and it’s interesting to watch the progression as she starts figuring out what I want. Our first goal was for Ginger to be able to resist eating a treat in an open hand.
This is one of our first training sessions. I present a fist with a treat in it. As soon as she leaves the fist alone, I click my clicker and drop the treat on the floor. At this point, she’s still pretty interested in trying to get the treat out of my fist! Watch this session on youtube.
This is after a handful of sessions. She is still usually approaching and sniffing the hand. However, she understands to back away and wait in order to get the treat. Watch this session on youtube.
This is my favorite of the zen videos. This one was after a few more sessions. As you can see, she is really leaving my hand alone. Interestingly, she’s starting to offer other behaviors instead, such as backing up, sitting or eye contact. Around this point, I began trying to withhold my clicks until I got eye contact. I also was starting to work on adding a bit of duration. There’s a really great part about 35 seconds into the video–she goes forward to try and get the treat from my hand and then checks herself and moves back. Watch this session on youtube.
After quite a bit more work! I have introduced a verbal cue, the word “Zen.” My fist also serves as a visual cue. At this point, I am presenting the fist, then opening it. I close it again if she tries to go for the treat, but she’s mostly staying away from the treat. We’re also working on increasing eye contact and duration. Watch this session on youtube.