How do you teach a dog to do tricks like the Jack Russell in The Artist?

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In February my training school, When Hounds Fly in Toronto,  received a call from the producers of the Canadian show eTalk: they wondered if we’d be interested in doing a piece on using clicker training to teach a dog the tricks performed by Uggie, the Jack Russell who starred in the film The Artist.

We were up for the challenge. Using a loaner dog who didn’t previously know any of these tricks, we managed to get pretty good results in eleven training sessions spread out over two weeks. Here’s the end result:

You too can have a dog with movie star potential!

Here’s how:

Sit Pretty

This behavior requires a dog to have good balance and core strength. So, expect to do short training sessions daily over the course of a week or two while your dog develops strength and body awareness.

This behavior lends itself to initially luring with food, as it allows us to more easily deliver the treat in position.

Start the behavior in a sit. Click then treat the sit a number of times to reinforce the position.

Next, start luring the behavior. Take a treat and put it in your hand, forming a fist. Place your fist directly by your dog’s nose. Very slowly lift directly up. Click then treat weight shifts upwards. Gradually raise your fist higher each repetition, and click then treat if the dog weight shifts, but their rear end remains in a sit.

Quickly move away from luring – switch to targeting. Use your other hand, in a fist position, and click for weight shifts upwards, but treat using the other hand.

If the dog gets out of the sit and pops up, don’t click then treat.

Over time as your dog builds balance, you’ll be able to have him hold the position for slowly increasing durations, and also be able to diminish the fist cue, or switch to a verbal cue.

Walk on Two Legs

Like Sit Pretty, this also requires core strength, leg strength, and balance.

The training plan is exactly like Sit Pretty, except now, we are clicking then treating for the dog standing up on his hind legs, without jumping.

To avoid confusing the dog, if you are using a fist as a target, I would suggest turning your fist palm up, so that visually, it’s a different target than sit pretty.

Play Dead

This one is easy to teach if you have already taught rollover. If your dog already knows rollover, all you need to do is click VERY early, and deliver the treat to the dog’s mouth while they are in the play dead position, before they can complete their rollover. Chase happened to know rollover thanks to his parents who trained it already.

If your dog does not know rollover, don’t worry. Here’s how you train Play Dead.

The starting position is down. Cue down, and click then treat the down position a few times. Reinforce that as the default position. Toss a treat to the side to reset.

Now, begin with the dog in a sit or a stand. Cue down, click, and then place the treat by his shoulder such that he has to crane his next to the side to eat it. That will likely cause a weight shift to one side. Click that weight shift, and feed by the shoulder. We are simply clicking for action (the weight shift) and treating for position (by the shoulder, to encourage more weight shifting). When the dog ends up on their side in play dead, click then treat and give multiple treats as a jackpot for getting into the final position.

Act Ashamed

To teach this behavior, we utilize targeting extensively.

First, as a separate exercise, you need to teach your dog how to touch a target stick with their nose. It normally comes naturally – present the target stick, and click then treat for nose touching it.

Second, we need to teach Stand as the default behavior. In a down, sit, or play bow, the dog won’t have enough room to put his head under his arm unless he’s in a stand. So, click then treat your dog multiple times for maintaining the stand position.

The next important step of this behavior is to ensure your dog is comfortable with you putting your hand under their armpit, as you’ll need to feed the dog in that position. We spent two days just acclimatizing Chase to eating treats under his armpit.

Once a solid stand is reinforced, and the dog is accustomed to things going around his armpit, begin placing the target stick under his armpit, and click, then treat, under the armpit.

Over time, require the dog to hold his nose against the target stick for slightly longer and longer durations.

Then, progressively position the target stick farther away from the dog’s armpit, and see if they’ll still perform the behavior.

Finally, the stick is fully faded out, and we can add a cue.

Got all that?

My online training school is now offering a class called Hollywoof, which provides a detailed training plans and coaching for anyone who’d like to attempt these amazing dog feats at home.

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