Before you plunge into the games and tricks, please be sure you've read the introductory paragraph on shaping a behavior on the previous page. Also recommended: Karen Pryor's 15 Rules for Getting Started with a Clicker.

Have fun!

1
Which Hand?

This doesn't really qualify as a game or a trick, but it's still fun. For some reason non-dog people seem delighted by this little exercise when you show it to them -- we use it at pet-therapy visits all the time.

With your hands behind your back, hide a small treat in one hand and then present both closed fists to your dog. Decide beforehand whether you want him to indicate using his paw or his nose. As soon as he touches one of your hands using the method you want, turn over your hand, open your palm and if the treat's there, let him eat it! If it's not, chances are he'll go right for the other hand. Be sure to only reward one method -- paw or nose. Once the dog has the basic idea, you can shape a gentler nose-push or a softer paw (important if your dog is enthusiastic).

That's the whole game! It's interesting to watch and see if your dog learns to choose or if he selects a hand at random. Presumably their noses could easily tell them which hand the treat is in, but we've found Kodi gets too excited to bother sniffing first and just chooses at random.

2
Roll a Ball

This is a pretty neat game that's also easy for the dog to learn. The idea is to have him roll a ball to you. Start by putting a ball in front of the dog while he's in a lying-down position facing you. (Bigger is better to start, but a tennis ball is OK if that's all you have.)

Start shaping the behavior by rewarding any interest the dog shows in the ball. Once he has the idea that he's supposed to be interacting with the ball, then start shaping for nudges instead of sniffing or mouthing. If he sends the ball rolling with his nose, even by accident, JACKPOT! Then go back to normal rewards, gradually increasing your criteria. Note that you should work on one thing at a time -- probably distance first. So no matter what direction he sends the ball, if it's a sturdy push, reward that.

Once the dog consistently rolls the ball when it's placed in front of him (Kodi learned this in one session!), you can start working on direction. Start to ignore pushes that go off to the left or right and reward those that go to you. It's OK to let the distance slip a little since you're focusing on direction. Give the dog time to catch on since you've switched criteria. When he's consistently sending the ball in your general direction, go back to shaping for distance again.

We're actually working on this trick with both dogs. The eventual goal is to have Maddie and Kodi "play ball" with each other!

3
Pick Up Sticks

Pick up sticks, car keys, stuffed toys, pencils ... you decide. Fill a bucket or bowl with six or eight items of varying sizes and textures. When you're first starting out, or if your dog isn't much for retrieving, use mostly toys or easy-to-pick-up things. As your dog gets better at this game, you can use more difficult items (metal or bulky items).

Spread the items in a small circle around the dog and hold onto the bucket. You can help him get the idea by putting an item directly in front of him and encouraging him to sniff it. (If he doesn't have enough of a retrieve to pick up an item and offer it to you, work on that first with one easy-to-grasp toy before adding in the rest of the game.) Once your dog knows the game is to pick up items and "hand" them to you, let him go to work. He'll grab the closest items first, then reach a little for the others. The hard things (like car keys) he'll leave until last, or he may not want to pick them up at all. You can reward with a treat for each item he picks up, or for a fast dog that really likes to retrieve, reward after he's filled the bucket. Remember that it's a game and should be fun -- if your dog doesn't like the taste of metal in his mouth, don't keep trying to get him to pick up the car keys.

Once your dog has gotten the hang of the game with the items spread close to where he's lying, you can start to space them out more. As he gets farther along in his cruciate repair recovery, he'll be able to move around more easily and so this is a natural fit for a recovering dog. Once you're able to spread the items around the room and send him to get them, you've got 1) a dog who will pick up his toys and 2) a dog that will retrieve items you've dropped!

I got the idea for this exercise from reading about the selection of service dog puppies. The puppies that do well at this game, especially the ones who will readily pick up things made of odd materials, are considered good instinctual retrievers, important for service dog candidates.

4
Big Dog, Little Dog

If you've never taught your dog to "speak" (bark on command), start with that. This game is the next step. Here's what the finished product looks like:

Owner: Kodi, what does a BIG dog say?
Kodi: WOOF!!!!! (big loud scary bark!)
Owner: Oh yeah? Well, what does a LITTLE dog say?
Kodi: ... whine, whine, growl ...

This is a guaranteed winner at Best Trick contests and might just land you on Letterman! And it's not as hard to teach as it seems. I started by encouraging Kodi to make big, noisy barks -- by getting him all excited and barky. We already had a hand motion for speak (looks like a duck quacking) and we would use the hand motion (which he knew) with the phrase "What does a BIG dog say?" (which he didn't know) until he was used to hearing them together and eventually would bark from the verbal command alone.

It's very tempting to try to train the whole trick at once, but I would recommend not starting the "little" part until you've got the "big" part fairly consistent. When you're ready to teach the "little" part, sit next to your dog and make mumbly-grumbly noises, and little weef-weef barks yourself. Some dogs will immediately start "talking back" at you and you can reward that behavior. Don't call it anything yet -- just encourage him to mimic you. If you can't elicit a sound, try saying "speak" very softly. When I did this, Kodi would ROAR in my face, because he'd been trained to do just that! I would still reward the behavior to reinforce that I did want a vocal response from him.

Then, using shaping, I could selectively reward the barks or noises that were quieter or more small-dog-like. This took many sessions over several weeks, but it was fun to sit with Kodi and encourage him to "talk" to me. I still didn't associate a phrase with the action I wanted, but I did use body language -- leaning in close for "little" dog and leaning back for "big" dog. Once I could consistently get either a soft bark or a loud bark in any one session, I started to mix and match more. At some point Kodi caught the idea of the game and really learned to turn on the volume and then tone it down!

I'm sure there are more efficient ways to train this but somehow we did it. The body language still plays a big role -- when I'm ready for the little bark I lean way forward, and I speak very softly, almost whispering to him ... "What does a little dog say?" When he gets it right and whispers back, it really looks impressive to people watching.

The next step for us is to separate the "growl" from the "whine" so we can add "What does a MEAN dog say?" We've got a ways to go on that one!

5
Bang!

This is the old "drop dead" trick you may have seen before. I don't know how it's normally trained, but this is how we did it:

I started by having Kodi in a lying down position. I'd reach over and gently push him to lie flat (not forcing him). It's one of the few times we've used any physical manipulation with our dogs -- one of the nice things about clicker training is that you don't have to push your dog around -- you just sit back and let them try out behaviors! In this case it would have taken forever for him to try out the behavior of flopping down flat, so we helped him along.

Once Kodi was used to me reaching out and gently pushing him, he'd start to flop over as I reached out. I gradually changed my hand position to a pointing finger, and rewarded him for lying flat whenever I pointed at him. It took several sessions to get it down pat, but then I could point at Kodi and he'd flop over. (I didn't worry about how long he stayed flopped at first -- later we added duration as a criteria so he'd stay flat for several seconds, until I said "OK!")

The next big step was having Kodi in a sit. By this time I'd added "Bang!" as a verbal cue. When he saw and heard the cue, he slid into a down and then flopped over. It was sort of slow and strange looking, but we clicked and gave him a nice big reward. And that was basically the whole trick -- all we've been doing since then is refining it. We've added barking (Kodi thought this up himself, I think) so if you point at him and say "Bang!", he barks like crazy, flops onto his side and doesn't move. It's a great trick!

The flopping down from a sit may be too hard on a dog just starting a cruciate repair recovery -- please use your best judgement.

6
Sneeze

I once heard about a Doberman whose owner taught it this trick: She'd sneeze, and in response her dog would trot across the room, pull a tissue from a Kleenex box and bring it to her. She'd pretend to use the tissue and then say, "My cold's terrible. How's yours?" The dog would sneeze in response.

Well, Kodi only knows half this trick ... but guess which half? He sneezes on command! We've been steadily improving this for probably two years, so it's not the greatest recovery game, but I'm including it because you can still teach the first half (retrieving the Kleenex), and at least get started on the second half.

For the sneeze, we simply reinforced the behavior every time we saw it. If Kodi sneezed, we'd say "That's it!" and reward him, or (if we were training and happened to have a clicker in hand) we'd click and then reward him. Once we'd done that a few times, he would look at us each time he sneezed as if to say, "Hey, I just did that thing you like!" It wasn't a big jump from that to having him offer the behavior. Whenever we were working with him and he wasn't sure what to do, he'd sneeze!

At that point, we added the cue -- I would sneeze, and then he would. It has taken a while to refine the behavior -- sometimes he'll try snorting, barking, whining -- but when he gets it, it's really amazing. We've found that if he's been barking (for "big dog little dog" or other tricks) he has trouble sneezing instead of barking. If we do the sneeze trick first, it almost always works.

7
Scent Work

We haven't done much scent work with our dogs so I can't discuss it detail, except that it's an ideal activity for a dog in recovery, since all they need is their nose.

Fortunately, Karen Ogden of Duke County SAR (search and rescue) in Martha's Vineyard, MA, was kind enough to write up some thoughts on this fascinating topic. Please read her suggestions below, and for more scent games, try this book:


By Karen Ogden
I am a SARdog handler, working Golden Retrievers. My youngest dog (2 yo) LOVES his job in trailing -- what a powerhouse! I was having a problem with his "split-trail" work. A split trail is where you have two track layers (the dog is scented to follow only one of the two), and at the end of the trail, the people split off in opposite directions. My guy being the typical "social butterfly" that Goldens naturally are, would run a perfect trail, but at the end go to say HI to everyone! After trying several different ways of setting up the trail, I finally got it though my THICK head to separate out the problem and trained (corrected) the behavior.

In order to reinforce the scent discrimination I took some of those cheap Gladware containers (the ones that come 5 to a box), and punched holes in the lids. I "made up" scent articles from friends, duplicate 4X4 gauze pads, each person separately bagged in Zip-lock baggies.The containers were laid out in a well spaced row about 2 feet apart. Orion already understands taking scent from gauze pads. The scent I wanted him to hunt for went into one of the containers (for beginnning imprinting, I use the center container).

Then I scented Orion on the bagged 4x4 and took him down the line, asking him to Find the Smell.His indication for a article find is to "down," paws around the appropiate container. Obviously, this involves making sure first, the dog will down directly on command without question. For dogs that have just had the tibia operation, probably training a nosing or paw touch on the container would be better! I use a clicker to reinforce the correct behavior I want, followed by a BIG REWARD! Normally he gets his Ball-on-a- Rope for reward, but for this shaping exercise I went for something really good -- beef baby food. He's not normally a food reward type, but he thought this was terrific!

As he became more proficient at the locate the single article game, I moved into adding in a second article for scent discrimination. It is important, particularly in the beginnning stages NOT to switch primary scent articles in a session. It is best to stay with one scent, one problem until the dog really understands the game. Once the dog is REALLY proficient (location of one particular scent container, with up to 4 other different human scents, one to each other container), you might try switching the primary article (the one the dog is hunting the match for) for one of the others. But you have to make sure your dog REALLY, REALLY understands the game before you try this, otherwise you can undo all the shaping behavior you have just done and confuse the dog.

Another advanced variation of this game is to do a "negative" problem. This really is a proofing for a dog who understands the game. The dog is scented on a primary article and asked to indicate which container has the smell ... the thing is, none of the offered containers HAS the matching scent. I would place the matching scent somewhere nearby so that the dog will have a find, but not in the containers.

A note aside, make sure you mark the containers so that you can identify which scent pad is where. It will really confuse your dog if he is "correct" in his find, but you think it is in another container, and don't reward him, or worse, reward him for the wrong find. Since I started training this Orion has had NO problems with his split trails, he has run directly past other people at the end of the trail and focused in solely on the subject. Hooray! Success (on this problem -- now on to the next!). Other things to do at the single article stage ... move the 'loaded' container around in the line (mainly so the dog realizes that he is hunting for the correct scent, NOT the location in line). Once you have finished the exercise, wash out the containers with soap and water and allow them to dry before re-use. To limit the amount of scent contamination, I use tweezers or tongs to handle the scent articles. A certain amount of your scent will of course be on the containers etc. , but I really try to keep the articles as 'clean' as possible. I keep training sessions short, generally three reps. of what I am working on at the time. The dog always succeeds (even if I have to maneuver him into the win ... then we examine where I went wrong and back up to an easier stage, so the next time he runs the problem, he can do it).