Thursday, February 28, 2013

Teaching Bow

Last week, I posted this video of Hurley successfully "bowing".  Jodi wanted to know the best way to train and, while I cannot necessarily share the best way ('cause I'm not silly enough to think my way is the best), I can share what worked for us.

When I start training any new trick with Hurley, the first thing I do is break out the clicker.  He seems to understand that clicker = learning new trick and he's less likely to offer his same old arsenal of tricks at first, which helps me to shape or lure the behavior that much faster.

I chose bow because I thought it would be easy for Hurley to learn.  He already lowers himself into a down front legs first from a stand and he's always offering play bows.  My job was just to shape and capture a movement that he already does on a regular basis. 

I lured him with a treat into a partial down.  I was careful to never use our hand signal for down because I didn't want him to be confused about down as a separate command.  It would be easy to accidentally confuse him since I was essentially starting to teach bow the same exact way I started to teach down.  By sticking my foot out and doing a little hand flourish (ie, bowing to him), I was able to ensure that bow was not confused with down.  I didn't add the foot and flourish to the lure until I knew he knew what was expected.

As soon as he had his front elbows down but before his back end hit the ground, I clicked and treated.  The difficulty in this step was preventing a full down.  I either tossed the treat away from him or stepped into him to reset his position after I gave him the treat.  I was able to do this because Hurley's a slow-moving dog.  I would probably just start with the next step for Maggie & Sadie who both would plop down faster that I could mark the halfway down.  Plus they both tend to sit and then slide into a down.

We did this for a couple short training sessions over the course of a few days.  I noticed that Hurley wasn't really maintaining a bow so much as he was just slowly lowering himself into a down.  If I reset his motion by tossing the treat or taking a step into him, he wouldn't go all the way down but he didn't really stop in a bow on his own.  I decided he needed more help in maintaining the bow so I added a step and once he started lowering his front end, I stuck my arm underneath his belly to prevent him from going into a full down and we had a little treat party.  It took only a couple times doing this before he was maintaining a bow and any time he maintained that bow without my arm in the way, he would feast on treats.

Then I stopped all training on bow.  I have noticed that doing 5-10 minute training sessions until he "reasonably" gets it and then giving training a rest for a period of time works best with Hurley.  It's like it sinks in better.  I always resume training, thinking it'll take us a training session or two to get back to where we were but he always surprises me and does it even better than where we left off.   In this case, I didn't revisit Bow for a month or more but when I'm trying to pack in a lot more training in a shorter period of time, this break is 5-7 days long.

Hurley's Bow isn't perfect.  I would like to get him to a point where he never goes into a down from the bow and where he can follow using the verbal command only.  Hurley's much more reliable with hand signals than verbal commands.  I use both because I want to have the flexibility of both (what if he goes blind? deaf? can't see me?  too loud of an environment to hear me clearly? etc).  There are a ton of tricks he knows where he can't do it on verbal alone and because they're only tricks, I don't worry too much about cementing the verbal.  Besides, if Hurley has to bow shouldn't I have to bow back?  It's really only polite.


  1. I've always struggled with my timing for this trick. Honey's too fast and I can't mark the behavior before she's all the way down on the ground. Maybe I should try a Japanese bow--just a little nod of her head.

    Love the hand signal you used for this. It adds a lot to the charm of the trick.

  2. Hurley is really doing great! I should work more with Sage on tricks.

  3. Thanks for the information and for the shout-out. Delilah does bow, but it is usually more of a stretch for her. I always try and say, "good bow" but I never have the clicker or treat handy! I've got to start training this, it's a very cute trick. :-)