By Pippa Mattinson, author of The Happy Puppy Handbook and Total Recall. Founder of the Dogsnet Training Program.
Are you looking for ideas for some extra or fun training exercises with your dog? Then Teach Your Dog To Spin is a great place to start.
At first glance, teaching a dog to turn in a circle may seem just a pointless trick. But actually, it is a useful learning exercise, for you and the dog
Teaching the spin or turn will improve your luring skills and give you and your dog a sense of achievement. Training your dog to turn in a circle on cue will teach you to both use, and lose, a lure
Using and losing the lure
Luring is a great way to get a dog moving in a particular direction. But we don’t want to become dependent on the lure.
No-one wants to have to lead a dog around with a piece of chicken in front of his nose.
Losing the lure is an important part of lure training and this exercise will make sure you don’t get stuck using a lure and are able to progress smoothly from lure to hand signal, in just a session or two. Let’s have a closer look
Before you begin, you need to think about what you are going to do. It helps if you practice your hand movements without the dog to begin with.
Decide which way you will turn the dog (clockwise or anti-clockwise) – you can teach him to turn the other way later.
If you can’t make up your mind, start with anti-clockwise, that’s what we’ll assume in the exercise below!
Working with food
You will be working with food initially. So make sure that you can give your dog a training treat without him getting hysterical or snatching and grabbing at your hand. (See working with food)
You are not going to feed the lure to the dog.
You will be holding a piece of food (lure) in one hand, and you’ll need some treats that are easily accessible to give your dog with your other (non lure) hand.
Describing a circle
You are going to draw the dog towards you with the lure, then across your body, then away from you, across your body in the other direction and back again. So your lure hand will be describing a full circle above the ground (at the height of your dog’s nose)
Practice this in a mirror without your dog, so that you can see what you are aiming for.
When your dog can complete the circle you’ll be fading the lure.
Once he will follow your hand you’ll be turning the circle you make with your hand into a simpler hand signal. And eventually, you’ll be adding an alternative verbal cue to initiate the turn.
Using an event marker
It can be very useful when luring new behaviours, to include the use of an event marker.
This helps maintain the ‘lure following’ behaviour, and lets the dog know when he is on the right track.
You can use a clicker or if you prefer, a verbal event marker like YES! Or GOOD!
To begin with, don’t use the event marker unless the dog is glued to the lure.
If he breaks away from the lure, make the exercise easier by not moving so far or so fast.
OK. Let’s get started
Step one – across your body
This step gets the dog following the lure and moving across your body.
- Start with your dog facing you, stand so that he is to your left.
- Holding a treat out in your lure hand, bring your dog across your body from left to right
- Mark as he passes across you and Reward him from your non-lure hand
- Repeat until he follows the lure keenly and with confidence
Step two – making a curve
This time you’ll do the same but you’ll be aiming to get your dog to describe a nice curved semi-circle
- Start with your dog facing you and to your left.
- Bring him towards you (take a step back if necessary), across your body and start to curve your hand away from you in an arc as he passes in front.
- Mark as you start to curve away and Reward from your non-lure hand
- Repeat if necessary
Remember, as soon as you Mark, that repetition is finished, don’t expect anything more from the dog and immediately the dog with the other hand
When the dog is following this curve with confidence move on to step three.
Step three – complete the circle
Now you’ll keep him turning. Once he is past the point of no-return he’ll probably complete the circle all by himself. But it is better to mark and reward a little early the first time. Like so:
- Start with your dog facing you and to your left
- Bring him towards you, across your body and away. Keep turning him in a circle
- Mark as he reaches the three-quarter point. Reward from the other hand
- Repeat, bringing him around in a full circle. Mark as he completes the circle and reward from your other hand.
It is a simple matter to complete the circle bringing the lure back towards you but remember the first time or two, to Mark before you lose the momentum of your circle. You want the dog to be reinforced for turning, not for breaking away
Only do a couple or three of these full circles before moving on to Step Four
Step four – lose the lure
This time you won’t have any food in your lure hand. You are going to show the dog you have no food but before he has a moment to even think about the implications of this, you’ll draw him around in a circle with your lure hand anyway. He will almost certainly follow this ‘imaginary’ lure. Just don’t give him chance to think. Show-lure-mark-reward. In rapid succession. Like so:
- Start with the dog facing you and to your left.
- Open your lure hand and show it to the dog briefly
- Make an empty lure hand (just the same shape as when it had a lure in it) and lure him in a circle anti-clockwise with this empty hand
- Mark at the three-quarter point the first time, just like you did the first time at Step Three. Reward from the other hand.
If there was the slightest hesitation, alternate real lure/imaginary lure a few times before losing the lure entirely.
Once the dog is confidently following your empty lure hand in a complete circle, it is time to ‘pretty up’ your hand signal.
Step five – form your hand signal
Your lure hand, describing a circle, has become a hand signal of sorts, but it is not very sophisticated, we can do better than that. Decide how you want your final signal to look
I just point my index finger at the floor and make a little circle ending with an anti-clockwise ‘flick’. This is nice an easy to progress to from the big sweeping arm you used to lure.
If you try and go from the big sweeping arm to the tiny finger circle in one go, your dog will probably not get it. Just gradually make the signal more and more understated until you have what your are looking for.
Step six – Add a verbal cue
Now it’s time to give your new game a name. I use ‘turn’ for and anti=clockwise turn, and ‘spin’ for a clockwise turn. (You can teach that one next.)
It’s up to you what you call it of course, the dog won’t mind if you call it ‘twirl’ or ‘banana’. It makes no difference to him.
To add your verbal cue, proceed as follows
- Start with your dog in front of you and to your left
- Give your verbal cue
- Immediately cue the turn with your hand signal. Mark and Reward
- Repeat three more times
- Give the verbal cue and wait. Wait a bit more – a good ten seconds
- If the dog does not turn simply give the hand signal, mark and reward the turn, and repeat from 1.
Do this two or three times a day, extending your ‘wait’ by a few seconds each time. At some point in the next two or three sessions, he’ll get it and turn on your verbal cue alone.
Mark and Reward. And give yourself a big pat on the back.
Did you teach your dog to spin? Let us know how you got on