Learning Through Play

I’ve been asked by several people how I trained Inca to do the jobs she does for me.  As I wasn’t on internet much then I never did a blog,  no camera phone or anything then to take endless photo’s of every stage!   She was older and had basic obedience before I got first symptoms of Ataxia and nearly 4yrs old by the time I was teaching to do tasks like helping with dressing by which time she had all the vocabulary she needed for me to teach the ‘job’.

With JJ it has been very different.  He arrived at just over 8 weeks,  a little fluffy bundle eager to cuddle, play and eat but with no comprehension of language or ability to follow instructions!.. so how do I shape my fluffy little bundle into my full time helper by the time he reaches maturity?

The easiest way to start is wait until he does a behaviour naturally… ie sit,  then say or sign sit you have to pretty quick for him to get the connection at first.  Clicker training is very useful for this, He sits,  you click immediately and then treat,  soon he will associate the click with the action.

a 'sit' and 'look' beautifully demonstrated by JJ!

a ‘sit’ and ‘look’ beautifully demonstrated by JJ!

Interactive games are great for reinforcing the actions you want to teach as they work out how to get their food out.

'pick it up'....

‘pick it up’….

.. and 'pull'

.. and ‘pull’

For some skills I needed to work out a way to teach it specifically..  if it’s more complex you need to break the jobs down into stages.. work out what command needs teaching for each stage,  teach the commands first seperately then put the task back together again.  He will then be able to do more complex tasks where several commands need to be strung together to complete it.

Here’s an example..  I taught Inca to slide something out from under or behind an object by using this toy.

I taught Inca the 'slide item under paw' trick using this plastic igloo toy

I taught Inca the ‘slide item under paw’ trick using this plastic igloo toy

then would hide treats just under front of sofa

then would hide treats just under front of sofa

.. later she can use those skills to retrieve items such as pen I dropped

.. later she can use those skills to retrieve items such as pen I dropped

Another toy I found good for teaching a variety of skills is actually an infants toy called ‘pop up pals’,  it has a variety of different switches to activate to get the ‘animal’ to pop up.  I then treat.  This was Inca’s and bought before they started making dog toys that now do the same.

JJ has to work out which can be pressed easily with paw..

JJ has to work out which can be pressed easily with paw..

.. or maybe it be easier with his mouth?

.. or maybe it be easier with his mouth?

These problem solving skills can then be applied to real ‘jobs’ I need him to do for me as he gets older.  The other day he worked out how to get a pen that had dropped under front of TV cabinet.

JJ works out to turn body and lower right front leg to reach pen just underneath

JJ works out to turn body and lower right front leg to reach pen just underneath

The most useful skills that can apply to several easy ‘jobs’ are ‘pick it up’,  ‘bring it here’, ‘pull’ and ‘put it in’ .

JJ is practising 'pick it up',  'bring it here', and 'put it in' with this Tidy-up game

JJ is practising ‘pick it up’, ‘bring it here’, and ‘put it in’ with this Tidy-up game

here he's applying 'pull' to retrieving his snuggle puppy from the dryer

here he’s applying ‘pull’ to retrieving his snuggle puppy from the dryer

in a later session Inca shows him how to apply 'pull' to get washing out for me..

in a later session Inca shows him how to apply ‘pull’ to get washing out for me..

JJ practises 'pull'..

JJ practises ‘pull’..

and 'in the basket'

and ‘in the basket’

This is just the beginning,  he is only 4 months old on 23rd January this month so he still has a lot to learn before all this becomes automatic and he can take over fully from Inca so she can ‘retire’.  Of course he’s also been learning toilet training,  basic commands and road safety, coping with teething and has yet to go through his ‘teens’.   So he has a busy 18 months ahead of him!!

I have every faith in him though,  he is a bright little boy and that natural collie intelligence will get him far.  The first time I let him off-lead in an enclosed tennis court,  part of it is a on a slight slope at the far back of it,  so when he brought his ball to me it would roll under my scooter. The third time without me giving him any prompts at all he put his paw on top his ball as I approached to stop the ball rolling under my scooter!!!

paw on ball  to stop it rolling under scooter as I drive up to him!

paw on ball to stop it rolling under scooter as I drive up to him!

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5 thoughts on “Learning Through Play

  1. JJ is so sweet and Inca a real star showing how to do stuff! I have been showing everyone here the photos and boring them silly! You are so good at it. Well done

    XX

  2. Our Puppy, Jasper is within a day or two of your JJ’s age. I have no idea how you are coping! It takes 4 of us to handle Jasper he is so high energy and we have put minimal effort in teaching him how to be “useful”. My daughter wants to do agility trials with him. I wanted to tell you what happened yesterday..

    I had a fall that left me crying on the floor. Jasper tends to play keep away with items from me because he knows I can’t chase very well. Jasper ran top speed into the kitchen and grabbed a can of coke for the first time and gently handed it to me still lying on the floor. I think I need to stop drinking so many soft drinks. lol

    I think he has the right instincts but needs to be friends with Inca!

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