Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Success with toy box training!

Several months ago, I bought a little green cloth box to put all Dozer's toys in. I believe it's actually the sort of thing that goes in a child's closet or in some square nooks, and you're supposed to pull it out like a drawer, because it has a flat handle on one side to accomodate that sort of movement. But I just put it in a corner of the dining room. It's a very convenient thing; when I pick up around the house, I throw Dozer's toys into the box. When I vacuum, I just pick up the box full of toys, run the vacuum over the carpet, and set the box back down.

When I bought the toy box, I half-jokingly told everyone I was going to teach Dozer to put away his own toys. It was a nice thing to imagine, but realistically, probably out of Dozer's grasp. Until this evening.

Before I describe the training method, I should explain that Dozer knows the names of all his toys: ball, rope, bone, alligator (a stuffed alligator), and toy (meaning anything). [He also knows "Frisbee," but that toy stays permanently outside, first and foremost because it is a long-distance throw toy suitable only for the backyard, not inside, and secondly because he likes to pee on it.] So, for instance, I can tell him "Go get the bone," and he sometimes comes back with the bone, either after pulling it from the toy box, or after running through the entire house looking for it. However, he is definitely unreliable; he usually brings me a ball first, because that's his favorite toy. He seems to be saying, "Honestly, I don't know why you want that stupid old bone. Look, this ball is much better!"

So after getting the toy box, I made a little game with Dozer where I ask him for each of his toys, and he runs around collecting them all for me and putting them at my feet. Sure, it would be a lot faster if I just picked up the toys myself, but hey, I'm lazy.

This evening I went a step further and shoved the toy box under his mouth as he brought the first toy, the alligator. The toy naturally fell into the box, and Dozer got a treat and praise. Surprised, he apparently initially thought the reward was tied to that specific toy, so he immediately pulled the alligator out of the box and threw it at my feet. You like it? Okay, here it is again!

I made a "negative result" sound, sort of like unhh, so he would know that I wouldn't reward for the toy at my feet. Then I asked him to pick it up, which he did, and then put the toy box under his mouth and asked him to "drop it." Another treat and praise, and I pulled the box away so he couldn't take the alligator again. That toy was now "gone."

My husband asked him for the bone. After a few moments, he returned with the bone. This time, I didn't have to move the toy box; Dozer ran up and hovered over the box expectantly. On command, he "dropped it" into the box. Praise and treat, and something in his brain clicked. He deposited the next toy, the rope, even faster, though he still waited for the "drop it" command before doing so. In this way, he put four toys into the box.

Then the thing in his brain unclicked, and he pulled all the toys out of the box, looking perplexed but excited. I guess he was trying to pull the toys out so as to start over and earn more treats. He still didn't seem to quite understand the goal of this "game," but he sure liked getting treats!

Still, before he pulled them out, all the toys were in the box--and Dozer had put them all there himself. It may have taken three or four different commands to get each toy in there, and an awful lot of guidance, but it was an encouraging step forward. With a little effort, we might actually be able to condense the process into one or two commands.

I would say that this makes me the world's laziest pet owner, but I've seen that YouTube video of the dog getting beer cans out of the fridge for its owner.


Daisy Dog said...

OMG! How wonderful, can you teach my human this trick?

saratogajean said...

My dogs know how to get all their toys out of the box, but putting them back in is a struggle. They do, strangely, know the difference between outside toys (sticks, stuffed toys that have spent the night outside) and inside toys (clean stuffed toys, and nyla bones). They also won't touch a frisbee (I play ultimate frisbee and can't play with chewed up discs) unless it's to drink out of it at a game or the beach. Who knows how they work that out in their heads. Thanks for the positive pit blog!

Anonymous said...

I want to know how you taught Dozer to know the names of his toys! That is an amazing first step but necessary to success of this!