On April 25-26, 2015, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center hosted a Tricks Workshop taught by Kyra Sundance. Kyra is a well-known training expert and has written several books on trick training including the popular 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog.
Forty handler/dog teams attended the event which was held at Y2K9s Dog Sports Club in Willow Grove. I was fortunate to attend the event as a volunteer and the weekend’s photographer. Although I was not an official participant, I learned a few things from observing Kyra and the workshop attendees.
Here are my top 5 take-aways:
1. Many tricks can be taught as variations of target training.
Kyra uses variations of target training to teach almost everything. Target training is the method of teaching a dog to touch a given body part (e.g., paws, nose, chin) to a specific target. The target can be anything: a pad, a bell, a Frisbee, or even your hand. The target can be placed wherever you need it. It can be set on the floor (to teach a “dig”) or be taped to a wall (to teach “turn on the lights”). This method, like many others, is best done using a clicker or marker word to clearly shape the behavior.
2. Foot signals.
Before this workshop, I had never heard of using foot signals. Kyra uses foot signals as opposed to hand signals for tricks, such as the “crawl” or “curtsy”, that require the dog’s head or body to be close to the ground. This eliminates the need for the handler to bend over and helps keep the dog’s focus low.
3. A “pedestal” is the key to working with multiple dogs.
Working with two (or more) dogs at the same time can be problematic. Both dogs will want to work, but you may want to ask them to do different things. Kyra recommends having one dog stay on a “pedestal”, or some type of elevated platform, while working with the other. Staying on the “pedestal” will give the dog something to do and will help limit their movement.
4. Duct tape and hair scrunchies are useful training tools.
Kyra uses a wide variety of household objects to elicit specific behaviors. For example, a piece of duct tape gently stuck on the dog’s face will usually cause them to paw at it and allows the trainer to capture that behavior for a trick called “cover your eyes”. Also, a hair scrunchie placed around a dog’s leg feels unfamiliar to the dog allowing the handler to capture the “limp” behavior. Very clever!
5. Be creative!
Last but definitely not least is perhaps the most important thing I learned from Kyra, be creative! Don’t be afraid to branch out in your training and find what works for your dog. There are many potential paths to teach the same trick. Some dogs aren’t bothered by duct tape on their face, so they must be taught to “cover their eyes” by a different method.
The opportunity to learn from an expert such as Kyra Sundance was a valuable experience. I look forward to attending more seminars and workshops hosted by the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and continuing to learn and grow as a dog trainer.
Photos by Devin Christopher