In days gone by (showing my age here!), trick trainers were looked down upon as something of a waste of time. The question was always, “WHY don’t you become a real trainer and work obedience? Tricks are something for little old ladies and their lap dogs.”
I am happy to say that things have turned around and now trick work is considered as much a training class as any other category.
Trick training builds a fun relationship with your dog, and trust me when I say this, but Buddy doesn’t give a hoot if you are clicking and praising him for picking up a scent discrimination article in Utility Class, or doing a sit-up to show off for your friends.
Trick training is all about the fun, the camaraderie, and the communication.
Sorry, but I digress. This article is about how to teach Buddy to belly crawl.
There are some prerequisites for this: just a pocket full of treats, a clicker* and a dog.
Unfortunately, there is one additional mandatory prerequisite and that Buddy must know how to do a down/stay.
In the unfortunate event that Buddy does not know the down/stay, go over to the Obedience Section on this site, then read and digest the “down” and the “stay”, then come back here when both you and Buddy are armed with the required knowledge to train this fun trick.
There is not a lot to the explanation necessary for this trick.
You and Buddy are on some sort of soft surface; a hard gravel driveway is out of the question, likewise a slippery gym floor. Neither one of those is conducive to Buddy wanting to crawl on his belly, for obvious reasons.
You are either standing next to Buddy, or if your back isn’t as limber as it once was, you are on your knees with Buddy holding a down-stay.
In your one hand you have your clicker and in the other and yummy High-Value Treat. To get the motivation necessary for the crawl, there is no substitute; use a high value treat.
Holding the treat in your fingertips, present it at his paw length, but in line with his nose. Jiggle it back and forth, in a playful type of gesture – not so close to Buddy’s nose that he can snatch the treat, or too far away that you excite his prey drive so that he focusses on getting up and catching it.
Be very aware of the movement of his paws. What you need to concentrate on is any movement forward with those paws. If you get an actual full body crawl/move forward while he is still holding his down, you are right on top of it with your lightning quick reflexes and your click and treat.
Please note: if you get a real crawl at this stage in training (no matter how short) a silent prayer of thanks to the dog training Gods is in order, or if all you get is just a pawing at the treat, which is more likely to happen, you are still there with the click and treat.
Whether it is just a forward motion to touch the treat with his paw, or a lucky short crawl toward the treat, once he starts to grasp the concept and is making an effort to stay down and crawl toward the treat, it’s time to up the criteria.
Cue the down, and then hold the treat a foot or so out in front. Of course if he is successful and stays down to crawl, his gets his payday (click/treat).
Now it is as simple as repetition of the above, reinforcing (click/treat) for any gain in distance, while still holding his down no matter how small.
Do I have to mention that there are no clicks or treats for any attempt to stand?
As with all training, when Buddy grasps the behavior, it is time to add your verbal cue for of crawl, whatever word you like.
* It is assumed that you already know the basics of clicker training. If the concept of a clicker is new to you, go to the feature article on this site “Operant Conditioning a/k/a Clicker Training” and familiarize yourself with this fabulous training tool.
If Buddy has a solid nose touch, you can use a touch pad**.
While holding his down, you are either standing upright or on your knees next to him. Hold the touch pad an inch or so in front of his nose and cue his touch. When he stretches forward, click and treat, and some well-deserved praise.
As with all the click and treat behaviors, build up your distance slowly. There will come a time when you will not be able to move backward fast enough to keep ahead of Buddy. When that happens put that touch pad on a stick, and save your aching back.
** If Buddy does not know the meaning of a touch pad or target stick, please go to the trick training articles on this site. Familiarize yourself with touch pads and target sticks; these are two very useful tools for your training toolbox.