This is one of those super cute tricks, that in the world of Show Biz is called a Throw Away
It is a cute and quick behavior that, from an audience’s perspective, gives your little superstar Bozo some personality. And any time you can make it appear that Bozo is getting one up on you, you win over the audience (or at lease almost any audience). I will give you some clever patter (words) for a short routine later.
A couple of things are required before you can start to work on Wink. First Bozo needs to understand what a clicker is, and the results of hearing it when clicked *(it is called a “marker” to those die-hard overly serious grammatically correct Operant Conditioning people).
A strong requirement (but not absolutely necessary but it will make training the trick easier), is that Bozo should have some background with clicker work. **see note. If he doesn’t, you might find it easier to wait to train this trick (behavior) until he has a higher level of clicker sophistication.
You need High Value Treats because you really him to work to figure out “what the heck am I doing to get these treats?” And what better motivation is there than his most favorite thing in the world (for me, it is Milk Chocolate – I would go to the moon for good Milk Chocolate!).
The first thing we need to do is capture the behavior (another fancy Operant Conditioning word). I’m sure you are smart enough to know that not all dogs are the same, and what works for one dog isn’t going to make a hill of beans to another. So, here are three methods to try to see which one hits pay dirt.
With clicker in hand and treats at the ready:
On the side of his muzzle (your choice either side)
1) Take your index finger and gently twitch/tickle his whiskers, if that makes him close an eye (do I need to tell you timing is of the essence?) the clicker is sounded and the treat produced.
2) GENTLY AND CAREFULLY put your finger close to his eyelid but DO NOT TOUCH, (at the risk of repeating myself). If makes him close an eye, IMMEDIATELY click and produce the treat.
3) For this method, you need to be quick, with lightning fast reflexes and your clicker always in hand. As soon as you see Bozo wink of his own accord, click and treat.
With the right treats and enough training sessions, Bozo should start to wink the moment he sees that fingertip coming towards his eye. When that happens, slowly move your finger further away from his face and away from his eye. Of course you continue to “mark” (see above) each successful wink with a click and treat.
Eventually, all you will have to do is show him your finger and he will wink.
If you got this far great and well done to you; now it is time to put a verbal cue to the behavior.
To do that you simply give your verbal cue, and then give the physical cue of your finger. If you do it the other way around, it will be an exercise in futility, because he already did the behavior, so the second cue is lost.
Of course you can use the verbal cue of “Wink” or you can put together a bit of business, some shtick. Like this.
Here is the patter. Look at Bozo and say:
“You love living with mommy and me, Bozo, don’t you?” Wink at Bozo, and he winks back.
Then you say: “And you do love Mommy and me, Bozo, don’t you?” Again you wink at Bozo and he winks back.
Then you say: “And I bet you love me more than mommy?” Again you wink at Bozo, but he just stares back at you.
Of course the gimmick here is that you taught Bozo to wink only on the verbal cue of “don’t you”.
*If Bozo is not yet clicker trained, you shouldn’t waste any time in going to the feature article on this site, then read, understand, and train Bozo to the clicker. You should do that anyway, irrespective of training this trick.
** I assume that you have read the feature article, because without that background, this explanation is not going to make a whole lot of sense.
The logic having other clicker behaviors under Bozo’s belt before training this trick is that with dogs, like people, the blinking of an eye is an involuntary behavior. Therefore, some dogs unfortunately don’t connect the blink and the reinforcement (treat) with each other.
However, if he is already grounded and familiar with getting reinforced for behaviors, that connection is going to be made quicker – he is already trying to figure out what he has to do to get that damn clicker to work, so that he can get his yummy.
Please keep in mind… that even if Bozo is an Einstein, don’t expect to train this trick overnight.