Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feeding Your Dog with the Molecuball

The "molecuball," also known as the Atomic Treat Ball, is a great toy for dog owners to have. Much the same as a Kong toy, the Atomic Treat Ball is a treat dispenser*. Just place small dog food pieces or treats into the hole of the molecuball. Not only does it keep your dog busy, it's mentally stimulating – the dog must work to extricate treats or food.

This treat dispenser is also a great tool for those dogs who gulp their food too quickly (gulping food causes air to be ingested into the stomach, which can lead to a condition known as "bloat"), since only a few kibbles are released at a time, and the dog is forced to eat more slowly.

Here a German shepherd demonstrates the use of the molecuball. Keep in mind not all dog food is small enough to fit through the hole; the kibble displayed in the video is California Natural Lamb & Rice Formula.

* However, due to the size and intended use, the molecuball shouldn't be used to freeze food into, since the opening is only for treats to come out; not for dogs' tongues to go in.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Closing a Drawer: Teaching Tricks via Clicker Training

Here's a quick training session showing a snippet of how to go about teaching a dog to shut a drawer using operant conditioning. This is only a step in the entire process; attaining this level of commitment on a first try with a green dog would be out of the question.

While I had worked with Zada for a couple of minutes prior to turning on the camera, I hadn't worked with her on targeting – especially drawers – for quite some time, although we'd worked on it in the past. I still haven't put a cue to this behavior, as it's still not strong enough (in my opinion). She'll be ready for that soon.

Targeting can be done a couple of ways:

  1. training the dog to touch an actual 'target' (such as a lid, piece of paper, etc.) and moving it to various objects you wish the dog to touch
  2. free-shaping the dog's behavior by waiting for the dog to move towards the desired object (e.g., a drawer) and rewarding subsequent motion bringing the dog closer to the object
For working with Zada to close the drawer, I originally started out with a target, which I don't need anymore. In my opinion, teaching the dog to touch the target is an excellent way to work on tricks such as closing drawers and doors, turning light switches off/on, pushing wagons, etc. because the dog knows what to do – touch the target. From there it's a short step to free-shaping the dog to push.

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