101 Things To Do With a Box

Did you know dogs can learn to be creative?

My German shepherd, Zada, is very obedient and disciplined but she seemed almost robotic...she was happy and healthy but always seemed to be waiting for me to tell her what to do. I learned a good way to stimulate her mentally and get her creative juices flowing was to play a game called "101 Things To Do With a Box."

Purpose of 101 Things To Do With a Box Game
What's the point of this game, and what does it actually DO for a dog? Well, the object is to get the dog thinking and offering behaviors. Even if your dog already offers behavior, this is a great way to make any dog think "outside the box," so to speak.

Starting The Game
To start, place a box in a relatively low-stimuli environment (inside works best). If your dog isn't used to the positive reinforcement method of clicker training, you'll need to prime the clicker first. Once the dog knows that click = treat (i.e., the click denotes the desired behavior was achieved, which results in a treat), you can start the game.

At first, your dog might not pay much – if any – attention to the box. In that case, you'll need to reward ANY behavior which indicates the dog has acknowledged it. This could be walking by it or even turning the head in the direction of the box.

If you keep rewarding any behavior which focuses on the box, the dog will quickly catch on. Once he knows that paying attention to the box is the desired behavior, and is consistently returning to it, then you can start clicking and treating for different behaviors. The object here is to not treat for the same behavior twice; you want the dog to figure out it's DIFFERENT behaviors which pay.

Examples: Zada touches the side of the box with her nose (click). She lifts her right paw and puts it on top of the box (click). She sniffs/rubs her nose on the top of the box (click). She does this a couple times, then lifts her LEFT paw onto the box (click). Basically, if she's already touched a portion of the box with a body part, she must either a) touch a different portion of the box or b) use a different body part in order to receive the click and treat the next time.

At one point, see she lies down facing me (keep in mind I'm not making eye contact with her at any point) and while she isn't paying 'specific' attention to the box, she shifts her weight and her tail touches the box (click). She most likely didn't know WHY she got clicked, but the more I work with her, the more she'll figure it out.

On her next try, she did much better and knew what was 'expected' of her right from the get-go of the session.

This game of course isn't limited to using a box. Play around with a chair, ottoman, ball, skateboard – whatever! After playing around with 101 Things To Do a few times, your dog will start offering you behaviors more readily. Then it gets really fun: you can start shaping trick behavior!

***And yes, I'm well aware my dog is NOT good at catching treats in her mouth. But she DOES try :)


evadahl said…
That was pretty impressive. Thanks for sharing that.

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