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Dog Training Puppet

Because sometimes nothing beats role modleing.
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Recently I have had very good luck training my very small dag with a hand puppet. The hand puppet is a fluffy dog loosely so I can easily position the puppet into the "sit" and "lie down" position and my fingers control the mouth, also crucially shaking the puppet causes a realistic tail wagging motion. "Rufus" as we call him comes out when everyone is in a calm mood.

Initially "Rufus" had problems with my dog trying to dominate him and the first session was entirely me giving instructions and Rufus following my directions which got my real dog's attention and made him jealous for my attention. During the first session Rufus had to repeatedly assert his dominance over my dog (still a playful puppy) when my dog bit and tried to mount him. Mimicking the behavior of adult dogs in their approach to this was very effective, especially when using the mouth to take hold of his neck. The first session made it clear that Rufus was dominant over the puppy, responsive to my commands and esteemed in my eyes. Rufus promptly disappeared and an half hour later my puppy got a very similar training session (although his performance did not rival that of the puppet).

After a few brief encounters puppy was very curious about what was happening between me and Rufus that was making me (and seemingly Rufus; remember the wagging tail) so happy. Now we train Rufus and puppy together, both receive treats and I have even introduced a novel trick "roll over" with the puppet. I suspect that this works best with socialized young dogs who are receptive to training but too small to easily train using conventional methods. I have always had a problem training really small dogs because they always end up staring at your ankles and are tend to have less focus than larger breeds.

I think experience with dog behavior is key to using this technique. The dog must also except that the puppet is senior to it and also getting a kind of attention from you that it desires (food, attention, touching, play). This is not a technique for dogs that have dominance issues as this will cause distracting social anxiety. I think that it cannot be play and works best if used a minimal amount but might help dogs with anxiety and excessive submissiveness. Persistence is key as the dog will test if this is "for real" by leaving the area and you must pretend that you do not care and that the puppet is your real focus. Has anyone else had experience with this idea?

WcW, Sep 16 2009

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       I've trained a few dogs now and I can see this working very well for all puppies.
Sheep hearding border collies, even though they have the herding instinct bred into them, learn the whistle commands from watching their trained parents work.
  

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       I like it. Can Rufus teach paragraph breaks? (+)
normzone, Sep 17 2009
  

       In my impression you might be able to use it that way but you would need to get that under control before you could start on anything else. establish your own status, then the puppet's, then the dog being trained is the only way i could see it working.
WcW, Sep 17 2009
  

       It's the jealousy angle that would speed up training. I'm not sure that establishing dominance would even be necessary once the puppet starts getting all the praise and treats.   

       "Who's is daddy's favorite inanimate canine? You is Argyle, yes you is."   
      
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