Doggy Brain Games: Part 3


Welcome to our third and final session of Doggy Brain Games! Our trainer, Nicole, is the owner of Philly Unleashed, which is a very popular dog training organization here in the Philadelphia area. And we started working together on this Brain Game series because we thought it would be a good idea to teach some people some skills, some tricks and some games they can do with their dogs while they are not able to get outside as much as they normally do.

So right now, that could be because of social distancing or if you have an older dog that can't get outside as much as they used to, or even if it's just raining outside. We find that mental stimulation is often just as good as physical exercise in a lot of cases. Today we're going to go through three different brain games, and Spike and I are going to follow along in the background while you guys go through it.

Welcome back to our third part in the three-part series about brain games. This has been one of the most fun classes that I've taught. I always get tapped to teach basic obedience and reactive dog stuff. But Brain Games are really close to my heart. As you guys know and see, I've got a 13-year young dog with me, and doing brain games every day, and we really do these every day, keep her sharp mentally and physically.

So I've got a couple of really fun ones for you on this rainy day here on the East Coast. We are going to do games with a box. And yes, as Eric alluded to, the third game is a really special one that Eric has seen before. Maybe some of you guys that know Uli have seen before, but we're going to have a lot of fun with it.

So all you're going to need for this class as we talked about is more treats than you think you're ever going to need. That's how my classes roll. I tell you, get enough treats that you think will get you through a half an hour and then get three times more than you think you need because that's how many you're going to need for class. And then you need a box. I actually have two boxes today. I have a small box and I have a large box. I'm mostly going to be using the small box, but at the end I'm going to teach you a modification for an exercise using the large box.

So let's get started. You can use any box that you want. If you're anything like me, you've got plenty of Amazon boxes or if you really are like me and if you really know me, today I'm using wine crates because if there are two things that I order to come to my house all the time, it's Amazon and wine. So here we are, we're using wine crates that we have left around and we're going to get rolling.

1. Get Out 

The first exercise with a box is one that I teach to all of my agility dogs. It's called Get Out. Get out means, "Get out around something and come back to me." We think all the time about training dogs, and our dogs are always right in front of us when we train, but there are certain applications where we would want our dogs a little bit farther away from us. Again, in agility, sometimes I have to send the dog out to a jump that's 10, 20 feet away from me, so I need her to get out away from me.

In practice and at home if you don't have an agility dog, a ‘get out’ might work if you need to talk to physically get out of your space. Sometimes dogs need to be close to us, and we just need them to get away from us a little bit. Maybe we're eating at the table and we want them to get out. Maybe we're on a conference call and we want them to get out of the room. Giving your dog a target where they can run and get out around it is going to be really helpful for that.

So we are going to start Get Out using some luring. We're going to walk right up to the box and we are going to ask the dog to walk around the box, and then jog backward. So again, walk up and there's a treat in my hand. And we're going to walk around the box and jog backward, just like so.

So let's practice this a couple of times. And right now, you do not need to put a word on this. It's not important. But you're just going up to the box, you're luring your dog around it.

And again, if they start to give you something you don't want, just help them out a little bit. You can see that Uli is putting her feet onto the box, and that's not what I want. That’s what I want in the next exercise, spoiler alert. But it is not what I want for this one. If your dog is giving you the wrong answer, just gently help them give you the right answer. What you might not have seen there is she keeps leaning toward the box like she wants to put her foot up on it, so I just took my knee and I just bumped her away a little bit. I was like, "That's not it."

And sometimes our dogs get there. They get stuck on one thing where they say, "Well hey, one time you asked me to put this foot on this box and now I'm going to put the foot on the box for infinity," and it gets tough because then you've got to be like, "No, that's not what I want this time. Last time it was, not this time." And Uli is that kind of girl where she thinks she knows the answer, but she doesn't always know the answer.

So again, you are just going to help by walking up, almost overshooting the box, and then once your dog turns around the box... Yes, good. You're going to tell them they're a good dog. I usually use the word, “Yes”. And then you're going to jog backward. When you jog backward, it's going to kick a dog's chase reflex in. So you're going to jog backward, they're going to come chasing you and it's going to make it a lot faster. We also teach that when we teach recall to dogs. So when we teach dogs to come when called, we always jog backward. It kicks in that chase and then they come after us, as opposed to if you chase a dog, they run away from you. If you ever want to know what to do if your dog is running away from you, the answer is don't chase it. Turn around and run backward. A lot of times you'll get them back.

If your dog is going pretty smoothly into Get Out, you can start building some space between you and the box. When I first started this exercise, I was all the way up here and I was pulling her out around the box and I was overshooting the box. So when she starts making that decision, you're telling her, "Yes," and you're running backward.

Okay, so we are going to pick this up. A lot of times repetition trains, and Uli is having a little bit of a hard time building distance with this one, and that's okay. So if your dog is having a little bit of a hard time building distance with this one, it's okay for right now. Remember, these exercises are for you to work on, and when we work our dogs, we work them in 5-10 minutes spurts each day. And a lot of times, if you stop when you get something good, the next day when you come back it'll be a little better.

But if you can't build distance yet, that's okay. You're just going to step back one at a time. So one at a time, get up. Yes, there it is. And step back. One more step. Get out. There it is. And it's like something clicked, right? Sometimes you have those light bulb moments, where they're not doing it, and then all of a sudden something clicks in and you get right to work.

It's because we’re with Big Barker, we’ve got a lot of big dog people.  So this is a good one to teach these Great Danes and these big guys to teach them a little bit of body awareness too. We'll see how the Great Danes do when we get to the next one.

2. Paws Up and Spin

My friend Alicia taught me this one, she has this little hound dog who will put her front feet on a box and then she'll just spin around it, and it looks like a lion and a circus. I watched her video on how to do it the other day. She's one of my trainers. She works with me, and I thought I need to teach this to Uli. And let's do one that Uli doesn't know in one of these classes.

So we're going to teach our dogs to put their paws up and then to spin. So if your dog knew a spin from earlier in the week, this might be a little bit easier. But then again, who knows?

The first thing we're going to teach our dog is to put their paws up on the box. So you're going to do that by just lowering your paws on a box. And again, you can use a small box or a big box, whatever your dog can do, but make sure it's sturdy. You might have to get down there, you might even have to feed on the box a little bit to let them know that the box means something to them. But we're going to start with just getting our dogs onto the box.

So a couple of times, here we go, paws up. And then toss the treat on the ground away from you, and have the dog come back. Paws up, treat on the box, toss the treat away from you. Good. And let the dog come back to the box. So we're doing a little ping pong action with the box. Paws up, treat away from you. Good. Paws up, treat away from you. Paws up, treat away from you.

And again, if you have a dog that's a little bit nervous about putting their paws on the box, you can just go one step at a time. So one paw on the box, feed on the box. So my rule, if you're trying to desensitize the dog to something, so let's say they don't like this box, they think the box is scary, they think the box is unstable, they're worried about it. I always feed on the box. So just like last week when we did Go to Place, if your dog did last week's exercise, maybe they're a little bit more familiar with and willing to put their feet on an object that they don't know.

But I make it the magic box or the magic bed. As soon as they step on it, that box or that bed produces treats. So you're going to get one paw up and feed on and then you're going to try to lure to get the other paw, just like this. And if your dog seems pretty comfortable up there, you can feed from your hand. But if your dog is not comfortable, you're feeding through the box.

Of course, make sure that the box is one that your dog can step on. If you have a dog that is too heavy to step on the box, instead of using the box, maybe grab a towel or use an ottoman. Again, if you've got one of these great Danes, you can really easily use an ottoman in the place of a box like this because they are so tall.

So again, make sure before you ask your dog to step on this box that it really is sturdy enough to hold their weight. And that's one of the reasons I liked these wine crates instead of cardboard boxes for this particular exercise.

And then once you have your dog on the box, you're going to start to lure them into a spin. And she's never done this, so we're going to be working on this one together. And you can try it from either side.

And so any little bit that she offers to move her feet, I'm going to take it. So think about positioning yourself too. If you move towards a dog, they will probably move away from you. So if you're going to ask her to spin this way, you are going to come into her here, you're going to lure her head around. There you go. And see if you can get that spin.

Don't go for the whole spin at once. Just lure their head, and the head is going to the hip. That's it. And as soon as they move those back feet, you're going to release the treat. Now here's a fun fact about dogs. Dogs don't have a lot of hind end awareness. So our dogs go through life leading with their front end. So they go with the front end, they move off with their front end. They don't even really know that they've got a backend there. We learn that a lot when we teach agility dogs, a lot of agility dogs, the first time their back feet hit an obstacle, they panic. So doing hind end awareness with a dog is really, really good for their muscles, their joints and their brain.

So if you have a dog who's a little bit stiff in back, maybe you've got a dog with hip dysplasia or you've got a dog with knee weakness or just some muscle atrophy back there, teaching a dog exercise that allows them to isolate their back legs and work their back legs goes a long way for that. So again, I know that some of you have dogs that are older or larger and are prone to these things. This exercise does help with that.

And when dealing with behavior modification in dogs a lot, and especially dogs that bite or act aggressively towards things, they do it out of stress. And if we can give them options for what to do when they're stressed out and teach them how to work through stress in a constructive way, they get better at it as a whole.

So although tricks are fun and don't seem like there's much use for them, there is actually a lot of use for tricks in your daily training guides. So we're just going to keep working and we're going to see if we can get her to spin around. You can see that she is moving those back legs a little bit easier now. And make sure that you do a couple of reps. If your dog doesn't want to come back to it, maybe you've made it too hard too quickly, so think about backing it up a little bit and making it easier.

But Uli looks like she's ready to go again. So we're just going to go do a couple more laps. So we started out where Uli didn't know what I wanted. She wouldn't move those back legs. She wouldn't do any of that. Now we've got her moving around pretty well.

Off the box. Treat. There we go. There we go. There you are. Good. Come on, keep going. Good girl. All right. Keep going. Off the box. No treat.

So again, some strategies for how to get the dog moving around are walking into their space, the way that you want them to go. A lot of times your dog will turn to keep their eyes focused on you and you can get a little bit of a cheat that way if you need some help. 

Question: What verbal cue would you use for this trick?

For the verbal cue for this one, and when we do tricks you'll see that I'm not using a lot of verbal cues right away, and that's because I usually try to get the dogs positioning down or I want it, or at least close enough, and then I put the verbal cue on it. So with this one you can call this one twirl, you could call it pivot, you could call it bananas. That's the thing. You can make up your own words for these things. There are some set things that we talk about when we're talking about dog cues, but none of them are set in stone. So it's your dog, customize it the way you want. If you want to call it Circus Dog, because when lions are in the circus, they put their front feet on a box and then they spin around it, you could call it Circus Dog.

Question: How can I help my dog with anxiety?

Brain games are a great way to help your dog with anxiety. I live with two dogs, one's a Border Collie and the other one is this dog. Both of these breeds are prone to anxiety, and the brand of anxiety that these guys have is the anxiety that just can't turn off. So giving them an outlet for their brains really, really helps here. Also, doing tricks, even though these are silly or we're just doing tricks, gives them the tools to work through manageable stress.

"I have noticed that when my dog is super anxious and I do trick training, I notice it drains so much anxiety and energy." - Brain Games Student

Dog in a Box

It's everyone's favorite. Dog in a Box is what it is. This trick has absolutely no use in practical dog training games, so maybe Cassi is clever enough to think of how we can use this in practical dog training. But I have not, other than every time my friends and I get together and drink too much wine, Dog in a Box comes out. Maybe if the audience can think of a good practical use for Dog in a Box I will subscribe to it. But so far the only practical use that I have come out of it is winning friends and influencing people with my dog training skills once they see Dog in a Box.

It's also really fun to start with a big box and get smaller. That's what I was going to do. Dog in a box. For this one, and this is why I brought the big box out, you are going to be much more successful if you start with a reasonably sized dog box for your dog.

Again, if you have one of the Great Danes, time to go by the refrigerator you've been eyeing up because you're going to need a big box for this. And that's okay.

So when you do Dog in a Box, depending on how big your box is, you can literally start by just having your dog put their feet in a box and feeding in the box. Again, don't be afraid to feed on the object that you're trying to make something happen with. I call it charging up objects. So this box, if it was sitting in my house, my dog wouldn't care about this box until I charge it up. And then all of a sudden, I get it out and I'm like, "Ooh, yeah, we're charging the box." Charging the box, charging the box, charging the box. And then I ask the dog to come out of the box.

Uli, out of the box. And then she wants to go back, right? Going back to the box is super duper fun because we're charging up the box. And then you're just going to get her moving around in there a little bit. So she walks in pretty well, and then we're just going to try to get her to...

That's it. Get that foot in there. Good, good. And we're just going to play with feet in and out of the box. So she's walking in and I'm going to try to get her to walk in straight and walk out. Good.

Again, back feet are a bigger problem than you think of dogs if you haven't trained them because they don't know their backend. So they're going to be knocking their toes off in this box, they're going to be stepping on it, they're going to be doing all kinds of things. Backend awareness is something that again, you really have to train because most dogs are not born knowing it, and especially if you've got one of these giant breeds, they are not born knowing this at all.

So if you can get the dog to straight up, walk through the box, then all you have to do is stop them. Good. But for right now, if you're working on a new dog, you're trying to get them to try and walk through the box. Don't worry about stopping them yet. Just get them to walk through.

It's okay if they hit their toes a little bit. It's probably not the end of the world. They'll just learn next time where to put that foot. Good. Good. And out.

And then what you're going to see is I'm going to start stopping her. Good. I have three. Good. And there's four, and then I'm going to feed, and feed, and feed, and feed.

That's okay. Good. Last one in. Let's go. Get up. There you go. Good girl. And get that first one in. There you go. So a lot of it is some physical manipulation at first. By physical manipulation, I don't mean physically put your dog in a box. There's no way to get your dog to panic quicker than trying to fold them into a box. So don't physically manipulate them that way, but think about where you can use your body to just lean in and push the dog back if their front feet pop out or pull forward if you need their back feet to go in.

So right now, you are just working on trying to get your dog to walk through the box and stop. And once you've got the large box down, all you have to do...

Question: What kind of treats are you using today?

Beggin' Strips. It's the cheap stuff. They like them though. It's junk food. It's like McDonald's for dogs. Everybody always asks me, "What are you using?" It's usually like Pup-Peroni, and it's like the dog equivalent of McDonald's. I'm not going to lie to you, I know I shouldn't eat McDonald's. I know that the McDonald's is the reason that I wear sweat pants all the time. But it's good. It's really good. So when I need a dog to look good, I use something that's like the equivalent of doggy McDonald's.

Now when you're thinking of slightly smaller boxes, going from this box to this box is a world of difference. So just to show you today, from a very large box to a very small box, but if you have this box and your dog's going in easily, then you start with a box that is just a little bit smaller than this. And then once you get the dog going into that, you remove the big box and start with the smaller box, and then you get a smaller box and a smaller box. So you're thinking of stacking nesting cups, where there's the largest nesting cup and then the smaller nesting cup, and then a smaller one and a smaller one and a smaller one. But they fit pretty tightly into there.

So if you're going to teach this trick, you want to start by finding a bunch of nesting boxes, one that's slightly larger than the other, slightly larger than the other, slightly larger than the other, so that you can switch them out and go from the larger one to the one that is the direct size under that, to the one that's the direct size under that. But what you're going to do is you're going to nest those boxes inside of each other. And now there's no room for her feet unless she's in that smaller box. And you're just going to go gradually, right? You might have six boxes before you get down to the smallest size box. But that's okay. These are a work in progress.

And this dog did not learn this one today, that second one that you saw, she learned today. That was her first time doing that. But this one, she's been practicing for at least... I've had her for 12 years, so it was really one of the first ones I taught her, because again, the important stuff first, right? So she's been practicing this one for a long time. And in her heyday, when she didn't have some arthritis and she wasn't in her almost teens or teens, she actually stuffed herself into a Kleenex box.

If you like me and you want to learn more, my company is Philly Unleashed. Visit us on Facebook at We've got a ton of online programming for you and your dog to enjoy, no matter where you’re located. It's been my pleasure to get to know you over the last three weeks and I will see you soon!


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Doggy Brain Games: Part 1

Doggy Brain Games: Part 2