How to Train Your Dog to Take a Bow
Are you a dog lover who loves to brag about his pal and impress family and friends by showing off some awesome tricks? If so, welcome to the club! You definitively want to add this then to your doggy's repertoire of cool tricks. While it's true that many trick-training books have been published on the subject manner, among the many tricks your pooch can learn, this one deserves a place of honor. Why? Because nothing beats seeing a well-behaved pooch that will take a bow in front of guests yielding lots of laughs and giggles.
When it comes to training tricks, it's a good idea to have a variety of "tricks up your sleeve." The best dog trainers out there know that there's not a one way fits all to train a dog. Each dog is an individual, blessed with its own personality, so it's a good idea to get creative and train it in different ways. Through experimentation, I have found that there are three main ways that this trick can be taught: capturing, luring and shaping. In some cases, you may find that you may have to use a combination of techniques. Don't be bashful in trying more than one! My female dog learned this trick best by shaping using a prompt, my male found it easier through luring. So get your tasty treats ready, and skip those old, stale doggie cookies you forgot in the jar on the top shelf. You want treats Rover drools for so to get that motivation in full gear.
Training your dog to Take a Bow Through Capturing
In this training technique, you'll need to imagine yourself being a good photographer who is going to capture on film the most vivid moments in life. As the word implies, you'll be literally capturing your dog's behaviors and acknowledging them by immediately feeding those high value treats. Just as a photographer, you'll need "eye", patience and great observational skills. In this case, you won't be taking pictures though, you'll be instead watching your dog and rewarding him immediately the moment he takes a spontaneous bow.
What's a spontaneous bow and how does it happen? In a natural setting, you'll eventually see Rover take a bow every now and then. When? Watch him when he gets up from a nap. As he rises from his bed, he'll likely stretch out those muscles like a cat and take a bow. Another time you want to capture a spontaneous bow is when your dog is in a playful mood and invites you or another dog to play. So be ready to click your clicker or verbally mark with a "yes!" the moment you notice these spontaneous bows unravel before your eyes and immediately deliver a treat.
As opportunistic creatures, click after click, dogs will learn to repeat the behavior. This occurs because they tend to repeat behaviors with a history of reinforcement. This explains why Rover is so great at placing himself in front of your table and making the most pitiful face ever. He knows that you eventually will drop a piece of food to your starving pooch in the name of mercy!
Once your dog starts realizing that taking a bow yields rewards, you'll therefore see the behavior repeat. This is a good time to put the behavior on cue. This means, right the moment you see your dog is about to take a bow, you'll say the name of the command and immediately reward after. Once your dog starts responding to the cue alone, you can stop capturing.
Training Your Dog to Take a Bow Through Luring
Now, imagine going fishing. You have a tasty lure at the end of your fishing line and the fish is so drawn to it he just can't help himself from following the lure. When you use luring in training your dog, you'll be technically drawing him to a lure so you can teach him new behaviors. The lure in this case is obviously something your dog likes such as a toy or a treat. Since, many dogs are drawn to food, treats are the most commonly used lures. In training your dog to take a bow through luring, you'll be basically encouraging your dog to position himself to take a bow.
Start with your dog standing in front of you. Bring the treat in front of your dog's nose, let his sniffer smell it and then bring it slowly down between his front paws. Your dog's nose just as a magnet will follow the treat. Right when your dog's elbows lower and touch the ground and right before your dog's bottom touches the floor, praise and deliver the treat. Be quick; time is of the essence when it comes to praising and giving rewards! Repeat the exercise until your dog starts understanding that in order to be rewarded, his elbows must touch the floor and his bum must stay up.
Once your dog follows the lure into the bow position, it's time to add the cue. Start saying "take a bow" right before using the treat so to position him into the bow position. Once your dog has this down well, it's time for you to fade the lure otherwise you'll end up bribing and your dog will perform only when he sees the treat. To fade the lure, you will need to work on gradually making your hand movement less and less salient up to a point where it's barely noticeable. Don't forget, to take the treat out of the picture (keep it in your pocket and give it only once your dog takes a bow) and continue to progress until your dog is capable of relying less and less on the hand movement and more and more on your verbal cue alone.
Training Your Dog to Take a Bow Through Shaping
Imagine having some play dough and gradually morphing it into a little statue. You first start with a blob of dough, then you make a silhouette and then you start adding all those little details. In the same way, through shaping, you'll be gradually shaping a behavior from scratch while rewarding all those little signs of progress. Your dog, therefore, will learn to take a bow in successive approximations as you start with low criteria and then start raising the bar as your dog progresses. The best way to shape behaviors is by using a clicker. If your dog is clicker savvy, he most likely is open to offering new behaviors.
If, on the other paw, your dog is not clicker-trained, you can introduce him to it, by loading the clicker. What this means is your dog will need to learn that every click is followed by a treat. You can start by simply clicking and immediately giving a treat afterwards and doing this several times in a row. Your dog does not have to do anything in particular during this time; all you want is that he learns to associate the click with food. You know the association was clearly made when upon hearing the click, your dog looks for his treat. Now, you can start clicking for desired behaviors.
If you want to expedite the process, you can also use some prompts. My trick of the trade is using a chair to help dogs that are having difficulties learning to take a bow in the most traditional ways. I discovered this technique when I casually saw my dog taking a spontaneous bow to get some crumbs under a chair. Start with your dog in standing position in front of the chair, place yourself behind the chair and use a treat to lure your dog to get the treat from under the chair. As your dog tries to get the treat, he'll likely position himself as if taking a bow.
Start clicking and rewarding the slightest signs of progress. First click and treat for slightly dipping the front legs, then click and treat for dipping the legs halfway, then you can further raise your criteria and click and treat only when your dog's elbows are touching the floor and your dog's bottom is up. This is when I like to surprise the dog with a jackpot of treats.
Taking a bow is ultimately a cute trick that will capture the attention of your amazed audience. If you like to compete in the sport of Canine Musical Freestyle, a nice bow is the perfect addition to your choreography, whether you use it at the beginning or at the end of your performance. Best of all, taking a bow is beneficial to your dog since he gets to stretch and remove any tension built up in those tight muscles. As seen, training a dog to take a bow has many advantages and they're all good! Have fun with it and happy training!
Note: this article is a re-write of my popular original article "How to train a dog to take a bow" published on Yahoo Voices with a time stamp of Dec 6, 2011. This article has also appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Every Dog Magazine.
Adrienne Farricelli© all rights reserved, do not copy
Training a dog to take a bow by Adrienne's force-free training
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