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Cowboy Up

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Dateline: Boston MA, Red Sox Nation—When it looked like the Red Sox were on their way to a stunning come from behind victory over the Athletics, the slogan of the day for Red Sox nation became Cowboy Up!, a shorthand expression for get radical, get serious and get committed to the belief that the Red Sox would win.

Tucker, my Lab puppy, and I were enjoying the late night West coast-based games together on the couch, with me nodding off between late innings and Tucker waking me by crawling over my drooping head. Tucker was clearly a huge Bo Sox fan! Not content with him merely wearing a Red Sox bandana, I thought it would be fun to think of something he could learn that that would reflect his enthusiasm for the home team.

Cowboy Up. Hmmm…Catchy slogan. Could I provide some choreography-based interpretation to that phrase? How about bucking up in the air like a bronco? What could be more cowboy than that? Off we went to learn. Of course, Tucker being a clicker dog we would do this the clicker way (see below for teaching instructions).

In two four-minute morning sessions we were done. I would yell "Cowboy Up!"—extend my arm as the cue, and Tucker would jump and buck like a little bronco-clearly, I thought, the coolest dog in Boston. "Wow!," said my friends, "Incredible!," "That's great" and "Hey, you should be on Letterman!" We reveled in our accomplishment for two glorious weeks!

No sooner, however, had Tucker and I truly impressed our friends and family than the Red Sox managed yet again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Our neat trick Cowboy Up lost its allure. Instead of squeals of laughter, high fives, belly laughs and offers of beer, dog treats and requests for instruction we met empty stares, low slung heads and depressed faces. Our best audiences managed a weak smile. Hey, I thought, who moved my cheese? (The answer was Red Sox manager Grady Little, but that's a different story.)

Now what? I couldn't let a good thing go. This situation simply required what marketing people call a "repositioning." No problem. Our cowboy slogan would simply become a cowboy hero slogan! The man with the mask and the white stallion came to our rescue. Since the cue for the trick is my arm movement not the phrase, the switch was easy. So now when we go "on the road" Tucker bucks up like a bronco but it's preceded by Hi Ho Silver!

But just you wait 'till next September. The Red Sox will take it all the way and Tucker and Cowboy Up will be back in demand. Yup, just wait till next year.

Teaching: Hi Ho Silver!

Total time needed: 2 sessions of four minutes each or less for an dog already clicker wise.
To learn how to teach your dog the clicker way go to www.clickertraining.com
*Do not attempt this trick if your dog has an unknown history or has a history of biting! Instead substitute a target stick for your fist. Also, if your dog is a puppy between six months and a year, do this trick sparingly to avoid unnecessary impact on growing bones.

Step 1: Target

Extend your arm straight down from your shoulder with your fingers in fist. Put your fist near your dog's nose. Click and treat if he bumps his nose against your fist. No reinforcement for nipping! When your dog does this reliably (quick check… can he do it 7-10 times in a row in different locations?) go to step 2.

Step 2: Raise the Criteria

Now move your fist further away vertically - both below and above his nose. Click and treat for nose touches. Repeat exercise and test it in new areas by walking around. Your dog should be bumping his nose against your fist anytime you ask him in any area he can easily reach. Rewind - put your fist closer to your dog's nose if your dog stops making progress. When this is reliable, go to the next step.

Step 3: Raising Criteria Again

Keep your arm straight out horizontally from your shoulder. Your dog will try and reach your fist by lifting himself or jumping even a little in the air. Click while he does this, treat and repeat the exercise a few times. (If he doesn't make any attempt he doesn't yet understand that holding your fist out means he should bring his nose to it so bring your fist closer to his nose-- see step 2). The next time he does it, withhold the click and wait. He'll try again and jump higher. Click and treat. Repeat this pattern until he is jumping just high enough to make it look like a little bronco buck.

Step 4. Hi Ho Silver and Away!

Your arm being straight out and up is already the cue for the behavior but as a party trick, just before you stick your arm out yell "Cowboy Up!" or "Hi Ho Silver!" Go Red Sox!

About the author
User picture

Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.

trainer@caninesinaction.com's picture

aw! drat!

Drat! I read this and envisioned a rodeo-style, head-down, arched-back bucking bronco. Oh, well; I guess this is probably pretty cute, too. After all, it's being performed by the World's Cutest Lab. ;-)


Ascomannis Laevatein YTT RL1
Inky (couch potato!)

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