How to Teach Your Dog to Put a (toy) Baby in the Oven
A lot of people have asked* how I trained my dog to "Take Care Of The Baby" in my last video. I used Backchaining (chaining is when you train an animal to do a string of behaviors off one cue, backchaining is when you teach them the last behavior first) to teach it.
- A dog
- An oven (no preheat)
- A medium sized towel
- A small rag
- Dog treats
- Baby (toy is preferable)
Step 1: Closing the oven door
Use shaping to get the dog to close the oven. Start with the door slightly open, click her for looking at the oven. She'll eventually get curious about the oven and start smelling the oven door; click and treat for doing that. Then she'll accidentally bump it with her nose and be sure to reinforce that. When she's doing it reliably, you can withhold the click/treat until she bumps it with more strength. Once she's closing the door with it slightly open, start opening the door more and more. Don't get too excited and open the oven door all the way until she's been closing the door consistently. If you do, your dog will probably try to climbing in and you'll freak out and yell at her to "get out of the oven!!" and have to start from the beginning.
Step 2: Putting the baby in the oven
Put the (toy) baby where you want it to end up, and hold it two inches or so above that spot. Ask your dog to take the toy, then give her a click and give her a treat. The treat should cause the dog to drop the toy, click her for dropping it and give her another treat. Repeat until the dog anticipates the click drops it without hearing the sound, then click immediately. Start giving her the toy a few inches away from the spot you want her to drop it in and encourage her to move a few inches to drop it in the ideal location. You can "help" by using a (non-verbal) hand target to encourage her to move.
Once she is reliably taking the toy and putting it where you want it, put the toy on the floor and encourage her to take it and put it in the spot.
Step 2 1/2: Linking "Putting the baby in the oven" with "Closing the oven door"
Once your dog is reliably putting that (toy) baby in the oven, click and feed her in the position she'll need to be in to close the oven door, wait for her to offer closing the door, click when she does. Eventually, fade out the first click and put the food on the floor. She should go to correct position and close the door without being prompted.
Step 3: Opening the door
Start the frustratingly painful part of having her open the door. Start with a large towel that will be half in the oven and the rest is sticking out. Ask your dog to "Take It" and "Bring It". When she pulls the towel, the force should open the oven enough for her to put something inside. When she brings the towel, click, present the baby, and she should know what to do then. Make sure you don't start off with a prop that will stay attached to the oven, or she'll keep pulling it until the door is open, then close it automatically. That will go from "cute" to "annoying" in about four minutes. Having her take the towel and put it away from the oven should prevent her from closing it once it's open and she'll get in the habit of moving away from the oven after opening it.
After dog opens the oven, drags towel to the baby, grabs baby, puts it in oven, closes oven, then you can start using a prop that stays attached to the oven door (or you can say "good enough" like I almost did). Tie the handle to the door, when she pulls it open, click, feed her in position, then lure her away. Then, click her for opening the oven, use a hand target to get her away from the prop. Then ask for a hand target when she gets the oven door open. You can eventually fade out the hand target, or secretly leave it in if you know your audience won't see you using it.
Once the dog does all the steps, add the cue word. Don't be too quick to help the dog if she's stuck on something. It's part of the learning process, and if you help too much the dog might begin to rely on assistance to complete the behavior chain. To blatantly contradict what I just said, don't be too quick to let your dog figure it out on her own: it's possible that she doesn't know the behavior as well as you think she does.