This week I started working on the balance beam with Tommy. He has never done this behaviour before and I wan’t sure how the training would proceed because of this. The balance beam is considered an expert trick by The “Do More With Your Dog” Association, and because there is an actual possibility of the dog injuring himself I worried a bit.
What saved us from any problems in the first session was Tommy’s previous training. I had trained a default behaviour of going to the table for when we were doing performances for audiences. This behaviour made it easier to keep the dogs in one place in a strange location. To train this I just rewarded Tommy over and over again for being on the table or going over to the table and jumping up on it. When I started training this, I always start with teaching the dog to put his paws up on something. Usually at first, a dog doesn’t know to automatically jump on the table. Once they are comfortable with just paws up, the butt will follow!
So at the first session, Tommy immediately put his front paws on the end of the balance beam. Within a few repetitions, he jumped right up on the beams with one foot on each beam.
Having worked on so many different props and having done so much clicker training, Tommy demonstrated exactly what probably any trainer would like to see in their dog – excitement for the training process and an understanding of how to start out in a session. He didn’t go nuts and try to grab the food out of my hand or jump up on me in excitement. The first time he saw it he methodically went over to the balance beam and did a nose touch to it.
I also chose to work with him in the winter on this because the snow provides a cushion in case he were to slip off the beams. Ernie built this balance beam himself and I painted it. The wood for the ends was scrap that was lying around, but we bought new 2X4s for the beams. The beams have to be perfectly straight when purchased and kept from getting weathered, either form rain or sun so that they don’t warp.
If you want to follow our progress and the steps to training this cool trick, check back for future posts where I will post videos.