This weekend I was getting Mort to jump through a hoop in new ways – new dog tricks but nothing too exciting. Just something kind of different in our living room (he has jumped through a hoop before), and was trying to figure out something new for Training Tips Tuesday. So during our experimentation I noticed that when I raised the hoop higher than his body height, he would automatically take the easiest route to the other side. And that’s under the hoop. He did that sometimes with jumping through the tire at an intro agility workshop we took – he absolutely loves dashing and crawling under things. I think it might be his maybe-Terrier side.

Not that Mort has any problem jumping, or wanting to jump either. He loves to jump, adores it. I suppose it was simply inefficient to him, or just not what he thought was the right thing to do, or very possibly the “more fun” thing to do. (Also note I had my other dog Tig around, which isn’t ideal when training unless you specifically want to use jealousy – jealousy can be a useful training tool. But I think he was “racing” her to the other side which resulted in a reward, and found a fast belly crawl very fun. Hence our issue).

Adjusting our “strategy” for jumping through a hoop trick

Many things were going on when we were working on this basic dog trick, but the easiest solution was to simply “block” the space underneath the hoop to make the location of where the motion should take place more obvious. OK, you’re right, strategy is not the right word. My husband moved a box under the hoop: problem solved. Mort naturally realized, in an instant, the game was to jump over the box (and as such, through the hoop). He’s done things like this before. Heck, he was jumping back and forth over that box without me even asking him. Apparently more motivating that jumping through the hoop – pretty much an identical maneuver – for no reward.

Who knows. Honestly he just probably thought both were really fun.

Three things merged into a new, weirdo trick

But then something interesting happened during our dog tricks training session. I usually have Mort back up a bit, and wait, before I get him to do something (nearly anything). It lets us practice his wait so it’s perfect when he’s really amped up – useful in so many real-life and dog sport scenarios. It calms him down a bit so he listens better and watches me.

I repositioned us in the living room, where I was asking him to jump through the hoop now that I was trying without the box (fading it). And, unintentionally, I had him back up towards the box he was jumping over, and lo and behold he backed up right up onto the box and sat on it in a perch.

So I grabbed my camera, and did the same thing a second time. This was time number two – it was repeatable, no fluke:

He’s never done this particular “thing” before, but he has done a lot of “back up” and “wait” and balancing and perching (which involves a lot of rear leg placement). So a combination of these three things naturally resulted in the above behavior.

Nothing astonishing or impressive, I know, but a moderately interesting observation (to me) about combining these two or three things. Apparently you can reverse your dog onto a box.

Things in play with this particular behavior

So as mentioned, we’re using the following tools to produce this:

  • Mort’s “back up” behavior (hand signal) – pretty rock solid. He’ll walk our entire dog walk backwards if I’m holding a toy, and I can move him left or right using signals. We have done a bit of walking up staircases backwards, but not much. This would have contributed pretty heavily, almost entirely, to this particular behavior.

  • Feet rear placement – this comes primarily from balancing on things.

  • Being comfortable getting onto items, such as the box. Backwards is a new one, but I reckon they’re related.

  • Mort is really really motivated to do things. Anything. I had food and toys around, and another dog he wanted to beat them for.

  • On that note, jealousy. Jealousy is also a big motivation tool, in this case he wants to get the food instead of the other dog in the room getting it.

For more stuff on balancing your dog on things, see these two posts on DOGthusiast:

Teach your dog to balance on things, part 1

Dog tricks while balancing on things (part 2)

And I suppose I should do some future posts on making your dog back up (or walk backwards) and wait. Subscribe to our blog (below) so you don’t miss them!

Did your dog naturally combine different things he had learned and it ended up in a surprising new behavior? What did you observe, and why did it happen? Let us know in the comments!

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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.