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Teaching “Clean Up”

After seeing this video of a ridgeback putting away toys, I decided that’s something I want to teach Lilly. So, we started shaping the behavior with a clicker and cheese last week. The first training session made me laugh. She got the idea quickly, but her enthusiasm for the job hampered our efforts. Lilly flung the toys into the basket with such abandon that the toys often bounced back out. No clicks for that, I decided, but it completely stumped Lilly. She often got frustrated and offered a DOWN with CHIN, which has become the universal sign that Lilly is either A ) not having fun or B ) is upset (shutdown).

Ridgeback Video

I knew Lilly and I were making progress, though, when she began using a front foot to hold the toy down inside the basket once she placed it in there.

However, my fear is that she will learn / believe that the foot action is the thing I’m clicking. It’s so similar to the cardboard box game, where sometimes she gets rewarded for sitting in the box. Other times, it’s putting just her rear feet in the box, etc.

I’m sorry there isn’t video of our tribulations, but by the time I eek out some clicker time, trust me, I’m not camera ready.

BUT, if we get the trick solid, I’ll be sure to get a clip of that so that we can brag.

P.S. I’m also working on getting a clip of Lilly truly “spinning like a border collie” as a reply to the ridgeback video. Lilly indeed does spin like a dervish before I let her outside in the morning, but lately, when I point a camera at her, it ruins the moment and she demurs.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Frugal Kiwi - October 7, 2009

Thanks for the advice. I’ll have to try it with her. She’ll sit outside in the rain looking pitiful whilst our boy cat races in and out of the cat door at speed. Very frustrating.

I hadn’t thought of using a pillow case, but it is a great idea. She’ll be happy too. She loves the microscopic bits of cheese she gets as a food reward. Now where have I put that clicker…?

Rox - October 7, 2009

The key to overcoming the cat door is to
train your kitty do walk through things kind of like the cat door. With
fear issues, you approximate each piece the best you can. For example,
you could hang a pillowcase over a chair or something and reward her
for walking under the chair and pushing through the pillow case.

had a similar issue with Lilly doing the collapsed tunnel (called a
chute) in agility. She got freaked out by having to push through the

Frugal Kiwi - October 7, 2009

Great video! I’ve clicker trained my cat to do a few tricks, Give Me 5, Hi-5, beg, go through a hoop, etc. She’s a bit of a nervous nellie, but very food driven. Training settles her down and gives her something to concentrate on.

Now if I could just train her not to be terrified of the cat door… She’ll jump through a hoop and will go through the cat door if I hold it open for her, but no dice if it is in normal position. Sigh.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell - October 7, 2009

Oh, this is so cute! I’m not good at the training thing. Emma came to us knowing more than one command and Hershey even knew the names of her 3 toys. Of course, when we bought her more, she got confused. We always joked that we spoiled her stupid!

Samantha - October 7, 2009

Too cute. I’ve done some of this with Marge, but she only understands it for certain toys, and can usually only do one toy at a time. Not practical for truly “cleaning up,” but still a lot of fun. It was a very fun thing to shape.

Jennifer Haupt - October 7, 2009

I tried for years to get my border collie to put away her toys, no luck. I have a duck toller now who will pick the toy you tell him to get out of his toybox but he won’t put them away. Hmmmm…my kids never did learn to put away toys either. Maybe it’s me!

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