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Biscuit Toss
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Here’s what the trick looks like: one dog is sitting with a biscuit balanced on his nose; a second dog is sitting right behind him; the dog in front flips the biscuit over his head, and the dog in back catches it mid-air.

Helpful prerequisites:  SIT STAY, and OFF (or LEAVE IT)

Before you begin teaching this trick, please be sensible about the dogs you want to work with. If a dog tends to be a food guarder (with people or other dogs), don’t choose this trick!

Let’s start with a breakdown of the various skills needed for this trick. 

The “front” dog will need to know how to:

  • Sit stay.

  • Balance something on his nose.

  • “Toss” the balanced item off his nose in a backward direction, resisting the temptation to catch the item in his mouth instead.

  • Let go of the biscuit on cue, or allow you to take food out of his mouth if he catches it accidentally himself!

  • Respond to an OFF or LEAVE IT cue to prevent him from grabbing a treat that lands on the floor.

The “back” dog will need to know how to:

  • Sit stay behind the front dog.

  • Catch a treat that’s tossed to him.

  • Respond to an OFF or LEAVE IT cue. (If he doesn’t catch the treat, he shouldn’t touch it once it lands on the ground.)

BALANCING AN ITEM ON THE NOSE:

First, get your dog comfortable with you holding and steadying his muzzle.  Click and treat for calm acceptance of this handling.  When you are ready to put something on top of the dog’s nose, start with a non-food item first.  Also, choose something that is easy to balance.  Place a hand gently under dog’s chin to help steady his head at first, and click/treat just for a very brief balance.  Gradually work up to longer balancing times, and practice until you no longer need to use your hand to steady the dog’s muzzle. 

Once the dog is balancing a non-food item well, start placing a boring, stale biscuit on his nose.  As soon as you click for a very brief balance, remove the biscuit from his nose and deliver a MUCH BETTER food reward from your other hand -- DON’T give your dog the food you are using to balance on his nose.

THE ACTUAL TREAT TOSS:

Once the dog is balancing a biscuit easily for at least 3-4 seconds, use an animated voice and your release cue to encourage the dog to move his head and thus cause the treat to move off his nose.  Click/treat even puny head movements or throws at first.  Initially, it doesn’t matter what direction the treat goes in.  Remember the food reward comes from your hand – the dog does not get the item that dropped off his nose.  (This is when a quick retrieve on your part, or a solid OFF cue, comes in handy!)

Move the biscuit around on the dog’s nose, and/or vary its weight, to discover the best placement for good tosses.  Varying the position of the biscuit will also help prevent the dog from developing the “catch the treat in his mouth” trick.  Always supply a better treat from your hand, and prevent the dog from eating the thrown food.

If the dog has a tough time figuring out the HEAD TOSS behavior, you might be able to encourage a fast, upward head movement by teasing him with another treat or toy in your hand.

When the dog has been rewarded several times for puny head tosses, start raising your standards gradually.  Look for slightly more vigorous head tosses to click and treat.  Ignore the lesser performances.  When you have a reliable, vigorous head toss that causes the treat to sail through the air, start gradually shaping for tosses that land behind the dog.

CATCHING A TOSSED ITEM:

Practice at first with only one dog present.  Use really yummy treats so the dog is very motivated to catch them!  If your dog has never caught a tossed treat before, begin with an arcing movement of your hand to deliver the treat to his mouth.  Then practice some easy lobs right toward the dog’s mouth.  Use treats that are big enough to see and easy to grab.  The reward is the catch itself.  No need to click/treat this. 

If your dog is fairly successful at catching treats, I would prevent him from picking up “missed” treats off the floor. Continued practice will improve his catching skills.  However, if your dog is rarely able to catch the treat successfully in the early stages of training, even though he’s trying hard, you might want to click/treat him just for making those good attempts at first. But remember, the treat comes from your hand, not from the floor.

When the dog’s catching improves, gradually increase the height of the toss. The better the dog gets, the less predictable the treat “trajectory” should become, so he learns to catch even “sloppy” tosses.

Once all the skills are in place, it’s time to start putting the two dogs together.  It helps at first to have two people working together. Practice getting the dogs in their respective sitting positions several times. Little issues may crop up that need attention.  For instance, the front dog may be a little nervous with another dog so close behind him, and the back dog has to learn not to step on the other dog’s tail – stuff like that.

When the dogs are comfortable in their positions, let the trick begin!  Place the biscuit on the dog’s nose and give the “toss” cue.  Be ready to immediately deliver a treat to the front dog’s mouth whenever he does a good toss, regardless of whether the back dog makes the catch.  If the back dog misses an easy toss, he’ll just have to wait for the next treat toss.  Don’t let him retrieve the treat off the floor.  If the toss is wild, but the back dog makes a good effort, you might want to give him a treat from your hand for trying.  Keep practicing until the trick is polished!


 

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