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Positive training with a Scary Cardboard Box

The upcoming Positive Training Blog Hop topic is Positive Training with a Box.

From right at the beginning we noticed Donna had this cautious respect for boxes. We had some big cardboard boxes from electronic goods like the television that we bought. They were sitting in a corner of the living room when we first adopted her.

Donna didn’t go to that corner of the room by herself. And if we were to accidentally throw her toy into the boxes during fetch, she would at most approach hesitantly and then stop and turn around to wait for you to get the toy for her.

So you can imagine, a few months back when I was trying to teach her this stepping up and pivoting trick to build up her rear end awareness, I had difficulty right from the start. You probably need to watch this trick video –  stepping up and pivoting trick – to get a better sense of what I am describing below. I apologise for the inconvenience. I am unable to embed it, as embedding is disabled.

First I had to encourage her to approach the small cardboard box I found for the trick, and as you can see the most she would do was to tap the box with her nail. I rewarded each tiny step she took until she was comfortable placing her paw fully on the box.

Donna taps the scary cardboard box
This cardboard box is a little scary, human

She did that for a while, tapping the box and then looking at me expectantly for her treat. I treated the tapping until she looked comfortable doing that, then I tried to get her to put both paws up on the box before I treat.

You can see she is not too comfortable being on the box although she did get on it. I guess I must have progressed too fast for her at the time. Her mouth was clamped shut and she was looking away at the floor.

Donna is weirded out on the cardboard box
I think it may explode at any time.

The good thing is, once she realised the box was quite stable (I had put a heavy hard cover book inside so it doesn’t slide around and appear unstable to her), she started to lose some of that tenseness.

OK i can do this says Donna on the cardboard box
I’m only doing this because I like your treats you.

A bit of lip licking showing that she is not totally comfortable still. The box is starting to depress from her weight.

She focused on the treat and her tail appeared happier.

Hand it over, human.

She was so focused on the treat… she moved her paws to the edge of the box.

The things I do for scraps… really, human. 

Treating and trying to build positive associations with her standing on the box. I was using fresh boiled meat cut into tiny squares, so I could reward her with quantity when she did particularly well. I hoped she felt that she had won a windfall, I guess. Haha! :D

The cardboard box kept silent all this time, despite it being the object that was stepped on. What a pushover!

Sometimes, the human may say let’s train pivoting, but the dog really is at a different point where she is not ready for it. So we took it slowly with this. I was eventually able to get Donna to have her front paws on the box while moving her back paws at least half a circle around the box from either direction. That was with me standing at her side and luring her still. But at that point, she generally looked more engaged and happy than these set of photos show. That was as far as I progressed before I got distracted by other tricks. :P

Since the theme for the blog hop is training with the box, I tried this with Donna again today, but found that she no longer responds as well to “pivot“. So that’s another reminder for me to be more consistent if we are to make any headway with the box, so that eventually she may learn to pivot around me without the box. That’s because my eventual aim was to be able to execute that dog dancing type of move. :P Yup, we’re still a long way from that goal!

The other thing that happened towards the end of our session today was that Donna put too much pressure on the edge of the box where she was standing, so that it flipped and that startled her. So unfortunately, that puts us back to the start line. Donna is now cautious with the box again and would only tap on the box.

So I now have some counter conditioning work I need to do to get us back to where we were before.

Or on hindsight, perhaps I should just substitute the box with a similar replacement?


Positive Pet Training Blog HopThe Positive Pet Training Blog Hop runs every first Monday of the month. For next Monday, October 6th, the theme of the month is 101 Things To Do With A Box. Here are examples of some box training game fun from the hosts: Tenacious Little Terrier & Cascadian Nomads. And also a Sophia Yin article and  Karen Pryor article. If you blog, even if you have no box story, you can still share a positive training post of yours. Join us!


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  1. Donna, get on your soapbox and tell them off about this idea. Or maybe not-there are treats involved.

  2. Cascadian Nomads

    Brychwyn has the same problem with the instability of the box worrying him. So I use the box for unstable object paws up training among other fun games but more stable objects (like an upside down dog bowl or large book) for pivot practice. Keep working on that pivot because next months theme is rear end awareness! Thanks for joining the hop this month and for sharing the box fears work with us.

  3. Yeah, I think a sturdier platform might help. I was using a plastic bucket and it kept flipping over but Mr. N didn’t seem to alarmed thankfully. I need to find something else to use. Donna made a lot of progress from being wary of boxes!

  4. I would substitute with something more stable. I bet that would go a long way to build her confidence.

  5. My cats Andy and Dougy would gladly come to Siungapore to show Donna how magical boxes are, though they wouldn’t share them with her once the job was done. LOL!

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