Rocket Dog Boot Camp
Here is Stetson's basic training recap for this trick; since he is a herding dog he has a strong chase instinct that I often use to train him. In this case the first step was to get him to put his paw on the pad, which was just a block of wood painted with stripes to begin with. To get him to put his paw on it I would just slide it around on the floor and say, "LAUNCH". Each time he would place his paw on it, or pounce as it were, I would reward him. The next step was just to get him to put his paw on it while stationary.
Here is a shot of Stetson diligently practicing; he is a very dedicated pup.
From there it was a matter of getting him dialed in on the word "LAUNCH" and nothing else. For example; Initially he would press early when I would start counting down, so to solve this I just paused, and repeated the countdown and the "LAUNCH" command and only rewarded him when he got it right. If he got it wrong, I simply paused and started over again. After a while he picked up on the correct behavior and locked it in his little dog brain. The next challenge was getting him to calm down. He would just go bonkers at the field when the rockets went off. When he was bouncing around like a kangaroo it was hard to get him to do anything. Then yet another problem arose. When he realized that he was actually launching the rockets he became skittish. I solved this by strapping 1/4A engines to the launch rod and letting him get launch them until he got accustomed to it. As his confidence has increased he has really become quite proficient. He is now a real pro and knows exactly what to do when you put a rocket in front of him and does it without hesitation. Looking back, it seems the main ingredients for success here were patience, repetition, and a smart doggie.
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