Welcome to one of many popular dog games: “4 Paws in a Box.”
Like most tricks, this game doesn’t just entertain your dog.
The purpose of this trick is twofold.
It is aimed at teaching the trainer how to shape new behavior.
It is also aimed at teaching the dog how to earn rewards by offering small changes in behavior.
Shaping New Behavior
If you haven’t read our article on shaping, now is a good time to check it out.
Shaping is a neat way of building a completely new behavior.
Working on a trick like “4 Paws in a Box” is a great way to practice this new skill without any pressure.
After all, if your dog can’t stand with all four feet in a box, the world is not going to stop turning.
Let’s get started.
Change Your Clicker
Because we are going to reward the dog for small changes in behavior, we need to mark the behavior we like with an event marker.
The best event marker is a clicker, though you can use a word like “yes,” if you prefer.
If you are new to clicker training, you need to charge your clicker. This is really simple and won’t take you long.
It’s just a question of your dog realizing that every click is followed by a treat.
Once he has that nailed, you can start training. Find clicker charging instructions here.
Introducing the Box
All the equipment you need is a shallow cardboard box. The sides need to be no more than three or four inches high.
Just cut down the sides on a higher box if you don’t have a shallow one. It doesn’t need to look pretty.
How long and wide the box is will depend on your dog. You should be able to picture him standing with all four feet inside it without being uncomfortable.
You can move to a smaller box later if you want to. But let’s make it easy for him to begin.
Choose a Training Location
This is best done indoors.
You want to avoid distractions, and there is usually too much going on outside.
There are birds and insects, passing airplanes, the wind in his ears and so on.
There should be none of these things indoors.
You want the dog to be in a boring environment. This makes your game so much more attractive.
The next step is to get the dog interested in the box.
Some dogs are just plain nosy.
You can guarantee that anything you place on the floor will be thoroughly examined and checked over for goodies. My Spaniels are like this.
Place a box on the floor, and you can be sure they’ll rush over to see what’s inside.
With this kind of dog, you’re halfway there before you have even started.
Some dogs are just not in that place.
“There’s a box on the floor?”
“Yawn! Whatever” is the kind of reaction you get.
This dog is going to need an incentive to even look at the box, never mind get in it.
So you’ll need to be ready to lure a little.
Have some treats ready in your treat bag, or in a bowl on a handy table near where you are going to place your box. Have your clicker at the ready and prepare your box.
Decide where you are going to work.
The carpet may be better than a slippery wood floor. The dog might just take a running jump, and you don’t want your box to go skidding away with your horrified dog inside it.
Make sure there are no distractions in the room. No one watching. No other dogs. Put the cat out. Turn off the phone.
And let’s begin.
Step 1: Attention on the Box
Place the box on the carpet.
Mark and reward any attention that the dog gives to the box.
This means pressing the clicker (mark) and giving the dog a treat (reward). We’ll call it M&R for short.
This can include staring at the box, moving toward the box and touching the box with any part of his body.
Follow each mark with a reward. Throw or place the reward well away from the box.
When the dog repeatedly returns to give the box some attention, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Touching the Box
In this step, you will now be more demanding.
Stop marking the dog for looking at and approaching the box. Only mark him for touching it with any part of his body.
When he repeatedly touches the box, move on to Step 3.
What If He Ignores the Box?
If your dog ignores the box completely, you can get him interested in approaching it by placing treats in the box.
This is a lure, so you want to get rid of it quite quickly.
Place a treat in the box. Mark the dog as soon as he touches the box. Throw his reward away from the box. Repeat twice more.
Wait for the dog to approach the box of his own free will.
Count in your head to 100. If the dog is ignoring the box by the time you reach 100, you can lure him into the box again.
Within a short space of time, the dog will touch the box with his nose or paw without the lure.
Step 3: One Paw in the Box
The next step in the process is to look for the dog actually placing a paw inside the box.
This usually happens quite quickly, so be ready for it.
As soon as you see his paw, touch the bottom of the box, mark and reward.
Place the treat away from the box so that he has to take his paw out to get it.
Be ready to mark and reward as soon as he returns for another go.
Step 4: ‘4 Paws in a Box’
From one paw, you can proceed to two paws in the box. Then look for a third and finally a fourth.
Back paws can be harder than front paws, so you may need to mark and reward back one or two back paws separately for awhile before trying for all four paws at once.
Keep your sessions short.
Set aside a set number of treats at the beginning of each session, and stop when they are all gone. Don’t keep going until the dog gets bored or is full.
Twenty treats is fine for most dogs.
“4 Paws in a Box” is a great training exercise for you and your dog to start out with because there is no pressure to it.
Learning to stand in a box isn’t a vital life skill. This will help you to relax into the learning process together.
Why not give it a go? Take it at a pace that suits your dog. Make sure that you are both having fun. Let us know how you get on.