The Bucket Game –
The Game of Choice
This game is easy to introduce to any animal and is designed to empower the learners, enabling them to give consent and active participation in their handling, grooming and vet care. By creating an environment where our animals have a choice and can communicate their desire to participate.
The bucket game was designed and brought to the world by Chirag Patel – a training and behaviour expert from Domesticated Manners.
The bucket game can be used in many instances, not only for husbandry training and caregiving behaviours but also as a confidence builder, phobia reducer and for fun.
This game uses shaping, targeting, stationing and many other behavioural principles in a way that makes it fun for both the animal and the caregiver.
The Bucket Game gives animals the ability to tell us:
When they are ready to start
When they need to take a break
When they want to stop
When we need to slow down
What you will need:
- A bucket (size appropriate for your learner)
- Rewards (high-value food or toys)
- A bed/mat or safe place
- Access to water
Step 1: Teaching manners & impulse control around the bucket (put your reinforcement in the bucket)
Start by holding the bucket out to the side.
Take a piece of food from the Bucket, marking with ‘yes’ for looking at the bucket but maintaining some distance from it (20-50cm).
You can then put the bucket on the ground/chair and reward the animal for looking at it but not jumping in it.
It doesn’t matter what position your animal is in (sit/down/stand). What you are rewarding for is engagement with the bucket.
Start reinforcing when the animal maintains eye contact with the bucket for longer durations. Don’t increase your criteria too soon or quickly as this may cause your learner confusion.
The animal is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket – remember this is a game of choice and a conversation between you and them. No need to call, shake the bucket, tug on lead. Let your animal decide to engage in participating in the training program.
Allowing access to a bed/mat and water – will give your animal confidence that they can take a break as needed.
Step 2: Choose what you want to train the animal to do
For this example – A dog having his ears cleaned…
I’m going to wait until he can focus on the bucket (remember it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in – it could be a sit/down/stand).
When he is focused on the bucket and able to hold his focus of a few seconds, I’m going to start moving my hand to his side (not touching him).
At this point, he can choose to continue to look at the bucket – and if he does, he will be rewarded. If he looks at my hand, he has communicated that he was uncomfortable, and I will stop – remember this is the game of choice.
When he re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again. This time, don’t move the hand so fast or far. If he can maintain focus on the bucket – he is rewarded.
The use of the Bucket Game continues building the ability to help the dog consent to have his ear cleaned.
The game of choice will only work if you allow the animal to communicate that they wish to begin, break and stop the game. If the animal looks away from the bucket, the game breaks/stops. When they re-engage with the bucket, the game continues.