Three Games in a Row

I am exercising the dogs this morning and I notice that Rio is sort of inspecting the whippet (toy)instead of playing.  We had to change toys because the last one basically tore away from the whippet.  Now instead of playing by chasing the toy she is smelling and looking at it – perhaps making sure that it is safe?   I let her carry on and notice how relevant little details like this are to dogs. They take so many cues from their environment in order to guarantee their safety. Minutes later Rio has decided that this toy will do and she is back at it chasing the new toy as she has done so many times before with the “old” one.

My neighbors were astounded to hear that I can exhaust my two young active dogs in 20 min. sessions. “Yes,” I tell them, “I work with them everyday and 20 min. later I can go back to work and they begin their snoozing practice of the day.”

I love working with my dogs… it is one of the times where I feel most relaxed and just happy.  I enjoy seeing them run hard after a Frisbee. Rio, who is super athletic, can actually bend her rear-end in the air in order to better capture the Frisbee – that is when she wants to!

Most mornings we do a triage of activities.  Each requiring different skills and lots of stamina. This morning we began by working on recall (come when called) by way of using a tug toy which the dogs must go get on cue, bring to me (the recall part) to engage in another game of tug.  One dog is in a pen looking for treats while the other is working with me. I swap dogs after a few reps.

The advantage of having two dogs (or many more for that matter) is that you get to experience different learning styles and aptitudes. This keeps my training chops sharp!

Rio takes it upon herself to pull a “playing-by-myself” routine when I let her have the tug.  This is not acceptable since playing tug is about partnership.  A few trials of reinforcing via treats for actually bringing the toy instead of running away with it has curtailed her play-alone behavior.

After the tug/recall routine the dogs are resting on the snow and I go get the Frisbees.  They run excitedly and into position.  This is one of Deuce’s all time favorites (and the tug, the chasing after the orange ball, carrying the tennis ball in the mouth, herding sheep…).

He jumps and runs after each one with abandonment.  Rio again takes turns being super eager to go at it or instead distracts herself by sniffing the snow or peeing here and there.  A few training/play sessions back I began to reinforce her for every time she actually caught the Frisbee in her mouth.  Wow! Now she is going for it.  Before pairing the play with food/reinforcer I was lucky if this girl would give me two decent tries in a row, but now she has learned the contingency. These days I am almost assured that I can unglue her from sniffing the ground and to join the fun.

Finally with the dogs tired and with their wet tongues out, I bring the famous orange ball out.  They take a rest and we begin the last of the exercises of the morning.

Deuce has also learned that he must bring the ball to me instead of taking it to his “starting” place.  I got really smart and realized that I needed to teach him that “here” means wherever I am.  It was so obvious what the problem was for the boy and such a simple solution.  Now I move around our training field and he comes to me to get me to kick the ball again.

Some of my rules of Triage are:
  • Both parties must have fun.
  • Nobody gets hurt.
  • I write down the different combinations of behaviors that I want to work with. or modify in some way, as my memory is good but not 100%.
  • Remain flexible.  In other words, take cues from the dogs as to what they enjoy doing and be ready to add to the “triage” structure as they come up with interesting combinations of either games or new behaviors within the same game we have been playing.

In this manner the training sessions are truly fun for the dogs and we make discoveries in unison. Not a bad way to start the day, eh?