Week 23 digest: September 3-9, 2023

September 3, 2023: a play date for Chai

Activity level: average

The AM

We only spent 15 minutes at the almost empty Fresa Parque: Game crashed into a park table/chair, whined and stopped putting weight on her left front paw. So we headed right back home, she got a dose of Rimadyl and is now sleeping on the couch. Pobrecita!

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone for Game’s shortish noon loop (trying to let her paw recover – luckily no limping for now, but I can’t tell if that’s the Rimadyl or her body recovering).

Noon and PM: Chai’s solo adventure

Once I finished work, it was time to head out and meet a colleague and their dogs for some dog geekery. Chai got to hang and play at Dead Poultry Park for 4 hours. She is passed out on the floor now! I had hoped to do some morning shaping (but work got in the way) or afternoon shaping, but I suspect we’ll just let sleeping dogs lie today! This was a lot of exercise and fun! Lucky Chai found a stinky water hole to get muddy in, played with my colleague’s dogs Hilo and Nemo, earned lots of treats for staying within a mostly approved-by-me radius, found a tasty bone and did really well hanging out next to a park bench while the humans had tlacoyos. Good puppy!

Dirty dogs are happy dogs!

September 4, 2023: a formal recall success, 3 parks and a little shaping

Activity level: average

The AM

The three of us had 25 minutes of fun at Fresa Parque. Chai got to play with a young Mal and then found something to eat somewhere behind some bushes where I couldn’t see her. (Of course, my informal pup-pup-pup recall didn’t work because found food is EVERYTHING to Chai and I am not using my formal recall in real life yet.)

Game was running around cheerfully again even though I haven’t given her a painkiller yet – looks like she’s all good! YAY! So glad! That “I am in so much pain” face and whining as she came back to me after crashing into the park chair/table really had me worried for a moment. She usually dismisses pain entirely if it happens while she’s having fun, so that was a strong reaction for her!

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone briefly while Game and I walked errands.

Solo adventure and formal recall success!

Chai and I spent 20 minutes at Toy Play Plaza. We started out by repeating last time’s recall on a long line … and succeeded! Go Chai!

Then there was a taco de birria for the bestest girl and looping around the park, briefly greeting two dogs and playing in the fountain (our personal public baby pool) twice before heading back home.


We worked on the sit up trick. Unfortunately, I believe I got what Silvia calls an “ugly sit” again but didn’t see it in real time: Chai’s back paws weren’t facing directly forwards but to the side. I’m going to have to experiment a bit more to learn how to see the perfect position in real time!

We also worked on one object in another on the roof. The smaller container I’m trying to use instead of the last one isn’t working either … I’ll have to find something else. It may be time to go shopping for more kitchenware and look for bolitos in all the sizes! (I’m very much not someone who gets excited about shopping … unless it’s for dog-related stuff! Or plants!)

I had planned on also working on 4 in as well, but work got in the way. Hopefully tomorrow!

Kiba’s park with Game

Game, Chai and I went to Kiba’s Park to run around dogs, screaming and running kids and large umbrellas for half an hour:

They also did a lovely job waiting for me outside a pharmacy.

September 5, 2023: park time, formal recall oops and a little training

Activity level: average

The AM

We started the morning with 40 minutes of park time for Game and Chai. Mornings tend to be enrichment-based (unless Chai is in a mood to play with other dogs): both dogs will scavenge all over the park, finding scraps of what folks left behind the previous night and pieces of bread and tortilla chips the bird-and-squirrel lovers sprinkle like perfect scatters in certain areas in the morning.

Scavengers in their element! Now that Chai’s stomach isn’t as sensitive anymore, she gets to have all the food-finding fun as well.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone around noon when Game and I went out to get Chai’s recall taco.

Solo adventure

Today’s solo adventure was short – just long enough to get a formal recall oops in! But a solo outing is a solo outing, and we’ll take it!

Tricks and obediency stuff

We worked on 4 paws in, one object in another on the roof and down/good/get it in the afternoon at Fresa Parque (no video of the last one but Chai did very well!)

PM at the park

Before it started raining, both dogs got to go back to Fresa Parque for another 40 minutes. Together with Chai’s solo outing, we’re at our solid 1.5 hour outdoors average (not counting noon and evening pee loops).

Chai found a cup of consomé and opened it for Game and herself, and they shared it. It smelled delicious and from what I could see, it tasted just that way as well.

Chai then went on to do her afternoon job: steal the balls of all the dogs in the park she could steal from to bring to me and trade for treats. She’s a busy Border Collie with a lot of jobs!

September 6, 2023: a typical BC fun-and-training day

Activity level: average

The AM

We spent 40 minutes at Fresa Parque and Chai had a good time with her park friends. Game did great taking treats for just letting everyone be, and then both dogs wrapped up with a little sniff-and-scavage fun.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone while Game and I ran errands for 20 minutes. She hasn’t been home alone for longer periods of time lately, but we’ve been doing a good job keeping up with multiple weekly 5-30 minute home-alone sessions (without Game). Normalize, normalize and normalize again!

Trick training

We worked on 4 paws in bowl #5, sit up and placing one object into another one.

Afternoon park adventures

Chai, Game and I went to Fresa Parque, waited outside a store and practiced foot-on-leash downs at a papelería for 1.5 hrs. The walk there took us quite a bit because Chai was in the mood to pull on her back-clip harness, resulting in many, many circles! I’m really happy Game is an off leash dog, allowing me to focus on Chai when I circle!

On the walk back from the park, Chai walked partly in collar mode. I reinforced every 5 steps today – that way, I needed hardly any nose bumps even though Game was off leash ahead of us us!

At the park, Chai played a bit with two new dogs, both her and Game scavenged and both worked on the tunnel cue since we had the dog park to ourselves. No solo adventure today, but a good day for dogs! Especially for Chai who got an easy formal taco recall (when she was already looking at me!) to super-charge “Schnee!”

Good dogs waiting patiently at the papelería while someone is trying to figure out how to print a page without margins for me.

September 7, 2023

Activity level: going for low today to catch up with work and make sure every week has its low energy day! Let’s see if we’ll succeed …

Note from the future: I succeeded! Low it is!

The AM

Game and Chai spent 30 minutes at Fresa Parque, scavenging and, in Chai’s case, playing a bit with her friend Sam the Doberman. Game got brushed at the park: she is blowing her coat and there’s Malinois fur everywhere.

Chai got bullied a bit by another dog and came back to me to be protected. I love that she trusts I will look out for her, reinforced and did my best to keep the bully at arm’s length.

Happy morning play with Chai’s friend Sam!

Training – just a little bit!

We allowed ourselves a single sit-up session. I forgot to hit record, so no video. In any case: a single sit-up session is totally okay for a quiet day! We’re still within the boundaries of calm-day-ness!

The briefest of solo adventures

We went out briefly to practice a formal recall on a back tie at our usual spot and marvelled at a squirrel together. (Tip: show your dog that you share their interests!)

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone briefly while Game and I ran an errand, and both dogs stayed home alone when I went inline skating at night.

Watching Chai on a calm day

Chai has been really good! She played a little with what’s left of the dolphin toy tonight, tossing it up in the air and pouncing on it. She has been really good about relaxing and isn’t being a pushy, demanding pup at all, but totally able to entertain herself. I’m very happy with how she’s developing!

September 8, 2023: lots of training and fun with friends

Activity level: average

The AM

We spent 30 minutes at Fresa Parque. Chai played a little with now 5-months-old little Doodle Pipa and the dogs enjoyed their urban enrichment jungle (aka finding food and sniffing stuff) for the rest of the time. I ran an experiment with soaked tortilla-chip pieces someone had left for birds and squirrels by sprinkling kibble on top. These two food items seem to be the same value.


We had a lovely 4-paws-in-a-bowl session and a great one-object-in-another session – the best one with our new object, the nail clippers, yet!

After I worked a bit, we did sit up on the floor and then I shaped a sit on a crate. I hope the crate is narrow enough to “force” Chai to keep her back legs facing forwards which, in turn, would allow me to work on the sit up trick ON that platform:

The video above ends right where I should have ended the session. Start to finish sit on a platform – perfect. Leave it at that; take the fact that a treat got stuck under my suitcase kitchen door as a good moment to end.

That’s not what happened in real life. See me continue for a few more minutes and Chai’s response below!

Solo adventure

Chai and I went to Kiba’s park to meet up with Alan. I got another successful recall away from Kiba before saying hi and we both worked our pups – Alan on leg weaves and downs and me on downs and stands, and both girls got to play single-toy fetch with Kiba’s ball.

We walked part of the way back in collar mode (5-20 steps between treats).

Chai also met Loki, a mix she enjoys playing with (see middle picture below), and found a dog food bag to climb into. Maybe she’s telling me to change our kibble brand!

September 9, 2023: out of the city with friends!

Activity level: high physical

Both dogs got their own morning loops today and then hung out at the house while I worked a little. Before it was time to leave on Chai’s solo adventure, Game got another brief pee loop by herself.

Solo adventure at Los Dinamos

Kristen, Kala, Luca, Chai and I went to Los Dinamos for the better part of the day. Chai and Kala played A LOT. Chai saw horses and mules – both grazing freely and with horseback riders – sheep, goats, got rushed by 4 of the shepherd’s dogs and recovered fast, saw various groups of suddenly appearing people and had no feelings about them, rolled in horse poop, played in the river and ate parts of an apparently delicious head- and partially legless rotten animal. It was mostly skeleton with little flakes of rotten meat stuck to it – probably either a small sheep or a mid-sized dog? I don’t know, but on the drive home, the entire car smelled deliciously corpse-like. Chai did not throw up on the drive there and back and did not get frustrated about Kala being squeezed in right next to her crate before getting to properly greet her. She was gentle with Luca and didn’t bother him at all, and interested in sticks and stones a kid tossed into the river for Kala and her. She also did an excellent C-runs-away easy taco recall – meaning the next one gets to be a distraction one again! The conversation with the shepherd was fascinating, and Kristen and I had a fun time. This may be the last time we’ll hang out because they’ll be moving abroad, but we sure made the most of it!

Left: Chai and Kala explore the river. Right: Luca is practicing being the cutest boy e-ver!

The last time Chai saw a horse, she got spooked. This time, she first contemplated this mule from a distance and then decided it was safe to go closer and sniff. (I didn’t worry here because Chai’s body language lets me know I’d be able to call her off and the mule doesn’t mind her presence.)

Chai and Kala came across a flock of sheep and goats!

The flock and two of the shepherd’s 10ish dogs. They are all related and puppies are raised with the flock, like lifestock guardian dogs traditionally are. Young dogs learn from older ones. They both guard and are able to keep the flock together. When nothing is going on, they doze in the shade. They are out with their human and the flock for ~6 hours a day. I learned so much from this shepherd, who was kind enough to hang out for a bit and answer all my questions about living with sheep and dogs as a small-scale subsistance farmer.

Left: right before Chai got rushed, she got just a little too close to the flock and the dogs made it clear to her. Right: watching the sheep from a distance after the shepherd has communicated to their dogs that we are friends. Chai’s herding instinct didn’t kick in – but it’s also possible she is still recovering from getting rushed and would have reacted differently to a flock without dogs. In any case, I’d venture it is safe to say that Chai is not magnetized to sheep. In the background story I have been told, her dad is a working sheepdog, but I am somewhat doutbful about the truth of this story.

I could have spent another hour talking to them, but didn’t want to keep them too long. While what I said above is what they told me, what follows are observations and parts I pieced together based on what I’ve read on this way of life in other parts of the world – it may or may not actually be the case for this particular shepherd and their flock.

The dogs and the life of subsistance farming (observations and thoughts):

The dogs are shepherdy-looking mixes about Game’s/Kala’s size; some with slightly more coat. From what this shepherd said, they are all related – so they have puppies and the puppies learn from their parents.

It is interesting to me that the dogs who are actually used for herding by people who do this for a living are not a particular breed of herding dog or even a landrace. I’d venture the most common breed in Mexico that is widely recognized as a herding breed is Australian Cattle Dogs (they are everywhere in the city, but usually not used to herd sheep), followed by Border Collies (used to herd sheep by people who do it for fun but not by people like this shepherd) and Old English Sheepdogs (who I don’t think are used for herding, but are a popular family dog breed around here). I’ve seen Australian Cattle Dogs throughout economic backgrounds while Border Collies and especiallyOld English Sheepdogs are fancier-neighborhood-dogs. I also have seen one ACD who was actually herding, but I was only passing by. I had the impression that this dog was an actual sheepdog, not a rich person’s hobby herding pal.

I found it extremely interesting that the dogs of the shepherd we met had a bubble around the sheep. There was clearly a boundary outside of which they allowed other dogs, but inside of which they would guard. Chai overstepped the boundary and their behavior changed immediately. Once they had chased Chai back of the bubble, they went back to chilling. I asked if the shepherd had taught the concept of the bubble to their dogs, and they said no – the dogs are doing this naturally.

It was also deeply fascinating to me that the dogs seemed to naturally surround the flock, protecting them from all sides. The flock did not seem bothered by the dogs at all and the dogs seemed very relaxed. The way they surrounded the flock kept the flock together and the invisible bubble kept intruders (like Chai) out.

I asked the shepherd if Chai and I might approach a little more so we could test how she’d react to the sheep when being closer (this is just something I’ve been meaning to test). The shepherd had control of their dogs – once they invited us into the bubble, the dogs stood back. (The shepherd had a stick and used body language to communicate with the dogs, but not in an aggressive way at all – they just communicated clearly that Chai was a friend to be welcomed into the bubble.)

I would love to spend a day with this shepherd, the flock and the dogs. I wonder what their everyday life looks like: how far from the green space do they live? How much do they walk? Are they always on the move or do they stick to one general area? How often is there a potential conflict? And is it always with visiting dogs or is there also wildlife or other pets to look out for? Maybe even humans? Is everyone on the same page about the shepherd using this (public) land for their sheep? What do the dogs eat (feeding 10 mid-sized to large dogs is a lot!) Do they have other sources of income or is it based on the sheep alone – on their meat? What does community or family structure look like? How much interaction is there with the wider capitalist society a subsistance farmer, whether they want to or not, is necessarily embedded in? If this shepherd had a kid, what opportunities will the kid have? Is it necessary for the kid to work as soon as they can walk in order to feed everyone or are they able to go to school, graduate, study; choose a totally different path in life?

I am curious about all of this, but it’s not my place to ask. I’ll probably never know. From the outside, to me, it’s easy to romantisize this life: it is calm. It has nature, animals, movement and little to no technology. It is physical and human-powered, not fossil-fuel-powered, and there is so much to observe about your animals, their interactions, the people you see, the changes of the plants, birds and insects around you through the seasons. I know there is a version of me who’d enjoy this life – its physicalness; the nailing of wooden planks to create a barn; the walking. Naming and observing your dogs. Keeping their puppies (the ones who survive); seeing them grow up. Observing local plants, birds, lizards; how their behavior changes with the times of day and year …

It is easy to romanticize because I wasn’t born into this life. If I were, I might feel completely different about it – after all, as it is, I did not keep the life I was actually born into and the same thing might have happened had I been born into a different life. And spinning that thought further: the life I was born into was a privileged one that allowed me to leave it behind. If I was born into the life of subsistance farming, leaving that life may not be an option. Or it may be just as much an option as it was for me and the live I actually got! I don’t know, but I can’t help but enjoy leisurly following these threads of thought as I’m clening up this pst at 2:30AM in the morning, a day before I’ll release kt.

Check the dog social post for today’s video of Kala, Chai and Luca!

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone for Game’s morning and pre and post solo-adventure walks.

Chaiary: dog/dog social fun!

I used to believe it was far more important for dogs to play with appropriate adult dogs than with dogs their own age (this is unsupported “common knowledge” floating around the R+ world). The just-so story is convincing enough: your dog is only going to be a puppy or juvenile animal for a fraction of their life; the conspecific interactions they will eventually have – if any – are mostly going to be with adult dogs. Plus what could a puppy possibly learn from other puppies? Adult dogs are the ones to look for in terms of socializing because adult dogs – other than puppies – actually have social skills.

Then I took Kristina Spaulding‘s excellent ethology class and learned that we do indeed know from actual studies (which I currently don’t have the bandwidth to dig out) that animals benefit from the opportunity to play with conspecifics of a similar age. This has changed my approach: I will now seek out more play opportunities for the puppies and juvenile dogs in my care – specifically with other young dogs.

Mexico and other places in Latin America I’ve been to have one big advantage when it comes to socialization: there’s ALWAYS dogs around. If you give your dog the chance to play every day, they’ll satiate (unless they are the rare dog who doesn’t satiate – these dogs do exist, just like there are dogs who never stop feeling hungry, but they are not the norm.) Given the opportunity to regularly satiate their social needs, they will be far easier to train, walk and work around other dogs. Win-win!

Below is a small selection of Chai’s play dates. These are just a few times I videoed over the course of the months and some I set to music (because it gives me joy) – but they are by far not the only ones. Chai has met other dogs of different ages every single day since she’s been with me. Some have become her friends; some stayed one-off play mates. You’ve seen some of these videos in Chai’s diaries already. In any case – here’s a chronological compilation with some context for each of them.

May 17, 2023 (day 41 with me): Chai plays with a new puppy

Chai played with (mejor dicho ignored in order to keep an eye on Game’s tennis ball) 5-months old puppy Archie at Chapultepec today!

May 28, 2023 (day 52): another new puppy playmate!

Chai made a new play-friend at Las Islas (UNAM), puppy Nenet! Enjoy the music and the play!

June 6, 2023 (day 61): playing with a new adult dog and practicing “pup-pup-pup” and whistle recalls … some of which are more successful than others!

Watch the video above to see my recalls – successful as well as unsuccessful! You won’t hear me use my formal recall cue in this video (“Schnee”). l’ll only use the formal cue in real life – outside of games and set-ups – when I am certain that Chai will respond. The informal recall and even my whistle recall? I don’t mind trying it sometimes and seeing it not work. These are data points that let me know where we are and what Chai’s ability to pay attention currently looks like.

After watching the video above with subtitles and voiceovers – think about the following questions and, if you’d like, leave your answers to any or all questions in the comments! I’ll be sure to read and respond to them!

  1. Can you tell why I chose the first two recall moments (these recalls are not successful – but why did I try them at the points in time that I did?)
  2. In one of the first two, can you spot an indication that Chai heard me even though she doesn’t come back?
  3. Why do you believe I used pup-pup-pup rather than whistled in recalls #2 and #3?
  4. Can you pinpoint (time-stamp) some of my favorite moments of the interaction between Chai and the other dog, Luna? What makes them stand out?

June 8, 2023: Chai (BC, 5.5 months) and Kiba (BC, 6.5 months)

We met our friends Alan and Kiba at the park and our girls had a blast playing together!

June 17, 2023 (day 72): adventures with Kiba at Chapultepec (and a sad, but beautiful song)

July 15, 2023 (day 100) – Chai and Kiba

Chai and I spent an hour with Alan and Kiba at the park today. As always, I started off with an informal recall away from Kiba (this is still HARD for Chai!) and then reinforced by releasing her to play. They also played with Kiba’s toy together!

Play-fighting and running together!

Good friends can share toys!

July 18, 2023: letting off steam after distraction recalls!

Today, we practiced really difficult distraction recalls! Chai needed to let off some steam after – and dog/dog play is perfect for this!

July 22, 2023 – all the Border Collies!

After shaping recalls away from Kiba, Chai got to hang out with her buddy and 4 other BC friends: Ivan’s dogs who were at the park with their dog sitters. Nicole, the child of the main dog sitter, tossed Kiba’s squeaky ball for Chai. I don’t mind informal toy play like this as long as it’s not with our formal training toys. It’s good for Chai to build a relationship with Nicole through playing! The last time, she got intimidated by Nicole who can be a little rough and wants to touch dogs from above or hug them (I suspect they’re between 8 and 12 years old, but I might be totally off – I’m bad at gauging the age of kids.)

August 8, 2023: new friends for Chai

My friend and colleague Kayla visited for a few days with her Border Collies Barley and Niffler and cat Norbert! This video is from the first evening Chai met all the new animals. (If you listened to our podcast chat, you may have already seen a shorter version of this video with a different song.) I like the fact that I’ve been able to introduce Chai to new dogs both in “her” apartment and in neutral spaces. She has also visited Nazli at Scarlett’s place and been to the apartment of friends who have cats.

August 20, 2023: fast friends!

Chai and Kala at Chapultepec! Kala is Zai and Kristen’s adult dog; this was the first time our dogs met!

September 10, 2023: Chai, Kala and Luca at Los Dinamos

We took a weekend trip to los Dinamos today! Time to not hear traffic noises and feel all naturey – even though this is still part of Mexico City! Luca, Zai and Kristen’s pug puppy, got to come as well!

October 15, 2023: Chai, Kiba and Elios

Today, Alan and Kiba introduced us to their friends Soto and Elios, Soto’s 11 months old Corgi!

October 22, 2023: Salazar with Daniel and Dina

Dina has become one of Chai’s best friends. Game and Dina are more acquaintances than friends, but they get along well enough. Today, Daniel (Dina’s human) and Dina showed us a hiking route outside Salazar. Game is wearing a muzzle because she’ll go into heat soon and tends to get easily over-aroused by other dogs running in the weeks before – it’s just a safety measure around Dina.

My bestest girl on the mountain. Mexico City in the distance to the left.

Snuggly girls on the car ride home. They were taking off each other’s burrs! (Poor Dina has a shaved paw because she needed to stay at the vet’s and get fluids for a nasty stomach infection the other week.)

At around 10 months – close to the time Chai went into heat the first time – she got significantly more socially selective. She still has her friends, but is less likely to initiate play with a new dog. She mostly just confidently ignores other dogs (or steals their balls). If given a choice, she’d rather work with me than play with other dogs.

This is a lovely development for a working breed. I see it in the other dogs her age as well: the young Dobi and a young Mal we used to run into at the park don’t play as much as they used to either, and Kiba and Chai, while still extremely close, treat each other more like family: “hey there, great to see you; I can basically read your mind just looking at you because we are the same; now let’s go do other stuff!” Their behavior is very similar; they grew up like siblings with Kiba being one month older. They even went into heat the same week. But there’s less playing from both of them: they seem to feel like grown up Border Collies around each other now. They will do stuff together, like sniff the same spots, greet the same dogs, lie down next to each other … But they rarely behave like puppies with each other (except for an exuberant greeting when they haven’t seen each other for longer than usual).

Dina, on the other hand, is still a favorite play mate of Chai’s. Dina’s play style is different – she’s a different type of dog. She’s built like a whippet and as fast as one, but wire-haired, incredibly gentle and giant-eared. I’m fond of her – and so is Chai. Dina is 3, but still loves to play chase games. If I were to anthropomorphize, I’d say that Chai looks up to Dina and thinks she’s “cool” – hence the continued playing! It’s unlikely that dogs find each other “cool,” but the thought makes me smile.

I suspect that over time, Chai will play a little less with Dina as well. They will stay close friends, but over the next few months, Chai’s behavior around Dina will probably start resembling her behavior around Kiba unless we are on a hike together (which doesn’t happen every day and tends to give the city dogs a boost of youth and bounciness!)

Chai and Kala would probably also keep playing a little longer into the future – or even on a permanent basis. They are extremely well-matched playmates. Kristen, Zai, Kala, Luca and their cats have moved abroad though. Chai says everyone, but especially Kala is always welcome on her couch if they ever miss Mexico City! (Chai is optimistic. I am realistic and would like to add: the cats would probably be safer staying elsewhere because of a certain Belgian Shepherd who lives on Chai’s couch as well and, while getting very good at not eating cats, can’t help the fact that they smell awfully tasty.)

Chai and Game, of course, will still play-wrestle as well. That’s typical for dogs sharing a house: anytime one of them needs to burn off energy, there’s a play partner right there! We just spent a few days at the beach and in this new environment, there was a lot of racing along the waves and chasing each other, too. I wish I had video!


September 5, 2023: today, bowl #5 is looking good!

Notes for the next session:

  • Repeat everything just like this one more time to build confidence and stamina.
  • Note to self: remember that the home position of my treat hand is behind my back! Chai can do it!

September 6, 2023: from a little insecurity and wobbliness to beautiful balance in bowl #5!

Session profile:

  • Home position: treat hand behind back
  • Marker cues: good, get it
  • Transition behavior: blink
  • Treat placement: room service 1-2 inches above floor marker
  • Mirror: yes

Chai did really well in the later reps. However, the first one where she offered a sit is a sign of her not being sure she can do it. She also struggled to balance the first few times I used my room service marker (good). So I’ll have one more session just like this one for good measure. Once I consistently get confidence and balance, I’ll re-attach the “Four” cue … and only THEN will we look into going down in bowl size again. Slow and steady wins the race!

Personal win for this session: I remembered my home position (behind back) throughout the video! Go me (I cheer on my students! So yes, of course I cheer on myself as well. Dog lover or dog trainer – I suggest you do the same for yourself!)

September 8, 2023: no more struggles to get started but still finding our balance

Today’s session was good! Chai knew she could do it from the first rep onwards, and I am happy with my timing and feeding mechanics in this session. However, Chai was still a little wobbly in some reps. I’ll stay at this stage for another session or two. Before moving on to re-attaching a cue, I want to get 8 treats – 4 “Good”s and 4 “Get it”s – without Chai losing her balance and stepping out between “Good” and “Get it.” Remember: clear, achievable criteria make our dog training lives a lot easier!

September 11, 2023: balance success!

No video, but 4 + 4 success! Yay! In the next session, I’ll re-attach the “Four!” cue and go for 4 “Good”s and 4 “Get it”s without getting out of the bowl in between again!

September 12, 2023: re-attaching the “Four” cue to bowl #5!

No video – but I repeated yesterday’s 4 + 4 success, remembered my transition behavior every single time AND re-attached the “Four” cue. Go Chai and go C!

Notes for the next session:

+ Take video!
+ No cue.
+ Two good-and-get-it-s with bowl #5
+ Two immediate get-it-s with bowl #6 in bowl #5.
+ End session!

September 13, 2023: success with bowl #6 in bowl #5!!

Wooohooooo! We did it! We’re back to (our new, higher-walled) bowl #6! We will proceed carefully from here on forwards, but I’m already VERY happy with how this is coming along! No hesitation at all about the new bowl in the old bowl! Go Chai!

Notes for the next session:

  • Re-watch this video and then decide how to best proceed to avoid the drop in confidence our last bowl #6 attempt created!

September 16, 2023: good and get-its in bowl #5 as well as bowl #6 in bowl #5!

The plan:

Two good-and-get-it-s in bowl #5 followed by two good-and-get-it-s in bowl #6 insinde of bowl #5. We’re inching our way closer to the goal …

This went really well!

Here’s the plan for our next session:

  1. One good-and-get-it rep with bowl #5
  2. One good-and-get-it rep with bowl #6 in bowl #5
  3. One good-and-get-it rep with bowl #5
  4. One immediate “get it!” rep with bowl #6 WITHOUT bowl #5!
  5. End!

Sneaky AF but I believe that is exactly what we need!

September 17, 2023: bowl #5 and bowl #6

I stuck to the plan I made yesterday! (Behind me, the sheet on the armario you can see in the video? That’s where I wrote down steps 1-4 from above!)

This went really well – I stuck to the plan. However, sometimes, you’ll see Chai step out of the bowl after the “good” treat. I did not expect her to step back in before the “Get it” as I usually would. So – plan for next session: repeat the same steps and insist on Chai staying in after “Good!” Maybe even do more than one “Good” in the larger bowl so Chai doesn’t expect the immediate “Get it” release. Yes – this is what I’ll do now that I think through it:

  1. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  2. Bowl #6 in bowl #5 – one “good” and one “Get it” – if Chai steps out after the “Good,” wait for her to step back in before cueing “Get it!”
  3. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  4. Only bowl #6 – immediate “Get it!”

I’ll definitely need a cheat sheet for that one!

September 26, 2023 – our first session after getting back from Austria and picking Chai up from the dog sitter’s!

After a break Game and I spent in Austria, I picked right up where we left off! I put a cheat sheet on the armario and did what I had set out to do in my “notes for the next session” above!

Wooohooooo! For the first time E-VER, Chai put all 4 paws in our new bowl #6 (last rep in this clip)! I love it!

Plan for the next session:

  1. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  2. Only bowl #6 – “Get it!”
  3. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  4. Only bowl #6 – “Get it!”

September 27, 2023 – today, I don’t look at the cheat sheet enough!

Today’s session didn’t go as planned. Not because of Chai but because after writing and attaching my cheat sheet to the armario – I simply forgot to look at it and apparently, my head wasn’t in the game today. It happens.

Note to self: make sure to be fully awake when training and potentially practice without Chai first!

Plan for tomorrow: just like yesterday’s plan, but follow through!

  1. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  2. Only bowl #6 – “Get it!”
  3. Only bowl #5 – 2 “Good”s followed by 1 “Get it!”
  4. Only bowl #6 – “Get it!”

September 28, 2023: sticking to the training plan!

This time, I stuck to the plan! Woohoo! (I also practiced all steps without Chai first and labeled the bowls #5 and #6.) These extra steps are like writing cheat sheets for yourself to pass a test: it is the act of having written them that will help you remember the steps rather than the cheat sheet itself. I feel like practicing without a dog and labeling the bowls works the same way for me.

Tip: if you are struggling with timing, mechanics or sticking to a training plan – do a quick session without your dog were your full attention is on your own movements! Trust me – it makes a hell of a difference!

I’m happy with how I handled Chai’s hickups in the video above (getting out of bowl #5 after my “good” marker). The reason I moved my home position back behind my back was that I thought she could hold that duration in bowl #6 – just not in #5. However, seeing how hard this was for her, tomorrow’s session will look similar but different:

I’ll move home position for my treat hand on my thigh and repeat what we did today.

September 29, 2023: changing my home position (treat hand on thigh)

I followed the cheat sheet again today! The new home position helps Chai by cutting down the duration of holding her position between treats. However, she still steps out a few times. I will stay at this same stage until I get zero step-outs between the first “Good” and the “Get it” for bowl #5. This should also resolve Chai being mesmerized by my food hand being visible!

We’ve worked like this before – but she’s still a juvenile dog and juvenile brains are all over the place when it comes to desires and impulse control.

Week 22 digest: August 27-September 2, 2023

August 27, 2023

Activity level: low average

The AM

I’m still sick so while we did more today than yesterday, things stayed on the lighter end of busy. Chai and Game spent half an hour in the almost completely empty Fresa Parque in the morning. No playmates this morning, but the dog park with the agility equipment was empty too and the three of us went inside for “tunnel” practice and luring Chai a little ways up the teeter. It’s still hard because unlike Game, she tends to slide off.

PM solo adventure

At noon, Chai and I met Alan and went for a half-hour long leash walk. I need friends around when I’m sick! He then had to leave to help his mom with something urgent and I got in a recall session in our third location before heading back home with Chai.

Home alone

Both dogs stayed home alone while I went to get groceries.

House training

August 28, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

Chai and Game spent 15 minutes running around Kiba’s Park. Then I set up the fish distraction while both dogs were back in the car and hid the camera in some bushes. Got Chai back out for a surprise recall that wouldn’t feel like a set-up … Well! Turns out I had hidden my tripod so well that I didn’t see it and I didn’t find my distraction anymore. So we meandered around the area looking for it (me) and enjoying her run or potentially also following the smell (Chai). She ended up coming up to it from a different side than I did. I only realized she had found the distraction once she had started eating. I called (off camera) and she responded IMMEDIATELY! YAY! While I had planned to call her before reaching the distraction, this works as well. For most dogs, it will actually be harder to recall once they have started eating something – so we’ll call it a win! Chai enjoyed her cream cheese and then finished off the entire pile of fish. Unlike yesterday, I hadn’t touched it but poured it out of the bag – that alone (not smelling of me but of found food) may have upped its value. Or maybe she was just hungry. In any case – off-leash recall away from unprotected fish in location #1 is a win!

Chai had a total of 20 minutes outside. I’m planning on doing more trick training than running around today now that I’m feeling less sick. Which brings us to:


We worked on the “sit up” trick in five sessions and got feedback from Silvia.

Home alone

Both dogs stayed home alone for about 45 minute while I tried to hunt down the heartworm prevention of my choice.

The PM

Game, Chai and I spent 45 minutes at Fresa Parque and made it home just before the rain. Chai played a little with a dog she’s met before. On the way home, the girls waited outside a store for a few minutes.


I lured 2 frogs – for the first time without a pillow under Chai’s belly!


+ Claws on right back paw. Chai did much, much better than last week!
+ After a pause claws on the left back paw. This one was harder but still better than last week!

House training

August 29, 2023

The AM

We spent 45 minutes at Fresa Parque and did another off-leash distraction recall.

Chai startled twice when two of the dogs at the park started alarm barking. She is very in tune with other dogs being alarmed (her reaction to a dog play-barking is different). When a dog alarm barks, she tucks her tail, starts looking for a thread and will possibly also bark. My strategy is to follow all barking fits by others up with generous scatters. Trace counterconditioning (“treats” is my scatter cue). The hope is that over time, barking will – even in this situation – cause Chai to look at me for treats rather than expecting the apocalypse. We’re alaready there in various other scenarios so I’m confident. This is just one that doesn’t happen very often, so not a lot of practice opportunities (which is a good thing).

El plomero

The owner of my apartment sent me the plumber in the morning to fix a bathroom thing. It went really well – Chai was great with yet another stranger coming into the apartment! (I brought them in; I always need to go downstairs to let people in and out because the outer gate only opens with keys.)

The PM

Both dogs got about 45 minutes of running around Toy Play Plaza. Lots of squirrels were chased and Chai played in the fountain. I also did the third rep of our distraction #1 (dired fish) off leash recall – success! Cream cheese might just be the golden ticket.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone for about 45 minutes while Game and I went on a grocery shopping walk. I need to make sure that apart from Chai’s solo adventures, she also gets solo home-alone stays on a regular basis! As always, she did great.

Tricks and fitness

We did two sessions of the paws up trick and 2 frogs without a pillow under Chai’s belly over the course of the morning and afternoon.

House training

One more day to go!

August 30, 2023

The AM

We spent 20 minutes at Fresa Parque before work! No one to really play with, but Game had a zoomie morning and raced all over the park which Chai found absolutely delightful.

They continued wrestling at home and got out the remaining need to move!


I did a single sit-up session. After reading Silvia’s feedback on the last one, I decided to not do more than one a day for now so Chai can build up her muscles. And then …

The PM

… both dogs and I went to Dead Poultry Park for 2 hours. It is SO nice and calm there during the hottest hours of the day! Lots of squirrels got chased, the dogs waited outside the bathroom and we had two VERY interesting recall sessions!

Jungle dog!

On the way back home, both girls got to go into a bakery with me. We’ve finally got everything to make our own yummy sandwiches!

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone for 45 minutes while Game and I ran errands.

More shaping

We went back to shaping 4 in later on in the afternoon, revisiting bowl #5.

House training

We DID it! Four 7-day streaks! Not without hickups – but we kept going!

I’ve also graphed the last month. I do not see a significant change (I may also not be able to interpret graphs, so there is that. I was pretty sure I would look at the graph and “know”: there is a trend and it is this or there is a trend and it is that or there has clearly not been a change.

Now that I actually look at my graph, I think, “I can’t see a trend. I think there has been no change to speak of.” But I’m suspicious of that interpretation too because I think rather than know (since graphs are not my forte). I’m pretty sure I graphed my graph correctly and I’m also pretty sure a graph is the way to go in terms of visualizing trends over time for this project. It’s just not as obvious to me as I thought it would be. I thought I’d visualize my data and – tadaaaaa – see crystal clear answers. I visualized my data but I don’t see a crystal clear answer, so there’s that. But hey – I made a graph and as far as I can tell, it looks good. Go me!

The Graph!

I made a graph. AND I did not throw my laptop out of the window. Ha! I watched a Youtube video and then I did it, and it almost looks the way I want it to. after I asked a friend for help, it looks exactly like I want it to! Go me! (If I can make a graph, anything is possible. Hell yeah, life! [Who knew how inspiring a graph could be!])

The graph below includes the nightly shower pees – usually 2. That is part of the reason the outdoors line is not consistently higher.

August 31, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

Both dogs went to Fresa Parque for half an hour. Nothing particularly exciting to report – Chai played a little with her small, but incredibly fast Corgi friend and was otherwise more interested in looking for food and checking in for kibble.


Over the course of the day, we did one “Sit up” session, one “4 in a bowl” session, two “one object in another” sessions and the – drumroll – reinforcer test we have all been waiting for (since yesterday):

I bought Chai a taco de birria with everything (even a little salsa) and squeezed the lime on top, and then I pitted it against what was left of my cream cheese:

Which one do you think won? Let’s find out:

We’ll see if I’ll wake up to lots of diarrhea tomorrow morning … This was a lot of cream cheese and an entire taco with two tortillas and spicy salsa. And when we went to the park later – Thursday is market day there – Chai found even more food (small snippets of all kinds of stuff and a relatively large amount of bread). Speaking of bread: when my dogs find the bread people leave for birds and squirrels, I have been sprinkling kibble among the bread pieces to determine what they like better. It seems to depend on the bread: some is better than kibble and some isn’t. Pieces of tortilla and tortilla chips are better than kibble.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone while Game and I ran errands for 45 minutes, and then again for Game’s 15-20 minute evening walk.

Solo adventure

Chai and I played at Fresa Parque for an hour. She played a little bit with other dogs, we worked on the tunnel and the teeter since we had the dog park to ourselves, rolled in a dead bird and found A LOT of food on the ground. Lucky girl! She also aced a barrier recall challenge when I called her from outside the dog park from the other side of the entrance.

Adventures in peeing

While the game ended, I’d like to keep a tally for a little longer. I’m curious what, if anything, changes now that I don’t take Chai out to pee All The Time. I expected lots of inside pees, but today is already starting to make me doubt my hypothesis: she hasn’t peed inside a lot at all! Maybe I’ll simply get LESS pees overall now? Maybe even a “NORMAL” number of pees?

September 1, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

We started with both dogs and half an hour at Fresa Parque. Chai played for a bit – she was in a playful mood today! – and Game got brushed.

Chai also had NO diarrhea last night! WOW, Chai can eat a taco and a bunch of cream cheese and be okay?! I am SO happy with how far her stomach has come!

Trick training throughout the day

We had a session of sit-up, a session of 4-in and a loooong session of one-object-in-another.

Park afternoon

Chai made a new friend!

Before heading out to meet people sans dogs, I took both dogs to Fresa Parque. We stayed for an hour and Chai had a great time running and wrestling with a young boxer! It makes me happy when she’s having a playful day (now that she is growing up and not all days are playful ones anymore!) Enjoy some dog/dog fun below!

Home alone

Both dogs stayed home for 3.5 hours in the evening.

September 2, 2023

Activity level: going for low today in order to catch up with what feels like 1 000 things. We’ll see if I succeed!

Note from the future (aka tonight): I succeeded! No excessive training or running for Chai today! Today’s activity level was low!

The AM

We spent 45 minutes at Fresa Parque. Chai had a great time playing with Dobi Sam.

Early afternoon: a recall fail(ish). My bad!

We took the first stab at a taco-reinforced kibble distraction recall on a long line. I let Chai get too close and she grabbed a mouthful of kibble … my bad! She VERY much enjoyed her taco de bistec con salsa roja though!

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone while Game and I walked errands for 45 minutes.

Adventures in peeing

… Fascinating observation (that has yet to be confirmed by the next few days of data): I really may be getting less pees overall now that I’m taking Chai out less. Did I create the insanely high number of pees over the last couple weeks because I was playing the streak game and encouraging, cueing and reinforcing a gazillion outside pees? We’ll find out soon …!


September 1, 2023: second session on the roof with unexpected hick-ups

Info in the subtitles. Spoiler: this session didn’t go as planned!

Notes for the next session:

+ Put something into the plastic container so it isn’t as deep (easier to eat from) or find another container of similar diameter, but with lower walls!
+ Repeat the previous session!

September 4, 2023: another less-than-perfect smaller container

I tried a small yoghurt container after starting over with the porcelain bowl. Chai had a hard time!

Notes for the next session:

+ Start with the porcelain bowl again.
+ Switch to the plastic container from the last-but-one session and change its depth to avoid the aversiveness of the smash-eyes-into-container-walls experience Chai had last time! See how that goes and take it from there.

September 5, 2023: let’s chew up this clicker!

Notes for the next session:

  • Repeat with both containers.
  • Swap the partially eaten clicker out for a different object – something that doesn’t splinter, is a similar size and makes a sound upon impact in the china bowl … a ver
  • Shorten total session time.

September 6, 2023: a new object (nail clippers) and two containers

I’m happy with this session – and with myself for ending it when I did and Chai was still having a good time!

Notes for the next session:

+ Repeat just like today until I get reliable nail clippers in the second container!

September 8, 2023: making progress on the nail clippers project!

This session went well! Jackpots really get the point across for Chai!

Notes for the next session:

  • Do another session with the same two containers and the nail clippers. Can I get 3 + 3 reps with the clippers in both containers, no misses at all?
  • No need to record the next one – I need a video-editing break and I don’t think it would show a lot of new stuff anyways!

September 11, 2023: a stab at 3 jackpots with 2 containers

We did the session I had planned on and I allowed myself the luxury to not film (i.e. no video editing). Chai got the nail clippers into the porcelain bowl on her first three attempts, but needed 5 or 6 attempts with the smaller plastic container (we worked until she got a jackpot 3 times with that container as well). I’ll stay at this step until I get 3 wins in the plastic container right away. Permission to train and not film!

September 13, 2023: a nail clippers win!

Chai got the nail clippers 2/3 times into the porcelain bowl on her first try and THREE/THREE into the smaller plastic container! Go puppy!!! (No video.)

September 16, 2023: coins, coins, coins!

I was going to go for both clippers AND a coin in both containers today, but only brought a 10-peso-coin to the roof – so we started with that one right away. Porcelain bowl: easy. Plastic bowl: hard. I’ll keep working on the plastic bowl with different objects and also make sure to throw in easy porcelain bowl reps to keep the rate of reinforcement high.

September 17, 2023: an indoors session

It was hot and humid out today so we trained inside – but not on the puzzle mat to create contextual difference to the 4 paws in trick. I used the porcelain bowl as well as the smaller plastic container and 3 different objects: a glue stick, a 10-peso coin and a nail. The plastic container needs work – stay at this stage; potentially change an object or two!

September 26, 2023: glue stick, plug and coin in china bowl and plastic container – varying locations

Varying the location of the china bowl REALLY made a difference in Chai’s understanding! I love it!

I want to have a similar session again – and I’d like to add my hands as a new “bowl” to the game soon as well! There are endless possibilities with this trick!

Distraction recalls, iteration 6.1/1/2-2.0/3.B: working up to off leash recalls: medium value distraction (kibble), high value reward (cream cheese; tacos); location 1/3

I’m naming this post iteration 6.1/1/2-2.0/3.B because in the course of this post, you’ll see me develop my plan to a more nuanced degree that differs from iteration 5 – so I’ll call it iteration 6. We’ll be working on levels 1 (long line, no barrier), 2-2.0 (line dragging/back tie as opposed to the original meaning of my 2nd level, which is barrier/helper) and 3 (unprotected distraction, off leash dog) with our now intermediate food distraction: kibble (B). I know my “iteration” categories are long and crazy – no need to keep them straight if you’re reading along. They are mostly just for myself.

August 30, 2023 – session 1: Dead Poultry Park

I started on a long line. Chai knew it was a set-up – and she definitely knew she was on a long line because on the way to the distraction, she reached the end twice. That said, she recalled beautifully on a loose line:

45 minutes later, I took what I thought was a reasonable next step. I was confident because we had done SO well on that loose long line recall. I didn’t let her drag the long line but went straight to off leash!

Session 2: other side of Dead Poultry Park. Off leash!

Again, Chai knew this was a set-up. See her do that double take? It was my spontaneous “AY!” and the second “Schnee!” that got her to come – not the first one, that’s for sure. I’m not calling it a success. I was tempted to repeat right away or soon after, according to what I thought in the moment and say into the camera. BUT I was smart enough to not do that but head home to think some more how to best set us up for success! On the walk home, I came up with what I believe is a better plan than what I said into the camera … but watch the video first! More below!

Instead of sticking to the plan I made in the end of this video – repeat on a long line, then long line dragging, then off leash – I’ll try and find an even higher value reinforcer. What if instead of cream cheese, Chai got a taco for mid-level distractions and above? I know she likes stuff with seasoning, and as far as I have seen over the last several weeks, her stomach is now at a point where she can eat small amounts of most food items and be okay. A single taco recall a day should be fine.

Before I do this, I’ll test whether tacos really are higher value than cream cheese (I think they are but there’s no guarantee). In order to test this, I will pit a taco against cream cheese. I will randomize which item goes left and right, make sure both contrast well with the ground and attempt to use the food item Chai doesn’t choose to lure her away from the one she does choose. Stay tuned! So tomorrow there will be no taco recalls, just a reinforcer test. (I don’t want to feed her more than one taco a day for stomach reasons.)

If the taco is higher value, I will follow the plan I made in the video (long line, long line dragging, off leash), but always reward with a taco. By the time we reach off leash status, Chai hopefully trusts that she will get something amazing if she comes back.

September 1, 2023: reinforcer tests don’t lie! The taco wins!

September 2, 2023: a recall fail(ish). My bad!

Location 1 (we are starting the count over): Toy Play Plaza

I set up smartly so Chai didn’t know we were approaching a set-up and started with the first condition: Chai on a long line, kibble distraction, surprise taco reinforcer. The tacos de birria stand was closed today, so instead, I got a taco de bistec con salsa roja.

Recall reward, ready to go!

I set up with a hidden tripod, kibble on a paper napkin to increase contrast to the ground and then got Chai from the car on a long line and walked right towards the distraction.

I wanted to be sure she saw and smelled it before calling, and since she didn’t know it was a set-up, I made the mistake of letting her get too close. Yep, that’s exactly what my students will often do! By the time the last syllable of “Schneeeeeeeee” had come out of my mouth, Chai reached the kibble and grabbed a mouthful before I tightened the leash. Since we have lots of giving in to leash pressure practice under our harness, she responded to the pressure cue. But unfortunately, at this point, she had already eaten a mouthful of kibble. She happily finished off the taco (until a very alarm-barky dog showed up – you can’t see Chai’s body language change behind the bushes but she clearly felt uncomfortable). She finished the taco anyways because – ¡TACOS! – and then was eager to go back and finish the kibble as well.

Once again, Chai has proven to be a smart, smart Border Collie! She 100% knows when a distraction is or isn’t accessible. I hope that once I have convinced her that if she recalls in the face of a medium or high value distraction, she will ALWAYS get an even higher value reinforcer AND the distraction, she will still choose to recall – even if on occasion, like today, I don’t stop her soon enough in the early stages.

Notes for the next session:

+ Repeat the same session in the same location with a call-no-later-than-here marker for myself!

September 4, 2023: recall on a loose long line!

Location: Toy Play Plaza

We repeated the exact same set-up – today with another taco de birria because the taco de birria folks are back during the week! – in the exact same location. Chai did not see me set up and my tripod was hidden in the shrubbery, but she knew what was going on because we were approaching the same spot from the same angle. This may be part of the reason she was successful today: zero latency on a loose long line!

I don’t mind if the repeat location helped: I want to get as many successful reps under Chai’s harness as possible. Every success – even if she knows it is a set-up – will help her understanding that she is going to receive both the AMAZING reinforcer and the distraction. I hope the weight of the taco reinforcer to eventually help her choose to recall every single time – even off leash, even when the distraction is better than kibble. And every taco Chai collects is putting force behind her recall! C: 1 – distraction: 0!

Notes for next session:

+ Same location, a little closer to sidewalk, long line dragging so I can step on it (make longer with rope?); mark the latest spot to call.

September 5, 2023: a recall oops!

Location: Toy Play Plaza

I called later than planned and didn’t step on the long line … oh well! It happens. We learn from it and move on with our lives!

This session wasn’t all bad, either: while Chai ate some kibble, she then did recall (with latency) on a long line after all. Good puppy making up for the slack in my training!

Notes for the next session:

  • Set myself up for success: tether the long line to a sturdy object and make sure it will stop Chai before she reaches the kibble. If the human (in this case I) isn’t reliable, outsource long-line-stopping to a sturdy object (if there’s one thing you can always rely on, it is a sturdy object).
  • Decide up front when I will call (at a specific point where the long line is still loose) and mark that spot.
  • Since this really is hard for Chai: going forwards, every second formal recall will be easy, distraction-free and rewarded with a taco. I want to put more torque behind that behavior!
  • Repeat all three kibble steps (long line, dragging or back tie, off leash) just like this in 3 locations. No shortcuts!

September 6, 2023: an easy recall and a TACO!

As by the plan I made yesterday, today, I just waited for a good moment (Chai had been sniffing and lifted her head to look at me – then I called), used her formal recall cue, ran away as part of my reinforcement strategy and then fed a taco! We’ll be charging up that cue like there is no tomorrow!

You’ll see me first restrain Game a little so Chai gets the majority of the taco and then I let her dig in as well. A little sibling rivalry may up the distraction value more (neither of my dogs guard food from each other in this kind of scenario; otherwise, I would not do this).

As of point 3 above: after today’s easy taco-rewarded recall, the next one gets to be a distraction one again!

September 7, 2023: back tie recall. It needs a repeat but the set-up works well!

Location: Toy Play Plaza

Today, I used a longer rope (since my long line is only 5 meters) and back-tied Chai so I wouldn’t have to worry about stepping on the line in time. I attached one end of the back tie to the car and made sure my kibble distraction – in its usual spot – was out of reach even on a fully extended rope.

I paid attention to when I’d have to call to make sure Chai had a chance to recall on a loose leash after noticing the distraction.

I followed my plan to a T and called the exact moment I had planned to. Chai did not respond on a loose leash but hit the end of the long line and immediately came back – tongue click, taco and praise – “okay” release to the kibble (I untied the other side of the backtie while Chai had her taco to make sure she could reach the kibble after my release.)

Notes for the next-but-one session (not the next one since that one will be an easy taco one!):

  • Repeat just like today.
  • Make sure I say, “Okay” before Chai starts moving towards the kibble after I’ve handed her the taco.

September 9, 2023: an easy taco recall at Los Dinamos!

Location: Los Dinamos

My friend recorded this recall for me. I wish they had held the camera in Chai’s direction rather than mine so you could see her turn on a dime! In any case, this was an easy surprise recall for Chai: she didn’t know I was going to call her and I didn’t have the taco on me, but in the backpack that we ran to together! I waited for her to look in my direction before calling and running. Superpuppy!

September 11, 2023: another back-tie attempt

Location 1: Toy Play Plaza

I was going to repeat the EXACT same set-up as last time, but my car was blocked in by another car, so I couldn’t use it as a back-tie attachment. We walked to Toy Play Plaza and improvised. The sidewalk I’m setting up on in this video is the one right before the row of bushes on the other side of which I usually have the distraction. However, since I couldn’t tie the rope to my car today, I had to change the location and our angle of approach. This time, the distraction is on the sidewalk and we are coming around the corner, out of the park.

I’m surprised that Chai did NOT seem to know it was a set-up even though I had tethered her out of sight when setting up. (The reason I suspect she doesn’t know is that she takes her time approaching the distraction and slows down to sniff around the lamp post.)

The second observation I made today is that I truly believe Chai thought she was off leash: I had hooked the back tie to her harness before taking off the regular leash with my usual announcement (“Leash off”). I had used the regular leash for tethering. The regular leash is, just like my pink long line, heavy enough that Chai probably feels it and knows she’s not “free.” The yellow rope, on the other hand, is extremely light. I don’t think Chai realized she was wearing it before hitting the end.

I can’t wait to find out what will happen next time, when I back-tie her to the car again and put the distraction back in its usual location (which is only about 5 meters from the spot on the sidewalk you can see in this video).

Today’s recall reinforcer: the first one of these three tacos de bistec with piña, aguacate y habanero.

Points for me: I called Chai when she reached the spot I had predetermined to call and I said “Okay” early – when she was still busy with the taco. (You can’t hear the “okay” in the video because I’m not saying it loud enough for the camera mic to pick up.)

Notes for the next two sessions:

+ Next session will be an easy (distraction-free) taco recall anywhere.
+ For the session after, I’ll go back to Toy Play Plaza and repeat that same set-up. Remember to “okay” release before Chai releases herself to the kibble!

September 12, 2023: an easy taco recall at Dead Poultry Park

Our next recall will be a back-tied one at Toy Play Plaza again! Let’s find out if it’s true that three time’s a charm!

September 13, 2023: a back tie recall success!! 3 IS a charm!

Location 1/3: Toy Play Plaza

There are several elements I am happy with in this video. The first and obvious one is that Chai recalled before hitting the back tie. YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!

The second is that I stuck to my criterion of when to call, and the third one is that I got the “Okay” release in before Chai started moving towards the kibble.

She did not finish her taco this time. (Good thing it was the last one of 3 – I’ll get a different kind next.) I suspect the habanero may have been a bit much. Chai has skillfully opened every single little plastic bag of salsa people have dropped that I’ve seen her find and slurped down the salsa, spicy or not – but maybe there is a certain degree of spicyness she’s not a fan of and this particular taco may have had too much salsa in it. Or maybe it’s the piña? In any case, I’ll go back to our tried and true tacos the birria!

Notes for the next session:

+ Taco de birria
+ Easy, distraction-free recall
+ Why not do it in the exact same location we usually have distractions set up?

I also just had an idea for the next session after – splitting things down even more finely: what if for the first off leash recall, I put just the paper kitchen towel (visual target) in its usual location – without kibble or with brown cardboard scraps (looking like kibble) on it? Let’s do this, really splitting things down as finely as we possibly can!

Thursday, September 14, 2023

It’s easy-taco-recall day … for a change in the exact same location I did the last two distraction ones on a back tie. Look at how well Chai does!

Since she offers a check-in, I use it as a start button to call her. Not required – never a bad thing if you happen to get reorientation and can mark it with a recall cue though!

August 15, 2023: recall away from an empty visual target in its usual location

Two lessons for next time:

  • Get the reinforcer out faster so Chai isn’t tempted to turn around and go for the target/distraction in between responding to her recall cue and receiving her reinforcer (this is what happened today).
  • Say “Okay” earlier so she only starts moving towards the target/distraction after I’ve given the release cue.

September 16, 2023: SUCCESS!!!

Off leash, unprotected intermediate distraction (kibble), SUCCESSFUL RECALL!!! Wooohoooooo! Go Chai and C!

We’re going out with a bang: this is likely the last recall session before I head to NYC and Austria (without Chai).

Here’s the plan – we will keep going as soon as I’m back en la ciudad que lo tiene todo (according to a billboard near me):

  • Next recall: easy taco recall (whenever possible, get tacos from the stand across the street from the community center).
  • Repeat long line/kibble, back tie/kibble, off leash with empty visual target (if the location calls for one), off leash/kibble in 2 more locations.
  • Intersperse all distraction recalls with an easy taco recall and always release Chai to the distraction after the recall.
  • Then, go through 3 locations, using all the same splitting steps, with a high-value distraction (chicken or liver). If it turns out to be necessary, test out what Chai prefers and, if it’s not a taco, switch to a different and even higher value street food reinforcer.

Distraction recalls, iteration 5.3.A: off leash, low value distraction (fish), high value reward (cream cheese)

I’m naming this post iteration 5.3.A because we are still on our 5th attempt at distraction recalls and will be working on level 3 (unprotected distraction, off leash dog) with the easiest new food distraction (A).

August 28, 2023 – location 1: Kiba’s Park

I set up the fish distraction while both dogs were back in the car and hid the camera in some bushes. No scaffolding! Got Chai back out for a surprise recall that wouldn’t feel like a set-up … Well. Turns out I had hidden my tripod so well that I didn’t find my distraction anymore. So we meandered around the area looking for it (me) and enjoying her run or potentially also following the smell (Chai). She ended up approaching it from a different side than I did. I only realized she had found the distraction once she had started eating. I called (off camera) and she responded IMMEDIATELY! YAY! While I had planned to call her before reaching the distraction, this works as well. For most dogs, it will actually be harder to recall once they have started eating something – so we’ll call it a win! Chai enjoyed her cream cheese and then finished off the entire pile of fish. Unlike yesterday, I hadn’t touched it but poured it out of the bag – that alone (not smelling of me but of found food) may have upped its value. Or maybe she was just hungry. In any case – off-leash recall away from unprotected fish in location #1 is a win!

August 29, 2023

Chai didn’t know it was a set-up in either of today’s sessions. In the first one, I set up, tripod hidden in the bushes, and then let her out of the car. She runs back and forth on the path before going in the direction of the fish that I indicate because (I suspect) she is used to be let out of the car together with Game. Game stayed in the car and Chai is likely looking for her.

Location 2: Fresa Parque

Location 3: Toy Play Plaza

Chai didn’t know it was a set-up in this session either. She and Game were chasing squirrels as I poured a pile of fish on the ground. Then we approach and I recalled when they were close to it. Game also came running. I wouldn’t usually feed her, but can’t have only one dog eating cream cheese, so she got lucky today! I released both of them to the distraction and it is really interesting to see how much Chai’s enthusiasm about the fish treats is upped by the fact that Game is eating them as well:

The distraction recall plan going forwards

I’ve succeeded in 3 off-leash unprotected low-value food recall sessions. Now, it’s time to make things harder and go for the distraction I originally didn’t master: kibble (henceforth distraction B)!

Chai has taught me that food distractions are MUCH harder than anything else for her (by now, I have successfully recalled her away from dogs, people, squirrels and birds, pet cats and farm animals. Street food is paws down the hardest for Chai.) Because of this and because a strong recall is my favorite behavior, I am upping my own challenge: I will work up to unprotected kibble (intermediate food value) in 3 different locations with Chai off leash, and then unprotected LIVER (high value) in 3 different locations with Chai off leash.

I am sure some of the items on the list of found food I’ve made are even higher value than liver. However, for anything other than my 3 food distractions, rather than systematically working up to it, I will bank on the force of habit, lots of high-value reinforcement for easy formal recalls in our recall “account” and the trust that Chai will be sent back to eat the distraction that we’ll build in the next steps of her recall distraction plan, which will always include access to the distraction within training sessions – but only after coming back to me. She will be sent back to eat whatever she has found in real life as well – except for the very rare occasion where I can’t let her go back. In general, I want her to learn that coming back unthinkingly when called pays off BIG time. Once we’ve mastered the difficult food distraction recall, I will make her formal recall a rare and coveted word she can’t wait to hear – precisely because it is special and is followed by a-ma-zing experiences.

Week 21 digest: August 20-26, 2023

August 20, 2023: Chapultepec and lots of play

Activity level: average (high physical, low cognitive)

The AM

We went to Fresa Parque for 20 minutes and then headed back home – lots of work before today’s afternoon adventure!

Solo adventure: dog/dog play, swim fetch and barrier recalls

In the afternoon, we picked up friends and went to Chapultepec for fun at the lake and dog training and play time.

Kala got to ride in style … no, joking. Her paws get to be on the dashboard and I (the driver) am taking a picture because at this point, we’ve spent 15 minutes in standstill traffic waiting for parking and we’re all getting bored.

We were out for three hours. We humans had hung out before and became fast friends, but our dogs have not met. This was the first but probably not the last time for them – they too were fast friends! Kala and Chai played A LOT, and I did not one, but two recall set-ups … because Chai surprised me and botched the first one!

I wonder if this is a coincidence or a direct result of yesterday’s overconfidence: I used her formal recall to get her away from a brimful food container at Fancy Park I. I also started naming zooming (“Zoom, zoom, zoom,” inspired by one of my wonderful students who uses this cue with their Russel Terriers!)

Chai also had two water fetch sessions and did GREAT! I ended both when she still wanted to keep going. Kristen bought Kala a squeaky donut at the pet supply stand at the lake, so Chai – who really wanted it – got one too. Lucky girl! Kala’s is pink and Chai’s is blue (unless we mixed them up … let me see. Nope, took the blue one home! And accidentally stole Kala’s tennis ball as well … oops!)

The donut is popular! I’m turning into one of these people who buy dog toys only to have them destroyed. Dog toys aren’t cheap and as far as I was aware, I’ve stopped spending money on anything that isn’t a training toy or indistructable YEARS ago. Most non-training toys we’ve had over the last 5ish years have been gifts. Not anymore, apparently: I am now getting joy out of buying toys. I asked Chai, “Do you want one too?” when Kala got her donut and it felt good to spontaneously get my dog something overpericed that would make her happy. This is something I only used to do for people. You know, the little things? Apparently, I am now doing them for my dogs.

Wrestling with Kala! The two of them are a good play match!

Water fetch!

A snippet of water fetch! I built back up from only throwing the ball in a little ways so Chai had to get her feet wet until I had her swimming again. She seamlessly completed every rep! We played both 2-toy and 1-toy fetch, with and without treats in the 1-toy version:

Leash walking

Chai got to practice walking on her back-clip harness behind Kala right after getting out of the car. It was only about 50 meters or so and then she got to be off leash, but I am very proud of how well she did after the car ride: hardly any pulling!

After 2.5 hours, the dogs’ brains were fried, we entered sleep-deprived-toddler territory and I put Chai in her front clip harness and a long line. We walked back to the car that way too: pulling or no pulling – no need to think anymore, puppy. It was a long day in the sun!

Home alone

When we got back, Game and I went on an hour-long walk while Chai stayed home. Good girl! Game very much enjoyed HER solo adventure and Chai finally got another decently long home-alone practice session in.

House training

Cruising along our streak.

August 21, 2023

The AM

Activity level: somewhere between low and average

We started out with 30 minutes at Fresa Parque. Chai got to play with two morning park friends and gave me a fake pee on cue (squatting without peeing when I said the potty cue). She makes me laugh so much!

Solo adventure

Chai and I went on a brief solo adventure to the Toy Play Plaza. There was, of course, squirrel chasing! On the way back home, we stopped for groceries and she patiently waited for me outside the store for a few minutes. I was planning to do some collar walking later but the rain and work kept us cooped up inside for most of the rest of the day.

A little training

+ We did two frogs on the mattress! Still using the pillow under Chai’s belly, but not forgetting our stretches!

+ I also did one rep of “shoulders” (lifting her up and carrying her wrapped around my shoulders).

+ I finished with luring a sit-up behavior on the couch a few times, using the back rest of the couch as support for her back. In the next session, I’ll try it with her 2-paw target (plate).

House training

We did it again despite the fact that today was on the lazier side! Woohoo! It ended up being a tie, but the amended rule states that ties count too.

That said, today’s tie reminds me of the bigger picture. I haven’t graphed my graph yet, but I don’t think I’ll get the downwards trend I’ve been hoping for: I suspect I am not going to see progress over these 4 gamified house training weeks. That said, I’ll only make a graph on the last day of the game. I don’t want to discourage myself while the game is still ongoing. It’s not just my game, but I play together with a group of amazing students and colleagues (everyone is gamifying something relevant to them and/or their dogs).

August 22, 2023

Activity level: low average

The AM: marker cue experiments and Chai’s new favorite

I got up 15 minutes earlier to add to our morning park time: SO many appointments and things to do today, and I don’t want the dogs to get too bored! Chai kept being drawn back to a pile of swept-up stuff. There were for sure yummy pieces of something or other mixed up in the leaves and twigs! I could scatter her away from the pile but she’d race back twoards it after every scatter. I experimented with different marker cues and couldn’t “Get it!” her away from it, which means her favorite marker has changed from chasing treats to eating a scatter! Game’s favorite is still chasing a single treat. What’s your dog’s?

Solo adventure

We went on a mini solo adventure to the Toy Play Plaza and played fetch and a little tug with two balls on strings. I tried implementing “Bump” (the cue I changed Chai’s touch cue to to make it different from Game’s touch cue), but it was hard for her, so I only asked for it once (I needed to remove and re-present my hand 3 times before I got an open-mouthed semi-touch). I took that one and we continued playing.

Then, Chai stayed …

Home alone …

… with Game for about 3 hours.


Chai had 8 short sessions refreshing her 2-paw target on a plate and then working on the first steps of a sit-up (from Silvia Trkman‘s class). Now she’s conked out on the couch – and so is Game who did some great mat work around flying cookies!

House training

Celebrating that today wasn’t a tie – and, if all goes as planned, only one more check mark to the next brownie!

August 23, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

We started the day with half an hour at Fresa Parque – then Chai went from play-with-her-friends mode into ball-stealing mode and we made our way home. Chai is turning into a most excellent toy thief! (Anytime she brings me another dog’s toy, I’ll trade for treats and then return the toy to its human or canine owner. Chai loves fetching and she loves treats, so I’ve been ending up with LOTS of toys lately. Unlike most other toy-thief owners at the park, I don’t have to chase my dog around to get back someone else’s toy – it will be delivered right to me. My ladrona gets praise rather than reprimands for stealing.)

Chai also got to join me on a solo collar mode walk (5-20 steps between treats) to a corner store and wait for me outside.

We worked on the sit up trick in 5 short sessions, and during one of our pee outings, Chai and Game saw the neighbor’s cat in the corridor. I love that Chai didn’t care much at all (while Game, of course, had tacos al gato spinning where her pupils used to be).

Home alone

Both dogs stayed home alone while I went to drop off laundry and ask the sastrero next door if they’d fix the holes Barley had put in the octopus toy (I’d do it myself but I have no sewing kit).

PM adventures

I walked to the Toy Play Plaza with both dogs and we looped around for a while, chasing squirrels (they) and eating tacos (me). Chai found lentils and something resembling grist and had a great time eating both snacks. I tried marker-cueing her out of it but could not while Game definitely found kibble better and only briefly tried the other two options. I am starting to suspect that for Chai, food found on the ground is inherently higher value than food coming from me. Game, on the other hand, assesses the options more objectively.

We were out for about an hour and now both dogs are sleeping peacefully on the couch as I am working again.

House training

We did it! Another brownie for me tomorrow!

August 23, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

Game, Chai and I spent 30 minutes at Fresa Parque in the morning. Chai found some delicious popcorn (palomitas – little doves in Spanish!) I could “Get it”-marker her away – popcorn seems to be lower value than yesterday’s the snuffle leaf pile! However, unlike Game, who said, “Yes please, kibble is much better than popcorn,” Chai went back to the popcorn after each treat chas, strengthening my suspicion that found food is VERY high value in her book. Can’t blame her. I love street food as well.

I’ve been observing Chai’s interest in playing with other dogs go down. She satiates faster now than she used to even when her friends are around. She’s growing up and probably won’t be the kind of dog who’ll play with any dog for hours as an adult. Today, she’d observe, do her own thing sniffing and exploring holes while the play frenzy went on around her and did frequent drive-bys and check-ins. She participated in play, but only a bit here and there. The difference between a worky dog and a companion-y dog is starting to show!

Home alone

Chai and Game briefly stayed home alone twice today – once when I went to pick up my brownie!

Human motivation

It’s interesting for me to observe that I am less vigilant about running outside today than I would be closer to the end of a weekly streak: if I don’t earn a check mark today, we’ll just lose a single streak day rather than 4, 5 or 6 days. The opportunity cost is smaller, so I give myself a break. It is fun to observe my own motivation fluctuate along with the game and what streak day we’re on! Human behavior is just as interesting as the behavior of other animals.

Solo adventure

I finished my morning work load early and met up with Alan at Kiba’s Park. I finally got a recall away from Kiba on video and also successfully did location #3 of the barrier level liver recall.

Rocko and his person joined us a little later. I played with Rocko and his frisbee and Chai got to play with Kiba’s ball (doing beautiful single-ball fetches; voluntarily dropping the ball at my feet every time) for several minutes while Rocko’s human worked with both Rocko and Kiba on paw shakes for food. A perfect park outing!

Alan watering the Border Collie gang: Kiba (chocolate), Rocko (merle) and Chai (b/w).

Apart from Kiba, Chai also briefly played with a new dog we hand’t met before and who was bouncing all over the place – a joy to watch!

On the way home, we walked in collar mode between 5 and 35 steps. Chai, all played out, was brilliant.


+ “Brush!”

House training

Last week of the game, here we come!

August 25, 2023

Activity level: average

The AM

We started with 45 minutes at Fresa Parque and Chai enjoyed playing with Dina more than usual: we haven’t seen her in a few days and she has been missed!

Solo adventure

Chai and I walked to the Dead Poultry Park and started the next step of our distraction recall journey: low-value food (fish treats) on the ground, cream cheese as the reward! We did long line, line dragging and off leash in the same location and Chai did very well. Fish treats are booooring and cream cheese is the best thing since sliced bread! She also got to hunt squirrels (and an informal recall reinforced by “Birds” which she is starting to understand!).

We then kept walking to a new park we hadn’t yet explored, and Chai waited outside three stores. On the way back home, she got to run in both parks again, found something delicious to eat and walked part of the way in collar mode (5-20 steps between treats).

When we got back home, I did some …


+ cutting fur around both back paws.

… and then Chai fell asleep:

Almost made it up on the couch!

House training

Another check mark! Yay!

August 26, 2023

Activity level: low

I woke up feeling sick and exhausted today. So rather than adventuring with dog friends as planned, I kept it a low activity day.

All the dogs got to do was run around Fresa Parque for 30 or 45 minutes, including 2 distraction recall set-ups for Chai.

House training

The streak continues despite the low-activity day!

Distraction recalls, iteration 5.2/3.A: inching back up to unprotected food distractions (our nemesis), part 1: boring food distraction (dried fish)

I’m naming this post iteration 5.1/3 because we are still on our 5th attempt at distraction recalls and will now be working on levels 1 (long line, no barrier) and 3 (unprotected distraction, off leash dog) with the easiest new food distraction (A).

The plan …

… is vague for now. The first time I work without a container again – with something lower value than kibble this time – I will go back to a long line. When I get a long line success, I will try off leash right away in the same location. Whatever happens, I will then head back to headquarters and decide how to continue.

August 25, 2023

Dead Poultry Park

Since Chai has outsmarted me at the unprotected-distraction stage several times, I’m going to take it
slowly this time! I started with her lowest value food (that I have found so far): dried fish treats. I went back to Chai on a long line and scattered the treats under her favorite scavenging draws: trash cans.

Session profile:
Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese followed by eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: long line
Immediate response on a loose long line: NO

Round 1

Round 2

I did this one right after the previous session, but approached from the other side this time. Immediate recall success because Chai knows I have Philadelphia (if I had to guess why!)

Round 2 profile:
Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese followed by eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: long line
Immediate response on a loose long line: YES

Round 3

Same location; right after session 2; approaching from the original direction again.

Round 3 profile:

Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese followed by eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: –
Immediate off leash response: YES

It is fascinating to me that in the third session – the video above – Chai doesn’t even want the fish anymore. In only three recall rounds, I have turned fish from something she’d try and blow off my recall for even though she was on a long line into the most boring treat in the world that she has very little interest in.

I don’t want to jinx it, but if I were cautiously optimistic, I would say: found food (including fish) trumps anything except for cream cheese. I would love to be right about this one – it would solve all my recall “problems”! But I know I need to be careful. Chai’s recall is a flighty animal and needs to be approached with great caution! I know that today’s success is, at least in part, because – as Tracy (Tracy, in case you’re reading this: I love this metaphor you’ve used for Huck!) would say – I have used the earlier two sessions as scaffolding for the third (successful) one. And as I would say (to Tracy or any other student): a successful off-leash recall only bumps you up to the next level once you’ve succeed after a break, un-scuffolded!

I’ll think about this some more but I believe what I’ll do is try this same set-up in a different location and see if I get a recall on a loose long line on the first try. I won’t make the mistake of going directly to off leash in a new location!

August 26, 2023

Fresa Parque

Chai knew this was a set up. That said, she did GREAT in both sessions. Already doing better than yesterday by keeping the leash loose in the very first rep. I did the second one pretty much right after – using it as scaffolding as Tracy would say.

In both sessions (because Chai knows it’s a set-up), she offers eye contact while we’re still far from the distraction. I keep heading that way anyways to make it a little harder. If I wasn’t filming and trying to be clearly visible on screen, I might have marked the check-ins with a recall cue right away.

Round 1 profile:

Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese followed by eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: long line
Immediate response on loose line: YES

No break – round 2, off leash, same location:

Round 2 profile:

Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese followed by eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: –
Immediate response: YES

Notes for the next session:

For my next session, I’d like to have a helper set up the fish distraction, come across it as a true surprise for Chai on a long line and see if I still get the success I’m after. If this works, I’ll take a break and try the next session after – again with a helper – off leash.

August 27, 2023

Location 3: Kiba’s Park

My friend had to take his mom to the hospital right before we got a chance to do a set-up (no worries – all is well with his mom). I managed to sneakily set up anyways. This time, there is no way Chai knows there is a distraction set-up …

Session profile:

Distraction: dried fish
Reinforcer: cream cheese and eating the distraction
Distraction safe-keeping: long line (accidentally) dragging
Immediate success: YES!

The first rep in the video above shows that Chai didn’t realize this was a distraction recall: I called pretty early, Chai responded and then headed off in some other direction rather than going towards the fish or sticking with me.

I wanted a distraction recall that wouldn’t feel like a set up and where she actually knew there was a distraction! So I didn’t point the fish out to Chai, but looped back around and let her get really close this time. This time, she clearly knew there was a distraction (but hopefully not that it was a set-up)! She responded beautifully and then went back to eating the fish with much more gusto than in the previous sessions – maybe precisely because she thought she had found street food rather than a distraction I had placed? Who knows.

While this session went really well (as in: Chai did really well), I did not stick to my training plan: I was going to hold on to the long line, but in both these reps, I let go of it and just let her drag it. Which really doesn’t help anyone because Chai is too far ahead by the time I call. The long line isn’t long enough for me to step on it if I needed to. Its weight may still have helped create an on-leash feeling, but the session I ended up having today was not the one I planned on having. Note to self: ALWAYS read your session notes right before you train!

Notes for the next sessions:

I feel ready to give this a try off leash and without scaffolding. I will do the next session at Kiba’s park again, where Chai has already succeeded with the long line dragging, but probably in a different spot of the park. f Chai gives me the response I’m hoping for – a single-rep off-leash success – I will then go for a single-rep off-leash fish recall success in two more locations before making the distractions more difficult:

I very much dislike advertising, but I’ve got a freeby with no strings attached, so I’m letting you know! I’d love for someone who hasn’t taken an FDSA class yet or currently can’t afford one to get it! It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, and you don’t need to be Facebook friends with me to participate. (The only reason I’m putting this on Facebook is that I want it to be in one spot and it’s easiest there.) It’s a public post and everyone, FB friend or not, should be able to comment to play here.


August 22, 2023

Today, we started working on the sit up trick. I did 8 very short session, starting with 4 refreshers of the 2-paws-on-a-plate behavior and then experimenting with how to best position myself and the plate to provide a sit-up target for Chai. Since I’m too tired to edit all 8 videos, I’ll show you one of our recap videos and a small sit-up compilation. The last one is the one I’m submitting to Silvia Trkman1 for feedback – this is one of the tricks on their list!

Recap: 2 front paws on a plate

Sit up compilation

I like how Chai is did and I believe I’ve found a good angle for her to put up her paws by the end of this compilation. In the last rep, she was great. I, on the other side, forgot to mark. It happens! It doesn’t matter. We are having fun!

August 23, 2023

It’s our second day working on the sit-up behavior! We had five short sessions over the course of the morning. Below a compilation of the last ones with my thoughts in the subtitles!

August 28, 2023

Sessions 1 & 2

I waited for Sylvia’s feedback about what position in my video was the best before progressing to session 3. It’s at 01:55 in the video below! A 90° angle to the floor. I need to feed a little back and up to prevent Chai from leaning.

Sessions 3-5

It’s hard for me to see whether Chai’s back is straight (that elusive 90° angle I can only make out when reviewing videos). The mirror doesn’t help (I need to find a better position for it). Maybe a back rest will make a difference?

Silvia’s feedback on my couch session:

Last try was really good, but seems that this was harder because of the soft surface under her, so I would go back to what you did in the previous video. You should be able to feel how much weight she is putting on a plate to know how good her position is.

I’m curious about Silvia’s feedback regarding Chai’s wandering butt!

August 30, 2023

Silvia’s feedback:

You can set her so there is a wall behind her to prevent shuffling. […] It’s also about strength […], so maybe she is leaning so much because she has to – and shuffling because it’s too hard. So do let her lean a lot if she needs to, avoid too many repetitions […] and just give her the time she needs to build the strength needed.”

So today, we had a single session in the morning with the wall behind Chai’s back. I might have one more – equally short – tonight. In any case, going forwards, I’ll do two short 1-rep sessions/day at the most with this trick.

August 31, 2023

Another sit-up with a wall behind Chai’s back!

This time, Chai was so close to the wall that she was leaning against it. I paid attention to my mechanics and stuck to the session profile I decided on. I’m happy with this session!

Silvia’s feedback:

I would do a couple of sessions more like this and then fade the wall when you feel it’s getting really easy for her.

So that’s the plan! I did another session the next day – September 1 – but won’t add the video since it doesn’t show much new.

September 4, 2023

I videoed again and asked Silvia whether what I’m seeing in the clip below is what they are referring to as an “ugly sit”:

Silvia explained in their response that a good sit up requires the lower back legs of the dog to face straight forward. Chai usually doesn’t do that but has them angled to both sides (that is indeed what Silvia calls an “ugly sit.” Here is Silvia’s latest feedback on my last video (which I didn’t share on the blog because I didn’t have time):

“Yes, this was definitely ugly sit all along. I think she has learned she can use the wall [we’ve used the wall as a back support] best if sitting that way, so I would rather move away from the wall – it’s better if she leans forward as sitting like this. You can get a straight sit by having her sit on a narrow block. You can also use very low front feet support at first – that will of course put lots of weight on front feet, but as I said, that’s still better as an ugly sit. To see it in real time, look at her feet and make sure her feet are parallel and directly under her.”

September 6, 2023

I’m not a fan of the word ugly, but I like the idea of using a sit platform the narrowness of which requires Chai to keep her lower legs parallel and facing straight ahead. I just have to find something I can use as a platform. I haven’t yet, so today’s video is simply one that doesn’t use the wall for support. In this video, I am paying attention to Chai’s back leg position when sitting and before the sit up. And I notice that she seems to generally sit with her legs angled sideways (which then just stay that way when she sits up). I’m curious what Silvia has to say!

Silvia’s feedback on my September 6 video:

You were seeing it correctly and on those two tries the sit was definitely good enough to ask for the sit up. Her form was much better here as in the last two videos, so I would continue like this until you get a narrow block for her to sit on. Her sit could indeed still be better, but somewhat east-west like here is still acceptable. When her weight is on her butt and her paws are not weighted at all, then it gets bad though – but you didn’t get any of these here, so that’s good!

Silvia also confirmed that the reason we want straight back legs is fitness-related: certain muscles will only be trained if the dog sits in this way (sitting up that way is harder than sitting with the legs to the side or on their butt. I appreciate the little gems of physiotherapy and fitness I’ve been picking up in Silvia’s class!)

September 8, 2023

My comment to go along with this video: “I can’t tell if Chai is sitting on her butt or not! Is she, and if so/if not: how can you tell?”

Silvia’s response:

Looks good! To see the difference, compare this to the videos where I said she is sitting on her butt and try to see the difference.

I need to make time to train my eyes!

I also realized that I can use one of my little crates as a sit platform for this exercise and shaped a sit on the crate in a separate session today:

Silvia’s feedback:

September 11, 2023: another sit-up on the floor session, no wall

My sit-on-the-crate behavior isn’t yet ready to be integrated into the sit up trick … too much hiking and fun with dog friends has been getting in the way! Instead, I took another stab at sitting up on the floor, no wall. I feel like Chai’s legs are less sideways than they used to be – but I’m not sure whether this is actually happening or just wishful thinking on my part! Question for Silvia along with the video below that I just submitted: Do you see us making progress with this trick or are we plateauing?

Notes for the next session:

+ Wait for Silvia’s feedback.
+ Independently of that, shape the sit on the crate even when I’m kneeling right in front of the crate! She can do it when I stand but hasn’t generalized it to me being on the floor.

September 12, 2023: more sit-ups on the floor

Silvia’s feedback on yesterday’s video:

“Looks good! Definitely making progress yes, so you can continue like this with the sit up. I would still do sit on a box as well and soon also some sit up to stand up, but with support under her front feet (like a box at first and a chair later on) of course.”

I’ll have to re-read Silvia’s lessons and/or re-watch the Silvia’s puppy diary video to see how they go from sit up to stand up. I thought the next step would be sitting up freely – without the plate as support. I’ll investigate!

In any case, as for today, I’m having a session like yesterday (on the floor) and will allow myself the luxury of not videoing (I am SO tired of editing more than I train!)

I have trained free duration stand ups, but I haven’t trained a sit pretty before (I just always thought standing on the back legs was cooler). It’s wild to realize that sit pretty is in fact more difficult – at least for Chai as a learner and for me as a trainer!

  1. This class just started again and you can still sign up for it. If you’re into tricks and/or have a puppy – check it out! I want to give a shout-out to Silvia for being such a kind human being and a generous trainer. The world needs more people like them! ↩︎