+ Chai and I started the day with a round of tugging on the bed and then had a tug-and-flirt-pole session on the roof. (See this post for a video.)
+ We had our first session explaining the imaginary line (LLW)1 to Chai!
+ I took Game and Chai to our favorite park and park-officed from there while the dogs enjoyed free time at the park. I love working outdoors and Mexico City’s free wifi is decent here!
Bougainvillea season. I love the color. Stop and take a moment to look up at a tree. Beauty lives in small moments like this.
For the first time e-ver, I used Chai’s informal pup-pup-pup recall cue to call her out of a social interaction with a new dog (at a moment she was about to take a break anyways), and sent her back to socialize some more as a reinforcer. She did GREAT! I’m so proud of her! I then tried her formal recall cue as well and she rocked that one too.
+ “Claws!” and + “Brush!”
Chai enjoyed Zane’s company in the evening. He is quickly turning into a human she is excited to see! I love seeing her circle of friends expand.
(1) If you’re not familiar with the invisible line concept – click here for info about my December class and a micro e-book on different LLW approaches.
Game, Chai and I spent a big chunk of the day with Zane (the friend who’s staying with us) at Chapultepec. First things first, of course: weekend madness at the swimming spot! I’ve not taken Chai here on the weekend before (only during the week). Today, she got to play with the big dogs! She fell into the water and swam twice (totally unfazed) and had fun playing with one of the other dogs. (The stuff you hear me say in this clip is directed at my friend or at Game.)
Once the dogs were tired, we hung out in the shade and recorded a semi-spontaneous podcast episode about being foreigners who used to live in Guatemala and then moved to Mexico, The Pandemic, Guanajuato, San Cristobal, social anxiety, the walk- and bikeability of Mexico City, worker co-ops and the search for community.
… and then we got food to recharge while lazing around in the shade some more!
In the late afternoon, both dogs stayed home alone while I went to a drag story hour with friends. They read My Shadow Is Pink by Scott Stewart. The book – at least in its Spanish translation – is lovely and so cute that I just ordered the German edition to an Austrian friend’s house so she can read it to her kids). It was great to see kids running around and having fun and their parents having a good time as well – especially thinking of the politization of drag story hours in the US (are you ever going to get your shit together, US?) What a contrast to see folks come together and have a good time!
We all went back to my place after – Chai got to see two of our human friends and got loved on quite a bit! – and then walked to my friends’ place with Game, leaving Chai to stay home alone. She was being a very good girl and had no complaints about sitting this one out. Game enjoyed her only-dog privilege for the duration of our meanderings.
A sign we passed on the walk to my friends’ place.
June 4, 2023: dog training and all the little things around the neighborhood
+ We worked on tug on the bed with the fleece tug and on the roof with the flirt pole.
+ I added a verbal cue to Chai’s hand touch (inside the house).
+ Game, Chai and I went to our favorite park in the next neighborhood over. Chai and I played recall games: obstacle recalls and flying cookie recalls! This park has a fun playground that is perfect for obstacle fun.
Obstacle recalls! Just the right level of challenge for a brave little Border Collie and her human:
+ Chai asked to go into the dog park again, so we did and after feeling overwhelmed for half a minute, she confidently played with a Whippet named Dalí.
+ I did some informal recalls in the fenced dog park and then we headed out again and Chai spent 10 minutes just hanging out around the kids at the open children’s playground, interspersed with more informal recalls and obstacle games.
Game is posing on a concrete hippo. In the right picture, you can see all the kids in the background!
+ We walked past a giant phallic yellow blow-up thing (some sort of ad) twice. By the second time, Chai thought it was probably alright rather than out to get her. Go puppy!
+ We worked on giving in to collar pressure for the first time (I haven’t put a collar on Chai at all so far, but will be working through the “invisible line” method for loose leash walking along with my Out and About students this term.) We had two sessions, and by the second one, she responded every time before I brought out a treat lure. That’s our cue to take things to a new environment! (Videos in the LLW leash pressure foundations post.)
Someone’s tired from all her leash pressure work! (Watch out, Chai! Is that a shark behind you?)
+ We social-played and practiced recalls at the park.
+ Chai spent some more time getting to know and snuggle-play with Zane.
+ Game realized she can stand on the window sill! I am going to have to tether her when I leave – I don’t want her to jump out one day. I trust her sense of balance but not her sense of self preservation. We’re on the 2nd floor and it’s JUST high enough that she might think she can make it and break a bunch of bones.
Nothing to see here! Just a Mal on a window sill!
+ Both dogs did a lovely job waiting for me outside the Santa Clara store while I got ice cream to go for dessert (or dinner. I can’t remember, but I think I shared with my friend rather than finishing it all myself! In any case, let’s pretend that’s what happened!)
Game is practicing her sit/stay; Chai is tethered.
In everybody pees news
When I was home and had the bathroom door open, Chai peed once in the shower and once in the living room. The bathroom-or-outdoors habit isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be yet … but we haven’t been here very long either.
Day 57, 2023 – June 2, 2023: Chai’s first mall adventure!
+ Chai went on a morning and evening walk together with Game and didn’t even need her big sister as a role-model to pee outside at night (all other pees happened in the shower today).
We went to a dog-friendly indoors mall where my adventure dogs walked among people and rode the glass elevator three times (Chai confidently rode the elevator with Game – her bad elevator feelings from the Coyoacán elevator have not generalized!) and joined me at the bank. Cha has not been to a mall before and was being a superstar! She is on the retractable leash (a long line would work just as well) to give her as much of a “freely exploring” experience as possible without getting kicked out by taking off the leash.
While leash walking is important, feeling confident and being able to show exploratory behavior in new kinds of spaces (large, busy, indoors) is even more important to me. It also gives me a better idea of who Chai is than a shorter leash would because it allows for more agency: does she need me as a crutch and can’t take her eyes off of me in order to not have to look at all the stimuli around us? Does she forget about my existance altogether and just try and go off on her own?
Left: beauty in strange places. Right: stopping for a snack on the way to the mall.
If you need help with toy play or know how to teach toy play but are looking for fun, community and accountability, hop into that class! Here’s a link where you should be able to find whenever it runs next (as well as Shade’s other classes – 10/10 would recommend anything she teaches!)
So this post is about Chai’s tug toy journey with Shade. We took the class in June 2023 so I’d keep up my own motivation and have accountability.
Since Chai already knows fetch games, I decided to focus on tugging – something I haven’t done with her at all. I’ll share all of my class videos, but if you want to know more details about how they came to be, what lecture they are based on or why Shade recommended what, you’ll have to check out the class yourself!
How to make sense of this post:
When there is text to go with my videos, it’s part of my class posts from June and partly thoughts I’m adding now. I sometimes copy/pasted my class posts into my video description which I can now (now being September 11, several months after the class) go back to and copy/paste into this blog post! When I ask questions or use the word “you”1 in the text that goes with a particular video, I’m addressing Shade. When I use the name “Shade,” I either added this thought today or changed the “you” from the original post to “Shade” because the name sounded better to me in a particular sentence or context.
June 1, 2023: tug baseline
Note: I have never played tug with Chai before (it didn’t seem a priority behavior for a foster dog who might go to a companion home). In this video, I’m just seeing what she thinks about various tug toy options, most of which are new to her.
I’ll have to bring down my own arousal for her next time! I can tell that Chai is not used to my Malinois toy play state of mind! It is fun how different she is from Phoebe, Grit and Game who all latched on to anything they were presented with and didn’t let go from the start!
June 3, 2023: a flirt pole and a fleece tug for Chai!
I am writing this post 3 months after the fact, so I hope to get things right – I believe this was my second class video. I made a flirt pole to engage Chai with a fleece tug. Unfortunately, Game’s mat was harmed in the making of this fleece tug: I braided two identical onces and cut up Game’s fleece mat for it.
In any case, we’re getting some lovely chasing and tentative tugging on this toy! It’s soft (perfect for teething puppies), it runs away, and the distance between me and the fleece tug that is created by the flirt pole (a broom stick and a strong – I usually make my own flirt poles) reduces pressure from my side. I’m happy with this first flirt pole session!
June 5, 2023: playing with the fleece tug on my bed and with the flirt pole on the roof
Clips from 2 short sessions. My Observations:
+ Chai will occasionally target my hands rather than the toy (that only happened when playing on the bed). + It is very easy to (accidentally) pull the toy out of her mouth. Is that okay because it will teach her to clamp down more should I be more careful so it doesn’t happen?
I have my own answers to questions like this last one, but enjoy very much following an experienced trainer’s advice. I do not remember Shade’s response but I’m pretty sure what I ended up doing is starting gently so Chai is unlikely to constantly loose the toy, but making it run away immediately and harder to catch anytime she did let go or I accidentally pulled it out of her mouth: critters don’t sit around waiting to be eaten by predators but will use any opportunity to escape!
June 6, 2023: Chai’s second time playing with the flirt pole and tugging on the roof!
I aimed for gentle, steady pulling (not jerky). What should I do when I have let her win and she’s shaking it dead, like at 00:12-00:18 in the video below? I kept the flirt pole string loose and just admired her strength this time.
At 00:20 she was holding it and lying down on it, so I got the second identical fleece tug out to get her off the one on the flirt pole without conflict. Then I reactivated the flirt pole.
At 00:34/35 I was about to let her win after steady pressure for 2 seconds, and right then I accidentally pulled it out of her mouth again. Ooops! Sorry, Chai!
01:28 in the very end: “Treats” is my scatter cue and how I end the session and get the toys back.
June 7, 2023: playing with the fleece tugs on the bed (my non-slip indoors surface) for the second time
A compilation of this morning’s best bed tug moments. It’s fun to work with someone so different from the Mals and GSDs I’ve mostly played with over the last few years! (I’ve also played with a ferociously tugging Border Collie, Mick, whose personality is quite different from Chai’s, and a ferociously tugging pug!) There must have been plenty of others, but these are the ones I actively and personally worked with a lot and had the most fun with!
Even in personal play, Chai is being really gentle. I’m used to blood, bruises, torn clothes, dog-head-hooks to the chin and battle scars from social play! (I love roughhousing – it’s only partly the dogs. And yes, I exaggerate!) It is only toys and humans Chai is gentle with though. When she plays with Game or crunches down on a plastic bottle, she crushes those sharky teeth right in!
June 8, 2023: playing with fleece tugs on the roof without a flirt pole!
Chai is pulling back VERY gently (I am saying that from a crazy Phoebe-Poodle/Mal baseline) – I just make it look as if she was pulling strongly. In the second rep, she caught the tug too fast for me to get a chance to present a good striking target. Otherwise, we’re having a great time!
June 11, 2023: tug attempts on the roof as well as on the bed – a comparison
Our tug attempt on the roof did not go as well this morning. Chai lay down and never brought the toy back, so I ended quickly. (It’s warmer than usual and she has had play time with Game before – tomorrow morning, I’ll try roof play before any of this and play earlier in the day.)
Or did I overdo it this time and tugged too long rather than making it too easy? (Shade has suggested I make things a little more difficult for Chai.)
We took a second stab at tugging in the apartment. My floor is not an ideal tugging surface because it is slippery, but I know Chai gravitates to the bed – so I wanted to see what would happen if I tugged her off the bed and then ran away back TO the bed. She brought the toy back all the way every time. It’s about the bed I suspect, not me, because the bed is the best place to chew on something … Hrmmm …
June 12, 2023: another roof tug session
This session was right after getting up with a puppy full of energy and okay temperatures (it’s been really hot during the day but mornings are okay).
In this session, Chai brought the toy part of the way back once, about two thirds into the session.
What do you think about bringing out toy #2 when I can’t convince her to bring back toy #1 (like 00:20/21)? I can’t ask her, but I get the impression that she prefers tugging with me over chewing a toy on the floor – but she has not figured out that bringing back the tug is a part of that game …
What happens most of the time is that I try to encourage her after running away, and she then comes running but forgets the toy (see 00:41-00:43). I then ask her where her toy is, and she goes back to the toy and looks at me expectantly or lies down again to chew (00:47-00:49).
The last part of the clip (00:50-00:59) is the one time in this session she brought the toy partially with her when I encouraged her to come. I can’t tell if I did something differently in this rep than in the other ones or if it was a coincidence.
We’ve also had a session on the bed, and Chai continues predictably gravitating back to it when I’m on it. I’m flashing my hands in target-them-with-the-toy position. She does not target yet but runs towards me/my hands (because I’m on the bed).
Should I keep practicing in both locations or modify something?
June 13, 2023: a blanket target on the roof!
Shade had the great idea to use a blanket as a “target” to run towards on the roof – a stand-in for the bed. It worked like a charm every single time I ran to the blanket. (It’s clearly the blanket, not me. When I tried running somewhere else, she’d still go to the blanket.)
I have a second identical blanket – should I stick to one or try with two?
June 14, 2023: our second session with a blanket target on the roof.
“In order to transfer off the mat, we need to have physical signals (hands to target and frontal body position) that happen before she sees the mat.”
Good point, that makes a lot of sense! In today’s session, I only got the head thrashing movement once. In general, she is letting me lead her more with the toy now that I’m pulling more strongly – rather than pulling back, she’ll often walk with me with her mouth on the toy. I’ve been grabbing the toy to continue tugging as soon as she reaches the mat. I wonder if that’s not the best strategy. Should I only put my hands on the toy when she lets go of it – even if I’ve flashed my target hands at her before? The reason I wonder is that in the last rep of today’s session, she lay down off the mat (right next to it) with the toy rather than coming all the way back to me and the mat. I ended there with a scatter to get Shade’s opinion before I continue.
This was part 1 of our work in Shade’s class (our first 10 videos)! I’ll share the second part soon and link to it here when I do.
(1) In this particular post, “you” never refers to “you, the reader.”
Day 53 – May 29, 2023: moving day and settling in!
We started with a morning walk & pee with Game at Las Islas. I then took care of moving stuff while Game and Chai stayed home alone at our old place in Coyoacán for about 2 hours.
We then made our way to our new and more central stomping grounds together. Most of my friends now live within walking distance, which is AWESOME!
The three of us explored the new neighborhood together.
Left:Game found the couch!Right: I love that I don’t own a lot of shit. Moving is easy when everything you own fits in a suitcase and a backpack!Well, I guess technically now I have a mattress and a couch as well. Sigh.I am NOT a fan of owning things that size.
All is well now that we’ve unpacked and made our new space comfy: Game has settled in on the bed and Chai on the couch!
A new environment; it’s dark outside … and Chai is unfazed by strangers climbing through the window!
The Internet-install-service people showed up at night – and wow, Chai was totally unfazed when they climbed in through the window! I love it!
Strangers climbing through windows? Shrug.
After there finally was Internet, I only had time to quickly grab some pastries from a fresa bakery nearby. Yummy but overpriced – that fact aside, they have a GREAT comic on their wall. Read it from right to left:
Read from right to left. This is the artist’s Instagram with more of their work!
Game, Chai and I went on a night walk together to wrap up the day and do some more neighborhood exploring. First impression: very walkable! I like!
In everybody pees news
I want to teach Chai (who is not housetrained yet) to only go in the shower in the new place as well. So far, we had one pee in the living room which I interrupted by picking her up and putting her down in the shower. She finished there. Which brings us to our first shower training tally:
Living room: 0.5 Shower: 0.5
All other pees happened outside, prompted by Game. For now, Chai will sleep in the bathroom AKA her luxury kennel and I won’t be counting her overnight pees in my tally.
Day 54 – May 30, 2023: our first full day at the new place!
Chai went on a morning walk with Game and then on an adventure to one of the parks in the next neighborhood over (less fresa aka posh; more our vibe). Chai wanted to go into the dog park, so we did – but we left quickly because it was a bit overwhelming for little Border Collies. However, we had two excellent encounters with off leash dogs and Chai on a retractable leash1 right after!
Doing well meeting nice off-leash dogs in the street!
We also went to two corner stores to pick up the basics (such as toilet paper). Chai and Game waited outside both of them without complaining!
Good dogs waiting for me out of sight outside a convenience store!
Chai and Game stayed home alone in the afternoon, and later got to play with a visiting dog friend. Chai also did great staying in the bathroom while I had visitors: countering FOMO since 2023! I’m proud of her for not always needing to be part of the action.
In everybody pees news
Today’s everybody-pees tally for when I was home with the bathroom door open:
+ Shower pees: 2 + Living room: 0
(Is it possible that she is learning THIS fast?!)
(1) Why is Chai wearing a retractable leash? Because I’m experimenting with it (it’s been a while since I last used one) and Chris gave me his to play around with – thank you! So far, I’d say it works quite well and I like it a lot better than the old Flexi leashes that had a string that could cut you rather than a leash-leash like this one.
Chai went to bed a puppy last night – and today, she woke up a juvenile dog! It’s like she made this big developmental leap overnight. She still looks the same, but she has 3 times the need to move her body, is pulling more than she has over the last weeks and her independence out and about (her radius around me) has grown – literally from one day to the next! Good morning, adolescence! Let’s see what you’ve got in store for us!
Counting from her fictional birthday, Chai is 5 months and 9 days old today – adolescence is right on time!
Morning walk and a first: waiting outside of stores!
Chai and Game both came on a little morning walk. For the first time, I had them both wait in front of a small supermarket. (Game is used to doing this but it was Chai’s first time.) I picked a quietish place I could watch her through the window and consciously decided that Game would be waiting with her to ease her into the concept of waiting outside stores with me out of sight. I also made sure the wait was very brief – maybe 3 minutes. Chai did great!
Sidenote: waiting outside stores – why do C’s dogs do this?
In the afternoon, Chai, Game and I went to Las Islas. It’ll be one of the last times Las Islas are our regular stomping grounds since we’re about to mo-ove! There was a lot going on today since it was a Sunday. A group of people practiced a dance. I encouraged Chai to come up and see their dresses swinging (see video below). Chai also found a mango (which she loved) and Game taught her to chase her first squirrels.
I love how well Chai is able to switch her attention between different stimuli (as shown in the video above). I know a fair number of Border Collies who have a really hard time doing this. Shepherds/sports trainers will often call this “stickiness.” The term alludes to the dog getting “stuck” in one part of the herding motor sequence – usually eye-stalk. This can happen in dogs working sheep (they crouch or lie down and stare – eye-stalk – intensely but the shepherd can’t get them to move) as well as in other contexts: dogs who get stuck BC-style stalking rather than fetching a ball or dogs who can’t stop herding other dogs (often other household dogs).
Stickiness tends to show itself in puppyhood or adolescence, and it doesn’t usually just go away. It is not a “behavior problem” – the dog who, for example, herds other household dogs may not be able to hear you call them out of the behavior. It’s not that the dog doesn’t “want” to follow your cues, but they literally cannot hear you. The only sensory input that gets through to them is the movement of the dog being herded. (This is my layperson’s understanding of it anyways.) As long as the dog is able to move rather than getting stuck in a down/crouch, they may make excellent independent herding dogs (working off the sheep rather than the handler), but not necessarily ideal sports dogs.
Similarly common is the opposite challenge in Border Collies: they cannot filter out one stimulus to focus on. They get overwhelmed easily because they are being blasted with all the sensory input all at once and all of the time. It is heartbreaking to see this in my student dogs who live in urban spaces: busy cities are not a good fit for dogs who cannot stop taking everything in all at once. The same dogs may, however, make excellent herding dogs in rural areas (while stationarily sticky dogs are not what working dog breeders select for).
Chai does not seem to struggle with either of the above challenges, which is great! That said, she is still growing up – things may change. In any case, right now, we’re good.
After lots of dog encunters, we run into a puppy Chai’s age: Nenet. The two started playing and had A LOT of fun! I was happy Chai had the opportunity to get out all that need to move and run, wrestle and roughhouse!
I’m showing you the video below because it’s cute and has (as necessitated by dog play) great background music! Yes, I just said there would be few or no videos in the daily reports unless they were very general (like the video above) … but since I haven’t published the “play” category yet, here is today’s video. Enjoy! And let me know if you’ve lost, found or are still looking for your inner puppy – that’s what the comments are for!
A cohete win
On the way home, we heard a firecracker! And for the very first time, rather than looking insecure, Chai immediately turned to me with her “Where’s my treat?” face! The last two days of following each firecracker up with food are paying off and I love it!
(1) I believe sensory gating is the correct term but I am not an expert and may well be wrong. If it isn’t the right term, please let me know and be kind as you do so! As by Wikipedia, accessed on September 7, 2023, “Sensory gating describes neural processes of filtering out redundant or irrelevant stimuli from all possible environmental stimuli reaching the brain. Also referred to as gating or filtering, sensory gating prevents an overload of information in the higher cortical centers of the brain.”
As a 9.5 months old adolescent, Game thinks the world is very interesting. So many things to explore, to sniff, to look at or roll in! People to greet, and dogs to play with!
I don’t want to correct my dogs for lack of attention – but I do want them to give me 100% when we’re working: we’re either off duty, or we’re ON. And on means ON in a the-world-around-us-ceases-to-exist kind of way; only me and my dog and whatever it is we are doing together. That’s the kind of attention I give to my dog when we work or play, and that’s the kind of attention I want in return. No halfhearted checking in with me and then going back to sniffing the ground in between reps!
With a puppy, it’s easy to overwhelm the environment with food or toys. As the dog gets older and more independent, this gets more difficult. Eventually, it won’t work anymore unless you have a naturally handler-focused dog (Phoebe is an example of a dog like this). This is the point where people will often add corrections to the picture: work with me – get rewarded. Lose focus – receive a correction. This works well enough, but I don’t want to train this way. It doesn’t seem fair: what I’m asking of my dog isn’t “natural.” Tuck-Sitting, heeling, fold-back-downing, retrieving stuff on cue while ignoring all environmental temptations … It’s not our dogs who want to perform perfect heeling patterns; it’s us – the human on the other end of the leash. Correcting a dog for being interested in something that is inherently more interesting to dogs – like looking at the cat walking past the training field or sniffing – doesn’t seem fair to me.
I still want that perfect state of ONness, focus, and engagement though. So I need a different strategy – one that relies neither on corrections nor on overwhelming the environment with my rewards!
Game finds the environment very interesting. I could already tell she was environmentally focused when I got her at 10 weeks of age. Even when she was a puppy, I made an effort to not overwhelm the environment with my reinforcers, but wait till she asked to work or play. Game is a working-line Malinois. Enjoying work is in her genes, so I didn’t doubt that I would get what I wanted if I was just patient and set her up for success.
At 9.5 months of age, Game’s environmental tendencies have been flaring up again. (As they should – any decent adolescent will challenge their human to be creative and become a better handler.)
Game is highly confident, highly social, nose driven, and interested in everything and everyone. Of course, that makes the world pretty exciting, and working away from home comparatively boring! Here’s what I’ve been doing.
I imagine a square or circle of 6 to 10 meters in diameter. That’s the area Game will get to explore on leash.
I set my timer to 15 minutes. If after 15 minutes of acclimating, Game hasn’t asked me to work, I’ll end the session, and put her back in the car.
I walk her into my imaginary square or circle, and keep walking her around this area. I want to give her an opportunity to sniff to her heart’s content, to look around, to move her body. If she pulls on the leash, I’ll stop, and if she is about to step out of my imaginary square or circle, I’ll stop her with the help of the leash. The reason I’m walking is that I know if I stood still or sat, Game would engage me before she was ready. Sitting used to work very well when she was a puppy, but now that she’s a little older, I’ve found walking her around to be the better strategy. Otherwise, she will ask for work too soon, and likely disengage during work. In order to avoid this, we stay in motion.
There are two ways Game can ask me to work: she can sit and look at me, or she can make eye contact while walking and keep up her eye contact for at least 4 steps. The moment she does one of these two things, the game is ON, and we start our ritual.
The Structure of Our Engagement/Play/Work Sessions Away from Home
Our current ritual is personal play (play without food or toys) – food play/training – toy play/training – food play/training – toy play/training – trade the toy for food (cue: “Let’s trade!”) – end the session. From the moment Game asks to work by sitting or making eye contact for 4 seconds until the moment I end the session, I expect 100% of her attention. I make sure I set her up for success by keeping the length of our sessions realistic. If I were in a cooler climate, I’d probably use whatever remained of the 15 minutes my timer was set to for play and training. That way, the sooner my dog asked to work, the longer the fun part would be. Here, in the hot and humid Thai summer, I end the session after a few minutes. Especially when playing tug, I’ll be all sweaty and tired after just a few minutes! Even if Game could keep having fun, I wouldn’t be able to keep up much longer.
For now, I keep all “Ask to work” sessions separate from walks, hikes, and exploration/just-be-a-dog field trips. I want it to be as clear as possible that during an “Ask for work!” session, there are only two options: walk around in a boring square or circle, or work and play and have fun with me. If I want to take Game on an off-leash walk in the same area I want to work, I’ll just put her back in the car for a few minutes in between the work and the leisure part of our field trip.
This is what it looks like at the agility field. Behind my camera, there’s a guy watching us and a dog in a crate – further distractions!
Can you see the difference between the acclimation part and the “Ask to Work!” part? Both last approximately 4 minutes. Game hardly ever looks at me during acclimation, and she never takes her attention off me while we are working/playing. I gave her the time she needed – and when she was ready, she was all in!
In more exciting places, there will be times at first when we acclimate for 15 minutes and then go back home. That’s okay. With an adolescent, being out in public is not really about what I train or work on. It’s all about shaping the mindset I want! I won’t accept any less than 100% engagement, and it’s up to Game to decide that she’s ready to give me these 100%. I am laying the foundation for a dog who will love to work in public later in life. Right now, it is secondary whether we actually get any “work” done or not.
Here is a session at the parking lot of a big supermarket. Note how quickly Game asks me to work! (Ugh, I’m not wearing the right pants for putting the toys back into my pocket, which is a little annoying and interrupts the flow of our session.) We’ve been at this parking lot three times in the last three weeks or so. The first time, Game acclimated for 15 minutes without looking at me at all, and then we went back home. The second time, she acclimated for about six or seven minutes, and then we had a perfect play session. This time, acclimation only takes 17 seconds before Game starts pushing me to work by means of initiating enthusiastic personal play!
Tesco Parking Lot Sam Phran; Game almost 10 months:
This is huge and really good. However, there are two tiny lapses of attention in this 4-minute play and training session. They are small, but they are there (can you spot them?). I’ll try especially hard to not have any lapses of attention the next time we go there!
Here’s the play-by-play:
00:38 Out of the personal play, I ask for a sit and reward with toy play. The sit leads us into the first toy play section. 00:49 “Switch!” (one of the reinforcement/toy play protocols we’re working on) 01:00 Switch! 01:13: Aus! (Out cue, rewarded with food.) Now we’re entering the first food play/training portion of our session. 01:33 Game struggles with her fold-back downs in this environment and in this arousal state. That’s okay – it’s information that I need to work on this some more. 01:57-02:05 I cue “Platz!” (down), reward with food in position (marker cue “Good!”), and then reward with a game of tug (marker cue “Tug!”). This leads us into the second toy play/training part of today’s session. Note that it’s always important to me that Game voluntarily brings back the toy, and pushes it into me. I want her to insist on playing – never the other way round! 00:53 Out cue, automatic sit, food as a reinforcer … And we’re in the second food play/training part of our session. 02:47-03:51 Down cue rewarded with food in position (marker cue “Good!”); staying down gets rewarded by a throw of the tug toy (marker cue “Chase!”). We’re back in the last toy play part of the session. 04:27 “Let’s trade!” followed by food sprinkled on the ground. This is our end ritual.
Training notes to self – pay special attention to the following things next time:
Wear pants or jacket where it’s quick and easy to hide the toys during food play parts of the session.
Make sure Game acclimates for at least 30 seconds – this may avoid the tiny lapses of attention during work.
Make sure there’s no obstacle behind her when asking for a down – it might make it harder for her.
Well, what should a puppy learn in his first year? You’ll probably get as many answers as you ask trainers and handlers, and there is no single right answer to this question. With every new puppy I meet, my own philosophy gets further refined, and as science discovers new truths about the development of animals, my ideas change, sometimes subtly, and sometimes radically. Let me share the puppy and young dog training answer I’d give you today.
I believe that every dog is an individual, and the amount of exercise and action needed on the one, and relaxation needed on the other hand varies from dog to dog. I also believe there are general things that are true for most puppies of a certain breed, and there are other things that are true for most puppies of any breed whatsoever – and there are also things that differ from dog to dog, from one individual to the next. The things I’m going to focus on today are the ones that I consider important for every puppy and young dog, no matter whether big or small, working or toy group.
The first level – a foundation for behavioral health.
A dog should learn to be comfortable just “being in the world”.
1A. Being confident and curious around people (adults, children, quiet ones, running ones, people on bikes, skateboards etc.), and not startled by their touch.
1B. Being confident and curious around other dogs (off-leash and on-leash, big ones and small ones, calm ones and active ones etc.)
1C. Being able to relax at home even when not tired and exhausted.
1D. Being able to relax out in the world even when not tired and exhausted.
A dog should learn to be comfortable in his own skin.
These are the two single most important skills – everything else, in my opinion, is secondary. Everything else (from basic pet dog manners to dog sports skills) can be taught to adult dogs as well as to puppies. However, being comfortable and confident “just living” is something that should be taught during puppyhood – the longer you wait to socialize your dog, for example, the harder it will get.
The second level – greater life quality for the human & greater freedom for the dog.
The next important level increases the life quality for the human part of the team by means of making her dog easier to handle and an eager partner in crime, and the amount of freedom her four-legged partner can be allowed in a safe way: the more reliable your dog, the greater his freedom.
A dog should learn how to learn, and that learning is fun.
A dog should learn basic everyday skills:
4A. Peeing outside.
4B. Staying home alone.
4C. Walking on a loose leash.
4D. Coming when called.
4E. An appropriate way to greet people.
4F. An appropriate way to ask for attention.
4G. Riding the subway/wearing a muzzle/settling under a restaurant table/relaxing in a box if you’re planning to travel etc.
A dog should learn things related to the kind of husbandry he will have to experience on a regular basis. (Brushing, clipping, trimming, cutting nails, getting a bath etc.)
The third level – foundations for sports and work.
Then there is nothing for a really long time, and then we come to the specific skills you expect of your dog. These can, but don’t have to be started in the first year. If you start them later – no worries. Even adult dogs can learn to excel at them. If you have a scared or anxious puppy, don’t worry about these skills at all, but spend 90% of your training time on points 1 and 2, and 10% on points 3 to 5. However, if you have a confident, happy-go-lucky puppy, now is a good time to lay the foundations for the future:
If you want to do any kind of performance work, you’ll want to build numerous reinforcers (food, toys, personal play etc.)
If you want to do any kind of performance work, you’ll work on building value for attention and motivation to work with you in distracting environments.
If you want to do agility, you may want to work on general body awareness and rear-end awareness in particular.
If you want to do pet therapy work, you might place an extra strong focus on enriched environments and introducing your dog to small kids, people on crutches, wheelchairs etc.
If you want to do obedience, you’ll make sure to not only teach a rockback pet dog sit, but a separate clean tuck sit, not only a relaxed hip-bent down, but also a sphinx down with a separate cue etc. from the very start.
Things handlers should learn in the first year with their dog.
General canine needs – how much sleep, how much exercise, how much mental stimulation do dogs in general and your breed in particular tend to need?
Get to know your dog as an individual: what does he like? What doesn’t he like? What games does he enjoy, what’s his favorite food, what’s his favorite sleeping spot, his favorite spot to be petted?
Read your dog well in specific situations to predict and avoid stressful situations before they escalate. What does it mean if his body stiffens? If he wags slowly/fast? If he pricks his ears? What kinds of noises does he make, and what do they mean? etc.
How to train animals in a scientifically and ethically sound, force-free way.
… This is it for the handler, in my mind – and believe me, this is a lot for first-time dog owners – and even for experienced ones!
I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences in the comments – what has worked for you in your puppy’s first year, and what hasn’t worked? I also hope to find some time to post videos about Hadley’s first months and the skills he acquired in those days in the next days/weeks. I’ve taken what feels like a gadzillion videos, but haven’t found the time to edit, upload and share them yet!