Chaiary, day 16: kids, a new park for Chai and positions!

To continue in the spirit of yesterday’s kid encounter, I decided to go hang out at a playground with Chai today: maybe we’d find a few more kids to watch yell, run and play, and one or two to have positive interactions with!

We walked to the playground at Jardín Santiago Xicoténcatl in Álamos for this: a change of scenery from Parque Las Américas.

Mexico City has LOTS of great parks.
The dogs and I have yet to find one we don’t like!

We hung out at the quietish playground for a bit and mastered a scary playground staircase. Chai voluntarily approached and got fed by two kids at the playground, and by 6 adults around the park. We then also watched people playing soccer and field hockey, dribbling basketballs and working out (boxing; outdoors gym). So much to see! I’m really happy with how well Chai did today.

We ended the day with luring positions (sit, down, stand) with Chai’s dinner and a round of brushing. More power to the puppy!

Chaiary, day 15: more old and new friends, mats at cafés and a little husbandry

Today, we went back to Emi’s café to hang out for a while. Chai got to spend time with Emi, who has already become an friend, and his wife Rosie who I shared I co-working day with today. Rosie will hopefully also be one of Chai’s permanent friends.

I see socialization (of puppies to people) as a two-tierd approach:

  1. I want the dog to have neutral/positive feelings towards strangers. If a puppy starts out hyper-social, I will work on lowering those feelings to neutrality. If a puppy starts out a little hesitant or shy – like Chai did – I’ll make sure to create as many positive interactions as possible. The protocol for this – for Chai; it might look entirely different for a different dog! – is letting her approach a flat hand voluntarily (no food, no food smells). If she does – give the stranger food to feed from the flat hand; then move on – ideally without them touching her.

    This works with Chai because if a stranger doesn’t follow my instructions it won’t be a huge deal. If I had a puppy who panicked if things didn’t go perfectly or a dog who didn’t recover for the rest of the day when an encounter went sideways, I would NOT use random strangers and there might be no food at all.
  2. I want the dog to have a circle of friends that does not only include me. The reason I consider this important is that I want to be able to leave my dog with other people when I travel, or to have a friend come in and walk or feed the dog if I’m gone for the day. And I want the dog to feel good about this rather than deprived of me.

    This is something best built in puppyhood. If you give your dog a circle of friends in puppyhood, they tend to – in my experience anyways – be able to open up to new people as adults as well. Again, there are huge individual differences at play here as well. With some dogs, you get the circle-of-friends behavior for free. With others, you’ll have to work really hard. With others yet, you will never reach this goal despite your best efforts. As always: train the dog you have today, not the one you wish you had.

    Border Collies are sensitive and occasionally suspicious dogs, so I definitely want to invest a lot of socialization time in the ability to make friends – human and canine. So far, on Chai’s list of regular friends (who are not me), I plan to have 8 people – friends who are either dog trainers or dog lovers and who Chai and I have regular access to. I want to build out these relationships to the degree that I could leave Chai with any of them and she’d be happy.

    This is particularly important to me with Chai because I still plan on placing her – so I don’t want her to depend on me, the person Chrissi, but remain open to letting other folks into her inner circle.

Going to Emi’s café means working on both of the above: Emi and Rosie will hopefully be permanent friends of hers (tier 2), and hanging out at the sidewalk café for a few hours comes with lots of opportunities for (tier 1)!

In addition, we always practice mat work out here: once Chai is tired of the world, I’ll get out her mat, and she’ll naturally gravitate towards it and doze off: that’s how you set the stage for success:

If you want to work on a calm behavior (e.g. relaxing on a mat), wait until your dog’s curiosity and need to move are saturated. If you want to work on a high-energy behavior (such as toy play, recalls etc.), work with a dog who is well rested and chomping at the bit to get moving!

A circle of friends. Left: “Emi always has treats for me!” Middle and right: “I like you, Rosie! Let me climb all over you!”

Apart from Rosie and Emi (tier 2 – permanent friends!), we also worked on our approach-voluntarily-and-if-you-do-so-get-fed protocol with 7 strangers (tier 1 – neutral/positive feelings about strangers). Well – in fact, it was only 4 total strangers: people #1 and #2 were Mitsu and the person who owns the store next door, both of whom we see every time we go to Emi’s café. Person #3 was Hugo who was working in the street and stopped by for some Chai love – and who may end up in tier #2 rather than #1.

Of the remaining 4, one was a kid. I’m always particularly happy about this because kids tend to be more difficult than adults: they move erratically, they can be noisy and they are at a dog’s eye level. It’s easier for a dog to perceive a kid as a threat than an adult, and I want to make sure this does not happen for Chai. Who knows – maybe her future family will have kids, and their kids will have friends!

Here’s our co-working superstar, ready to rest on her mat after some excitement! Rosie is having té chai in her honor.

And the highlight of our coffee and co-working day, caught on camera: Chai was able to keep chilling on her mat in the presence of a strange dog who stopped for a drink and walked past! Go puppy!!!

Later today, we worked on brushing again – a behavior we currently get for free, but need to keep practicing in order to ensure it stays that way! I announce “Brush!” and then Chai gets brushed all over.

It is fascinating to me how different different dogs experience husbandry behaviors: some will really struggle with them. Others couldn’t care less. Chai tends to the latter side of the scale, and I want to keep her there.

Chaiary, day 13: stay home, grooming and charging Chai’s formal recall

After another exciting day, we stayed home again to practice chilling rather than being an athlete or adrenaline junkie! Chai got brushed all over and the nails on all four nails clipped (she’s such a good girl about this – I simply announce it and do it and Chai lets me). We also started charging her formal recall cue: “Schnee.”

Play and chill at home with Game.

Charging “Schnee” (this video may be from one of the subsequent days rather than from day 13 – we first started in the house):

Staying home also always means, of course, that we practice quite a lot of home-alone time: after all, Game gets her long walks even when Chai doesn’t.

Chaiary, day 14: Parque las Américas with Game, long line pressure practice, lots of play with Game and meeting and getting fed by 11 strangers!

Day 14 was on the more exciting side again: lots of confident dog encounters!

One thing I love about Mexico City is that it is so easy to encounter dogs of all sizes, shapes, ages and morphologies. From pugs to Great Danes to everything in between – you name it, we’ll meet it!

I beat my own record and roped charmed 11 strangers into allowing Chai to voluntarily approach and then feed her. AND she got to assist me for my first online class videos: giving in to leash pressure and long line handling!

As I mentioned in a previous post – I would not usually feed the behavior of hitting the end of a leash and then reorienting because smart dogs will learn to hit the end on purpose in order to earn a treat. I’m only doing this with Chai when out with Game every once in a while these days because I want this leash pressure response for her formal recall distraction set-ups (which we will get to in a bit). So here is the piece I do not recommend you replicate with your own dog:

On the other hand, what you see below is something I do recommend: these are my two favorite long-line handling ways that avoid rope burn or squished fingers/broken hands with strong dogs who might crash into the end of a long line. There are more methods out there and if you’ve already found what works for you and your dog – no need to change what you’re doing! On the other hand, if your hands keep getting injured by your dog – try the leash handling techniques from the video below! One of them may be the winner for you!

If you need more support to figure out your long line challenges, join us in Out and About! Gold spots are full, but you’ll get to work with a fantastic TA in the FB study group at Bronze!

Chaiary, Day 8: more Narvarte adventures

Good morning play: increasingly patient Malinois make excellent chew toys!

The next day – Chai’s 8th day with me – was the first time I took both dogs out together. This still isn’t what I’ll usually do – puppies and adult dogs in my house each get their own walks unless I don’t have time to take them separately. Today, I didn’t have time, so they both went out together in the morning. Walking together means the puppy loses out on one of the most important skills I want them to practice: seeing me leave the house with another dog and being fine. No problem for everyone to go out together every once in a while, but until the puppy is about a year old, I want it to be the exception rather than the rule: FOMO is a thing, and the time to avoid creating it is now.

Left: waiting for quesadillas con flor y queso. Middle: hanging out at the park while I eat. Right: adventures are tiring!

We headed to our usual spot: Parque Las Américas. Chai imitated Game – every time Game peed outside, so would Chai. An excellent idol to teach her that the place to do your business is outdoors!

Together with Game, Chai’s confidence was also bigger. She wanted to go everywhere Game went and trusted that what Game did was safe. Due to Game’s presence, we also got some leash pressure work in: if Game (off leash) went further than Chai’s 5 meter leash allowed, she would reach the end. I’d stop and wait for her to reorient, click and treat.

This is not how I teach loose leash walking (this is the fastest way of creating the behavior chain of pull-in-order-to-get-a-treat!), but it’s a great way to teach a puppy to give in to leash pressure rather than show opposition reflex. We’ll need this skill once we’re introducing distractions for Chai’s formal recall cue, “Schnee” (German for “Snow”).

Parque Las Américas in Narvarte

Today, the only treats Chai got out and about were for reorienting after reaching the end of the leash and, on the way back … from a new friend! We met Hugo, a street vendor who told us they loved Border Collies and had one as well as a Beagle at home. In fact, they had been dreaming of getting a second Border Collie … We spent quite a while talking to Hugo in the street, and Hugo fed, lured and scratched Chai under her chin. We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up sometime with Hugo and their BC to see how the two got along and for Hugo to get to know Chai better.

Chai has decided the funnest way to play with Game is to use her razor sharp puppy teeth:

Chaiary, day 7: cats, more friends and a new neighborhood


Day 7 came with a new adventure: two little walks in my friend Rachel’s busy neighborhood, meeting their cats (Chai wanted to play, but Layla said NO – which Chai, all waggy, did not understand), and two short car rides from Narvarte to Escandón and back. Chai also had the opportunity to make a new friend in Rachel. Ever expanding her circle of friends who aren’t just one-off people should help her grow up to be a trusting puppy who feels at home with visitors as well as visiting others.

A new human friend!

The cats were not impressed – but Chai thought they’d make excellent playmates!

… and of course, we played with Game! The better the two get to know each other, the more play there is.

Chaiary, day 6: coffee shop adventures

Today, we visited a friend at the café he works at! Emi will be one of Chai’s friends-friends – not just a person she meets once and then never again, but someone she’ll keep seeing. This is what I meant when I said I’d expand her circle of friends: I want her to both have friends-friends (not just me) as well as not mind strangers.

Visiting Emi’s café, we got two things: first, Chai made a new friend who kept interacting with her on and off throughout the hour or two we spent there. Second, she got to watch the world go by!

I asked Emi to greet Chai the way that has been working really well for her: offer her an open flat and. If she investigates and touches the hand, feed a few treats, also offering them from an open flat hand. This way, it is always Chai’s choice whether or not she wants to engage to the degree of coming up close to a new person: initially, they don’t have treats on them and there will be no food smells on their hand. After feeding a few treats in this way, it is again up to Chai whether she wants to further interact or take a break. We always want to avoid luring a dog up to something or someone they might find potentially scary.

Since this was Emi and Chai’s first encounter, this is how we started. They hit it off right away – and not only that: in the course of our time there, Chai had the same brief interactions with Mizu, a daily regular at the café, and the person who runs the store right next door. Here are a few snapshots:

Walking to the café (just a 5-minute walk from where we are staying).

Left to right: offered empty hand (no food, no food smells); Chai choosing to engage; Chai receives treats from Emi.

Left: watching the world go by at the café. Middle and right: it is entirely Chai’s choice if she wants to engage with Emi again/more.

Chai did great watching the world go by from the café. In the video below, she sees her first wheelchair, watches with interest … and then goes back to relaxing!

PS: Here’s this week’s podcast episode I recorded further into Chai’s socialization adventures!

Chaiary, day 5: market day!

Tuesdays are market days at Diagonal San Antonio! We used this opportunity to walk through as the vendors were just setting up shop in the morning.

A week later, the Tuesday after, we went back to this same market. You’ll see the remarkable difference in Chai’s confidence!

We also did – as we do most days – a little (or a lot of) shaping, drove a slightly longer (about 2 minutes while yesterday was about 1 minute) loop on an empty stomach (success! No throwing up or pooping!), spent some time in the car crate, and hung out at home with Game.

Crated and relaxed car puppy

Left: hard at work. Right: tongue-out Tuesday!

Chai day 4: MORE puppy socialization adventures!

Today Chai went to Parque las Américas and saw lots of people and dogs, heard new sounds, walked on different park surfaces and smelled new smells. Before we got there, we had this little encounter:

We then walked all the way to the park on our own four paws and saw and met, among others:

A person who followed my instructions about how to invite Chai to approach: not from above, but from below, being still and letting the dog take the first steps. I decided, after seeing Chai shy away from hands reaching for her a little more than I’d like to in the last two days, that I will make a point of having her meet people “the right way” every day. There is, of course, no one right way – you’ll have to look at the dog in front of you to find out what works for them. In Chai’s case, I opted for asking people to stand still and hold out their flat hand, palm facing up. If and only if Chai approaches, sniffs the hand and looks comfortable, I will then give the person a few pieces of kibble to hold in their other hand and feed them, one after the other, from their flat hand without touching Chai and holding the hand low enough so all four paws stay on the floor.

I would NOT start with food without having Chai opt in and approach voluntarily first, and if she was shyer than she is, I would not use food here at all. Food can backfire extremely easily if used as a lure to get an uncomfortable dog closer to a stimulus they are unsure about: they’ll take the treat and then realize they are WAY TOO CLOSE! With Chai’s level of people curiosity, it is really just the head reaching she has feelings about. And because she is cute, people will reach for her head. I am countering these experiences by means of providing positive ones in the way I described above. My instructions are simple and easy to follow, and they work well for Chai. In the case of my very first helper (random stranger from Costa Rica I met in the street), we chatted long enough that they actually ended up making friends with Chai and being able to scratch her chin:

We also saw a bakery bike!

… and several dogs …

We met another person who also ended up touching Chai on the side of her head – not something I encouraged, but she was okay.

We walked past an outdoors assembly of some kind and saw a person on a skateboard with a dog, a kid in a stroller and more dogs:

And the Chai and I rested in a (comparatively) quiet corner of the park and she posed serenely for a bit before we made our way back home.

How much is too much?

… you may be wondering. Didn’t Chrissi just get this puppy, who had been confined to her house and yard and a crate from 8 weeks to 3.5 months of age, literally three days ago?

Indeed, I did. And indeed, this would be too much for MANY Border Collie puppies with this (lack of) experience. It would have been too much for Hadley right after T got him and it would have been too much for Mick (and would still be too much for Mick today. Mick is a farm dog who wants exactly three things in life: sheep, a person to work sheep with, and zero other people). Hadley today, as an adult, would likely be okay in this environment – he’d just pull all over the place trying to sniff things, I suspect.

Is it too much for Chai? Am I flooding the poor puppy? No – at least I wouldn’t say that I am. But in order for this term to have any meaning at all, I need to first define it. “Flooding” is one of these buzzwords everyone uses slightly differently.

I just looked at the glossary of my 4 go-to behavior books, and it isn’t in any of them. That surprises me – but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe flooding is a term trainers borrowed from human psychology, or maybe it is simply a layperson’s word. Next stop: Google.

Bingo! I got lucky at the APA Dictionary of Psychology, which sounds like a decent source. Plus it matches my own definition of the term and the way I’ve been using it, which is reinforcing.

So – no, I have in fact not flooded Chai. She is not an anxious dog – just a curious one who lacks experience. I have not exposed her to a maximum-anxiety-producing situation or stimulus. (I would have on day 2 when I was just trying to get a feel for where we were in terms of exploratory behavior, fearfulness and resilience. Based on what I saw on day 2, I made choices for day 3, and based on what I saw on days 2 and 3, I made choices for day 4.

Because Chai is not an anxious puppy and her sensitive socialization window is rapidly closing, I want a lot of exposure to what is going to be normal in her world if she becomes a Mexico City dog. If she doesn’t become a Mexico City dog but finds a home somewhere else, all the experiences she is currently having won’t hurt either. For example if she goes on to be a sports dog, these experiences might help her learn how to focus on what matters (“gate”) in busy trial environments.

Chai week 1: training

I wrote this post on Chai’s third day with me – April 9, 2023. I will keep updating it as I go. It is currently day 20 (April 26)and a lot has changed already! However, I’m publishing this post now because I only just got around to cleaning it up. More to come soon!

My approach to training with food with a dog who likes to eat

I try to train the puppy in front of me. That means I’ve done things a bit differently for every puppy I’ve raised for myself or for someone else. In Chai’s case, most food is for training (because training is fun and I want videos) or big scatters (the ritual I use to end sessions). Chai doesn’t get food outside unless necessary because I want her to really engage with the world and not be distracted from it.

I will use most food for training. Except from her single outing every day – usually the same park because we can walk there – we stay at our AirBnB. I’ve so far trained up all of her daily rations in marker cue discrimination and shaping stuff. She devours kibble, so that’s all she has seen so far in terms of treats (except for the hot dog I used to get her to eat her Bravecto).

Two food training projects for the puppy in front of me: Chai

For Chai, there are currently food training projects (there will be more as we get to know each other better and shift to different behaviors):

+ Stuff I want for my marker cue (and other skills) game that I’m planning to turn into some sort of class or workshop.

+ Shaping because I love teaching puppies about shaping and could do it all day long.

So far, I’ve used up all her food in that way every day. And here’s food for thought: in my experience, just not going above kibble value (if the puppy takes kibble to begin with) has a high chance of maintaining kibble as a treat the dog will take everywhere (that is everywhere they are able to eat – it’s an excellent gauge). In my case, this means … not exactly a closed economy (plenty in life is free), but it means everything is kibble, and everything is at least marker-cued. There are no table scraps, for example (they would make an open economy and devalue the kibble I want to use for training).

I will take a different approach with puppies who flat out refuse kibble. But Chai does not, so this is the route we are going.

My approach to making Chai permanent-home-able

All in all, these are the training projects I am focusing on to make Chai a dog who will be pleasant to live with for her future folks:

+ Being comfortable out and about in Mexico City.

+ Being comfortable with people coming into her space and visiting people in new spaces – I’m aiming for at least 2 visits a week (as soon as I test negative for Covid again) and at least one good out-and-about interaction a day on non-visit days. I’ll get strangers to play for the out and about interactions. Visits will be friends and strangers who follow my instructions about letting Chai take the lead and take the first step rather than reaching for her.

+ Maintaining her ability to stay home alone without whining (she stays home alone at least twice every day when I head out with Game. If I have a puppy, whenever possible, the puppy will get a separate walk. An exception would be if the puppy was extremely shy and needed an emotional support dog – this is not the case for Chai. Game gets her own walks too because she deserves them. I don’t want Chai to become dependent on Game – neither for staying home nor for going out.)

+ Maintaining her crate skills (the crate is in the car right now; I’ll be popping her in there for a bit every day.)

+ Car sickness: we’ll strart driving super short distances on an empty stomach and gradually extend the length of the drive, aiming for once a day.

Behaviors I am likely to get “for free” with this particular dog along the way

Things that will just happen along the way will be recall, leash walking and grooming. She’s not body sensitive, so I’ll likely get brushing and clipping toe nails for free by “just doing them.” Same with her harness/collar: put it on; no problem for her and no need for a slow introduction. While slow introductions and cooperative care are always worthwhile, I want to focus on other stuff with Chai and will safe her daily calories for these other training projects. Harness, leash, brush and toe nails will be announced rather than shaped. For example before I put on her harness, I will let her know what is about to happen by saying, “Harness!” Puppies pick up on this fast, which gives me an excellent way of gauging if she stays comfortable: if I say, “Harness” and she moves away, I know she’s having feelings. So far, this has not happened.

Outside of what I outlined above, we will just chill at home (if I can help it – training is fun!) I don’t want to turn her into an athlete (if someone wants to in the future, that option will always exist – she’s a Border Collie). I want to help her become a dog who is able to live in Mexico City, and with an “average” active family. This includes staying home alone and being ignored when I work or write rather than constant attention. A very easy solution to keep her from trying to get on the table is to reach for her head anytime she does: like most dogs, she finds this aversive. It’s what I consider a benign aversive. For example if I’m eating and she does this, I reach for her head about three times and she’ll lie down at my feet and stop trying to get food from the table, and it’s only day 3 as I’m writing this. She gets praise for this, but no food. Rather than consciously building a desired behavior here, I am making the undesired behavior disappear (yes, this is a euphemism for: I am punishing it with the consequence of reaching for her head and preventing intermittent reinforcement i.e. counter surfing). Intermittent reinforcement is relatively easy for me to avoid in this case because the kitchen in this AirBnB is a separate room and I shut the door when I go there, and I am the only person living here – so I control all the food on counters or tables and don’t leave it out. This is much, much harder to do if you have an open floor plan, cook more than I do or live with other people. But in Chai’s case, it should work out well. After two months of zero success at getting at food, she’ll be set off on the right trajectory and whoever adopts her can keep this approach or teach her a desired alternative behavior like hanging out on her bed when people eat.

That’s it for today! You”ll soon get real video and photo updates of what has happened between days 4 and 20 with Chai – I just have to find time to video edit. “Just.” I know, I know!

Chai day 3: adventuring

We went back to the same park today. This is going to be my main focus: I’ll come here (or a similar park) every day for exposure.

It will likely mostly be this particular park becaus not only is it close – this is also Mexico City. Which means something different will be happening every single time I go. I can keep one criterion consistent (familiar environment) while all the others vary: new and different sounds, smells and stimuli every time.

Today versus yesterday

The biggest difference that stood out to me after yesterday’s outing: Chai walked by herself all the way (about 5 minutes) to the park. Yesterday, I carried her and only put her down anytime something interesting was happening – she wasn’t able to walk coordinatedly on a leash on a sidewalk yet.

Compare the video above to yesterday’s video! Do you see differences? What are they? My thoughts are below – but think of your own answers before you keep reading!
Ready? My thoughts are below.
I am impressed by Chai’s remarkable improvement between these two days: being able to walk on a leash to the park and back? Reorienting when feeling leash pressure? WOW! And that person (okay, they were doing things well by not reaching for the top of her head, but still! So much more confident!) The initial confidence around dogs has improved too.

We’re still eating kibble in public (I may have used about 5-10 pieces for the same reasons as yesterday) and understand the meaning of the tongue click in a new and exciting environment. I only introduced the tongue click in the house, yesterday. She’s doing SO well!

Sleepy pups getting closer!