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!

Chai’s formal recall, iteration 5.2: distractions at the barrier levelS! A new plan! (Enter kibble container #2!)

I’m calling this post iteration 5.2 because I made the new plan (5) after completing my work with the first container. It’s .2 because we are at level 2 (barrier).

If I’m not mistaken, the reinforcer from my hand in all the videos below is liver (same value as chicken).

After working through the first container challenge, I decided to try something new with Chai. Chai’s distraction recalls need to be handled with care: she is a worthy opponent with her own agenda, after all: the kind of dog I most love working with!

The new strategy:

+ 3 kibble containers in 3 outdoors locations – maybe the last one will be a metal cage thingy to mix it up.
+ Always reward with what’s IN the container.
+ If I don’t get an immediate recall response and a turn on a dime – take a 10-15 minute break and repeat in a different spot of the same park (my current plan diverges from the distraction tracker).
+ Once I’ve gone through 3 kibble containers in 3 locations – up the value of the distraction in the container and repeat.
+ Then, depending on how things are going, decide whether to up the value a second time OR lower the value and increase accessability.

August 2, 2023

Kibble container #2, location #1

To be on the safe side and since this is a new container, I started on a long line. LOVE this video! The subtitles will tell you why!

After park-officing some more, we repeated the challenge off leash:

August 3, 2023

Kibble container #2, location #2

I was going to office from another park today, but it didn’t have any good tables. So we just did a quick recall session and then moved on to a third park I could actually work from! Here’s our session from location #2 – the one that, unfortunately, isn’t officeable. Since yesterday went so well, I didn’t start with a long line today.

Kibble container #2, location #3

After officing outdoors for a bit, I set up for our third location – and again, Chai aced it! I love how she is starting to expect me to help her get to the food. What a difference from the very first container (the one I secured with tape) that she treated like a food toy!

In the video above, Chai spins on a dime when I call but then basically freezes in place until I tongue click. It’s a little hard to see what’s going on because my tongue click is almost inaudible over the background noise. In any case, I am counting this as a success but will slowly move the click further and further from the moment of reorientation towards her moving in my direction if I see this happening in the future. It didn’t in location #2, so I’m not concerned. You never know with this clever puppy though!

CHAI’S DISTRACTION RECALL TRAINING, ROUND 3.3.1: breaking down the transition from barrier to off-leash recalls

After succeeding at the barrier level, I came up with a plan of how to – potentially – set myself up for off-leash recall success. By now, I know that Chai is either a pragmatic dog or is going through a pragmatic phase (she’s a juvenile pup – a different dog every day!)

Either way, I don’t want to wait for her to be older to continue training my formal recall. I’m very much enjoying our strategy game here: Chai’s goal is to get to the distraction as fast as possible, and mine is to convince her that it’s worth her while to come back to me as soon as I call. We are playing a game in which the two of us have different goals. My way of getting closer to my goal is to set up the game board in such a way that it maximizes the probability that I’ll get a recall. Chai’s way of getting closer to her goal is to try and see through my game board set-ups (OR train me to up my reinforcers!)

I’m having fun with this, so I’ll continue. If you were a student of mine, I might ask you to take a training break and revisit the challenge when your dog is a little older. That would be to make things easier for you in case it was a phase rather than your dog’s personality.

In any case, I decided, since Chai has “won” when I presented her with unprotected food distractions in the past, to break down the big step from protected to unprotected distractions by using an in-between step: opening the barrier she has already succeeded at, but leaving that same barrier there in order to remind her of how well things used to go for her when she recalled away from said barrier. After recalling her away from an open barrier (in my case the open plastic box), I’d then recall her from the same distraction without a barrier present.

Note that at this point, I am not following my recall protocol anymore, and quite consciously so: I’m just experimenting with my own dog and I am also curious what I can get away with and how Chai will respond to different set-ups. Having eliminated the empty plate at our last stage, I’ll also eliminate distraction B (the bag that used to have food in it) at this new stage I’m inventing for Chai:

While I’m breaking down the step from closed to open container, I’m no longer splitting down environments. I want to find out if we can take this additional step (open kibble container) as a short-cut to off-leash food success (kibble without barrier in the real world). Note that experiments like this, where I don’t know what the outcome will be, are something I LOVE doing with my own dogs but wouldn’t ask a student to do. My students get tried and true protocols – it wouldn’t feel fair otherwise.

(Still) July 17, 2023: our first park experiment with the open box!

We play at our usual spot, but it’s unusually busy – and a number of the people out here are eating. So we have people weirdness and distracting food smells, which leads to a slower recall response and to a hesitant approach of the kibble box once I release Chai. Since I want to see a response at baseline speed (as fast as if there was no distraction) and the usual joyful approach of the distraction itself after my “okay” release, I’ll repeat this same set-up before checking the box off the list above. She did very well though and recalled despite all the distractions!

We hung out and explored the park for 15 minutes, and then tried again:

Oh puppy! You are making me laugh! This session was really interesting!

Sometimes, the best way is to end and go back to the drawing board, which is my plan here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder on our walk back from the park: WHY did Chai blow through this recall after nailing it the first time? Here’s a few possible explanations I can imagine:

  1. She only recalled the first time because the people were confusing and Chai didn’t realize what she was even recalling from.
  2. She didn’t recall the second time because the first time, she learned that the kibble container was open. in the second session, she KNEW that we were working with an open rather than closed container and went for it. In the first session, she may only have learned that the kibble had been accessible all along after my “okay” release.
  3. She didn’t recall the second time because right before, during our break, I had removed her from eating something that looked and smelled like a mixture of poop and unidentifyable dead animal (Chai has a sensitive stomach; if not, I would let her eat whatever she finds, like Game) – about 3 or 4 times. (I kept releasing her once we were at a distance from the disgusting food source because she wanted to play with her adolescent Doberman friend Sam. However, inevitably, after a little play, she ended up back at the food source and I ended up walking up and removing her again – it was too good for our “Leave it,” which is still under construction, to work.) Maybe this frustrating experience did not set her up for success in the recall session right after.
  4. We’ve worked on impulse control (“Earn it”/Zen bowl/a marker cue for taking food from a bowl) quite a bit today. Maybe after all this impulse control – impulse control is hard for puppies! – she couldn’t help it and HAD to go for the distraction right away.
  5. Or one of countless other possible reasons!

In any case, I’ll need to come up with a game plan! This distraction recall step is tricky – it keeps coming back to bite us in the butt! I might need to gamify this for myself some more …

Chai’s distraction recall training, round 3.2: starting over at the barrier level!

I’ve decided to chute back down to distraction B (a bag that used to have food in it) at the barrier level (level 2) in the house and build back up from there. I’ll skip distraction A (empty plate) and work with only B (bag that used to have food in it) and C (kibble) instead. I’m calling this recall round 3.2 because it’s the 3rd “new attempt” and I’m starting at level 2 (the barrier/helper stage). The drawing board I went back to after this session says:

I’d worry about all things off leash and barrier free after working through this new barrier plan. I excluded the empty plate – wasn’t it beneath Chai already? Let’s find out!

July 15, 2023: single rep success at the barrier level (level 2) in the house!

Paper bag (intermediate distracton) in plastic container

Kibble (difficult distraction) in plastic container

For now, at round 3 of our distraction adventures, I’ve decided to let Chai check out the barrier, but not provide her with access. For now.

July 16, 2023: the roof, the roof, the roof has distractions …

In the two videos below you’ll see me move towards the distraction to celebrate with Chai rather than away from it (as I recommend you do when working on recalls with your own dog). The reason I move towards the distractions is that I want our reward celebrations to be on camera, and that’s the only way to make that happen since we’re coming around a corner.

Chai does a lovely job with distraction B, the paper bag in the plastic container (barrier):

The next session, we’ll move on to distraction C: kibble in the plastic container! Being good students of my recall protocol, we took a break of personal play and relaxation on the roof before setting up the next challenge:

Chai was being a superstar again! Go puppy! (Once more, my smart student is setting me up for an extinction burst in the future. She knows how reinforcing recall success is for me …!)1

Level 2 (barrier) at the park!

Riding my wave of success, headed back outside in the late afternoon for real-world recalls at the barrier level:

This wasn’t a single-rep success session: I quickly tethered Chai after getting distance with my treat tosses, returned to the camera to reposition the kibble box and then returned to Chai to release her for the second rep of what would end up being the 2-rep session from the video above. We then took a break for some park fun … and had a new session about 15 minutes later:

Single-rep success! And on that note, we called it a successful day! Only distraction C at the park is left, and we’ll test out of the barrier stage again (third time’s a charm?)

July 17, 2023: third time IS a charm this time! Single-rep success on kibble in the plastic box at the park!

I’ve taped the container to make sure Chai can’t get to it, and upped my first reinforcer to an entire handful of chicken.

Single-rep success! We tested out of the barrier level! Go puppieeee!

I’ve completed the barrier plan I made. Now it’s time to go back to our headquarters and figure out how to proceed … our goal, after all, is still off-leash recalls away from unprotected distractions. And I know that Chai is a powerful strategist – as am I! (Insert suspensful music!)

  1. Just joking, of course. She is a dog, not a cunning human! ↩︎

Chaiary – week 14 digest: July 3-9, 2023

July 3, 2023 (day 88 with me)

Activity level: average (low physical, high cognitive)

The AM …

We started the morning with our usual walk. Today we took our time, looped the park twice and greeted and dismissed several dogs – good puppy!

2-toy tug reinforced by fetch at Fresa Parque

We dropped Game off at home and Chai and I walked to Fresa Parque in harness mode. There, we had a lovely session of 2-toy fetch and then enjoyed the park some more before heading back home in collar mode. Chai did really well!

Later, we started shaping two tricks from Silvia Trkman‘s first to-do list: “Earn it!” in the apartment and a 2-front-paw target on the roof. Chai is a dog who is happy to keep working and shaping for a long time. She reminds me of the first time I took Sue Ailsby‘s shaping class with Phoebe: we could work and work and work and she wouldn’t tire; I could have spent all day shaping. Chai, at her current age, is like that too – SO much fun!

Staying home alone

She then stayed home alone for Game’s early-afternoon walks and while Game accompanied me for a hair cut.

During Game’s evening walk, Chai got to practice staying home alone a second time.

More shaping!

After coming home, I continued Chai’s 2-paw target shaping. We ended with a relatively consistent 1-paw on the target and will progress to 2 paws tomorrow … I’ve already fed her almost twice her meal in today’s shaping sessions so it’s probably time to stop.

Prepositions for announcements

Today, I started adding prepositions to the announcements I’ve been using for Chai. Is she going to learn and understand them? I don’t know but I assume that with time and context, she will. And even if she doesn’t – striving for the greatest possible clarity when communicating with our dogs (or anyone else) is a worthwhile pursuit in any case.

House training adventures

I am proud to report that our streak continues! Week one of the game couldn’t be going any better! If I make it two more days, I’ll treat myself to a fancy browny – and then we start week 2! Sadly, Chai’s diarrhea is back as well. Here’s to making the shower her default pooping spot! She went there by herself, too.

July 4, 2023 (Day 89)

Activity level: low

The AM …

Chai greeted a few dogs on our 2-dog morning loop and then did well on the retractable leash while Game was off leash – hardly any circles or food reinforcers needed!

Almost home, we found a creepy bouquet of artificial flowers on the ground. Magic hands and Game walking right up to investigate it for the win! If I had already had coffee, I would have turned the bouquet into a toy – but sans caffeine, I really wanted to get home and fuel up.

2 trips and one toy play session at the plaza

After a bit of work, I took Chai to our neighborhood plaza for a quick 2-toy game according to Shade‘s instructions. I’m planning to make today our “calm” day – it’s a good one because I’m meeting a friend and can leave her home. Plus I want to resist the temptation to keep shaping until the diarrhea is gone: my home remedy for diarrhea is 12-24 hours of fasting.

Chai did great walking to the plaza and back with the leash attached to her harness. I replaced most food reinforcers with brief spouts of personal play or running together and needed hardly any circles. At the park, Chai saw someone move a giant water-spouting hose – a new and interesting experience, but not a scary one! Brave puppy!

Play went well even though Chai answered the question whether she could tug without misses first with a “not really – I like my misses.” It may also have been that she expected the first play move to be a chase and was taken aback when I cued a tug.

First time off leash on the sidewalk during the day

Chai will be an off-leash Mexico City dog. When I first got her, I worked on this by means of exclusively walking her on a long line to simulate an off-leash experience (while keeping her safely on the sidewalk next to a busy car street). We’ve also been working on being an off leash city dog for about a month by taking off-leash urban walks between 2AM and 4AM when there are almost no cars in the street. (Furture me chiming in here: the nightly walks are a tradition I stopped a few days after writing this Chiary entry. It led to very tired days for me and after a month, I needed a break!) Other off-leash city dog elements:

  • Working towards a solid formal recall.
  • Practicing “Leave it” (and its generalization to stepping off the sidewalk) and …
  • “Wait” at the curb.
  • Being off leash when there is a barrier of shrubbery or parked cars between a park and the street.

My plan is to have her drag a long line – no Game present, just Chai – during the day as soon as we make it all the way through our distraction tracker for the formal recall (formal recalls are emergency breaks).

Yesterday, I made an exception to the rule of not having Chai off leash in the street during the day just yet: a neighbor’s dog came bounding down the sidewalk as we were on our way back from the plaza. Since the playful dog was running directly towards us, I unhooked Chai’s leash so she could play. They did for about a minute on the sidewalk and then I walked the last 30 meters home off leash as well. Chai didn’t leave the sidewalk. Good girl! Back to the original plan though as long as there are no playful pups around!

Staying home alone

Game and I are about to head out and meet a friend – time for Chai to be a good stay-home-alone puppy and for Game to get a bike run in!

Game, being a hipster dog for a day. We are street food people, but sometimes – usually when friends want to go OR when I want to dog-train – we head to a place like this one. And yes, of course: “somos lo que somos.

Chai did great staying home alone for 3.5 hours, and Game enjoyed a 20 minute bike ride, 2.5 hours of hanging out at a café and chewing her rawhide bone and 30 minutes of biking home on a different route.

Chai got to stay home again a second time during Game’s evening walk. We’ll count today as the calm day of the week! Our second calm day (the one to make up for last Sunday’s high activity day) might be Friday.


The streak continues! Wheee, it is fun to see my arrows turn green! We’ve almost made it through a week!

July 5, 2023 (Day 90)

Activity level: average (low physical, high cognitive)

The AM …

We had an uneventful morning walk.

Home alone

After work, both dogs stayed home while I bought supplies for trick training, and then Chai stayed home alone again while Game and I headed out for a bit.

Shaping, shaping, shaping!

I shaped away one day’s worth of Chai’s kibble for paw target experiments (we both love this game).

2-toy tug and fetch and waiting at the ice cream store

… then we walked in harness mode to Fresa Parque and played a short 2-toy game before being rudly interrupted by a tall barky stranger Mal mix. As by Shade’s suggestion, I tried cueing “chase” while Chai was tugging rather then after she dropped and offered eye contact to reinforce the tugging rather than the drop.

Chai then waited patiently for me as I got ice cream:

Her right ear has been in a floppy mood!

… and more shaping!

Back home, I shaped a second day’s worth of kibble away in 6 short sessions and then took Game on her evening walk while Chai stayed home alone a third time.

(And yes, there was work too in between all of this, cooking and a post-icecream nap for me.)

House training: the streek continues!

As of today, we’ve made it through an entire week without peeing in the living room! I’ve earned myself a browny! The week 1 streak in all its glory:

July 6, 2023 (Day 91)

Activity level: high average

The AM …

Our morning walk was shorter than usual because I wanted to get home and finish work before meeting Alan and Kiba for our train-and-play date. Work went fast and I had time to clicker up Chai’s daily food ration again. Shaping this dog is FUN! My way of not going overboard is only having the daily food ratio available and stopping once I’m through it (if I can help it). It’s also not one continuous session, of course – one session is either what fits in my hand or what fits in my hand plus another handful of food from my pocket. Then there’s a short break; then we might do another session.

Knowing how much and how fast juvenile dogs change, it is difficult for me not to get carried away with shaping and tricks while I have such an avid learner: there is no way of knowing whether Chai’s stamina and enthusiasm for training will be the same a week from now or once she’s an adult. (My own training stamina and enthusiasm is off the charts these days but will probably wear off a bit in the future.)

Home alone

While Chai is on pee-standby in the bathroom, Game and I are about to head out. After practicing impulse control on her mat, it’s time to give her a little outdoors freedom before Chai gets all the action again!

I used the opportunity to get my week-long streak reinforcer:

Yumm! Game (nose at top left corner) thinks so too!

2-toy tug/fetch and dog/dog play time!

Alan had to cancel our training meeting because he got sick. Instead, I recorded Chai’s toys homework for Shade sans interruptions and then Chai got to play a little bit in the dog park. I decided to go in because there were only two dogs who looked calm. Chai got them to play, and we practiced two recalls out of play for chicken. I had planned on doing this with Kiba today, but since there was no Kiba, these two playmates would do! Chai was a star – however, I’m sure this was easier than Kiba would have been. Kiba is her best buddy and hard to disengage from while Chai has never met these two dogs before and generally recalls well from strange dogs. (Still: this is the very first time I recalled her in the middle of playing – and she came back right away! Go Chai! This may actually have been an excellent step before practicing with Kiba.)

The video below shows Chai’s dog park socializing and the two formal recalls we did – the second one out of full-on play.

More paw target shaping

Back home, we took a break and then shaped for (almost) an entire second day’s meal. We now have two mostly steady paws on 3 different targets: a plastic tupperware lid, a plant saucer and a porcellain plate!


+ “Brush” announcement and brushing!

Toy play Silvia Trkman style

It was thundering and rain-storming and Game was scared (of the thunder). I don’t want Chai to adopt Game’s fears, so we casually played with always-out toys on the couch. There’s also a TV show running in the background … distraction training AND play! I want her to chase and tug on any toy I offer and also learn more about her favorites and preferred play style in a casual context.

(The reason Chai and I can play in this video without Game joining in is that Game is too worried about the thunder to play.)

House training

… week 2 of 4! The streak continues! If Chai makes it another 7 days without accidents in the living room (only in the shower cabin or outdoors), I’ll get another browny. After a 4-week streak – which we may or may not get to on our first attempt – I’m going to treat myself to something bigger. In any case – if all I ever win in my streak game are brownies, that’ll work for me too!

July 7, 2023 (Day 92)

Activity level: low

The AM …

I let Game and Chai run around the park a little more than usual because I’m planning on a calm day today. Chai got to greet several dogs she knows and then we walked back home – Game off leash, Chai on the retractable leash.


After work, we started another project for Silvia’s class: 4 in a box!

A brief 2-short-leashes pee walk

later, I headed off to co-work with a friend at a favorite queer meet-up café while Game and Chai stayed home for about 4 hours.

More shaping!

We did one more 4-in session (Chai was a superstar!) and then called it a day.

I have succeeded in keeping today a light, calm day! AND I made up for all the kibble I fed over the last two days by feeding (i.e. training) less today! (Remember my rule: one day a week has to be calmer than average. If I do a high (rather than average) activity day, I will try to balance it out with a second calm day in that same week. Tomorrow will likely be high activity again – we’re planning on a trail hike. More keep-it-calm challenges for me to come! (Calm days are the hardest for me! Seeing friends helps because it takes up time I would otherwise spend training.)


Streak game week 2, day 2 – we earned another green check mark! Woohooo!

Empty puppies – and empty puppies only! – get to chill on the bed.

July 8, 2023 (Day 93)

Activity level: average

Los Dinamos – finalmente!

After the briefest of morning pee walks (the dogs) and coffee (me), we made our third attempt to head to Los Dinamos, a nature park in the south of Mexico City. And we did it! Finally, nothing got in the way of our plans.

This was Chai’s first “real” nature walk – not in a city park but jumping across fallen trees, scrambling up and down hills and rocks and exploring the slippery rocks and muddy ground of a shallow river. She had a blast – and so did Game. Game loves running in spaces like this and I can tell how much she’s missed it when we go again after a longer break.

I found out that Chai doesn’t yet know she has to keep an eye on me in this kind of environment in order not to accidentally lose me. So I played a lot of hide and seek (hiding behind a tree or rock when she wasn’t looking, letting her worry just a little bit and then waiting for her to find me and celebrating with social feedback:”Yay! Did you lose me? You found me! What a good puppy!”)

Here’s an excerpt of Game and Chai adventuring at Los Dinamos:

Chai also discovered she likes to eat horse poop and found several bone parts of deceased animals to nibble on. I could “Schnee” recall her away from horse poop and successfully traded all bones for chicken. Superpuppy!

In terms of structured sessions, after first getting there and peeing (Chai), I had a 2-toy session for Shade’s class. This space felt different to her than city parks – I could see it in her slightly lower-than-usual focus. Apart from that, she did really well!

We had fun in the shallow river and both dogs got to play with a (non-training) ball in the water.

Otherwise, I just let them be dogs and run around for an hour. We met a couple suddenly appearing people and dogs – very different from the constant buzz of the city! – but Chai, after looking at me questioningly the first time it happened, did well. Game knows the drill and just curves around strangers.

Before we left, we saw a horse – someone was cantering down the trail at full speed. Game barked and wanted to give chase (a “leave it” brought her right back to me – chicken for the big girl!) Chai, who has never met a horse, barked after Game did and scrambled back to me as if she had just seen the devil. I’m looking forward to an opportunity for her to meet more horses – quiet, steady ones who are not crashing down trails! – in the future to ensure she feels neutral about them.

We headed home after only about an hour. So there is still lots of kibble left for shaping in the afternoon, and since we weren’t out very long, I don’t have to worry about overdoing it!

Shaping 4 in!

I used up the remainder of Chai’s daily food ration in two medium-length shaping sessions in the afternoon. We ended with 4 in from all the angles! Good puppy!

Pee walk and bakery

In the late afternoon, Chai and Game got to join me on a mini pee walk to the bakery around the corner, wait outside and then help explain some dog training things to the good folks at the bakery who collected my phone number for a neighbor with two barky adolescent Xolos.

Game imitated Chai’s peeing, I got my “Potty” cue in and reinforced, and we went back upstairs: the empty puppy earned living room privileges again!


It is thundering again tonight. Not only is Chai not concerned – Game is feeling way better than last time as well!


Happy to report that my second brownie is getting closer …!

July 9, 2023 (Day 94)

Activity level: low average

The AM …

Given that the AM starts at midnight, I am sad to report that our AM started in a less than relaxing way: someone right around the corner must have been celebrating something (it was Saturday night), and as we came back from our night walk at around 1:45 AM, there were LOUD cohetes.

Fireworks are new for Chai: she looks at me and Game to figure out the appropriate response. So I spent the next hour counterconditioning: big boom – scatter. Big boom – scatter. Chai was happy about her scatters, ate a lot of kibble and then, before I could assess whether she was already happy about hearing big booms, the booms stopped … and we could all go back to sleep. The only one who didn’t get a lot of sleep, I’m afraid, is Game. She looks very tired this morning.

Toy skills!

We did two sessions of tugging reinforced by chase today. Chai now needs less misses in order to enjoy her tug! Good girl!

In the first session, she needed the visual of my outstretched arm with the second toy after my “Chase” cue to let go in the first chase-past-tug rep. In the second rep, she let go of her toy on a verbal “Chase” alone.

In the second session, Chai responded differently to the verbal “Tug” than to the verbal “Chase,” and she let go on the verbal “Chase” alone both times and showed prediction behaviors for chasing, with the other ball still out of sight! Woohooo! Go puppy!!!

Dog socializing

Chai also got to run around a bit and play with a bunch of dogs before we went to a café to work (me) and practice chilling on her mat (Chai). I wanted to make sure she got her need to move and greet dogs out of the way first to set her up for success.

I made sure not to tire her out during our break – I don’t want a dog who lies calmly on her mat because she is exhausted, but a dog who lies calmly on her mat because her social needs and needs to move have been met and she’s ready to watch the world go by for a bit.

Café training

We stayed for about 40 minutes, and there was a lot going on! Chai did VERY well!

Left: waiting outside while I order at the coffee shop – next to another unfamiliar dog who is also waiting for their person! Right: chilling on her mat at the café. This is a fancier place than I like going, but it’s at an wonderfully busy corner – it’s great for training.

Then we left for another round of park play and socializing before Chai got too wound up. 40 minutes of sitting relatively still at a busy corner restaurant is a lot for a young dog! We then returned to the café and I finished up my workload for the morning with Chai being a superstar again.

Here’s a post about the art of doing nothing with a video of our practice session at the café.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone during Game’s noon and afternoon (pre-rain) walks and during her evening walk.


Chai peed at the park without needing inspiration or a role model to follow! You go girl!

We’re past the halfway mark for the week! Yay! And no accidents of any kind in the living room! I can smell you already, yummy brownie!

CLARITY: cues, announcements … and prepositions!

An addendum to Chai’s July 3 diary entry

Announcements versus cues

Announcements is a term I use to distinguish certain verbal expressions directed at dogs from the term cue: a cue is the opportunity for the dog to do a certain behavior in order to earn a reinforcer (or, if you are of a different philosophy, you could say a cue is telling the dog what they “have to” do – that is, it’s a “command”). Whatever philosphy you subscribe to, a cue is all about the dog’s actions. Sit, for example, is a cue for the dog to move their butt floorwards. Come is a cue for the dog to run towards you.

An announcement is information about what is going to happen “to” the dog. It is not telling the dog what to do. For example in radius training, I use an opportunity cost announcement if the dog oversteps their radius. It means “We are going the other way now!”

When I brush Chai, I’ll announce that I’m going to do so by saying “Brush.” I’m not asking. This is not cooperative care. (She doesn’t need it to be.) When I dremel Game’s nails or clip Chai’s nails, I’ll announce “Claws.” Again, I am not asking the dog to do anything – I am letting them know what is about to happen before I do it. An announcement is me informing my dog about what I am going to do next. It is not a question but information. Anytime I announce something, it is going to happen right after independently of the dog’s thoughts or feelings about it – just like the sun will rise every day whether I want it to or not.

Today (that is on July 3, 2023, when I drafted this post), after having used “collar,” “harness” and “leash” every time before taking one of the three objects off or putting them on Chai, I’ve started adding prepositions. “Collar onnnn!” means I’m about to put a collar on Chai. “Collar offff!” means I’ll take it off. I stress the preposition in my announcement because it is the part that is new for her. “Leash onnnn!” means the leash will be clipped to the harness and is, like a click, always followed by a treat (to avoid creating aversion to being leashed). “Leash offff!” means I will unclip the leash. It will either be followed by off-leash freedom or by “With me!” (leash clipped to collar; informal heeling). No treats when equipment comes off.

The fourth object I’m using our new prepositions for is Chai’s sweater. Remember how I was planning on taking her to Pride but then didn’t? I got her a Pride sweater anyways (yes, it has happened and there’s no denying it: I’m one of these people who dress up dogs now). It was 50% off and cute, and I want her to get used to wearing things such as service dog vests or “clothing” she might need to wear after surgery one day. So we also work on normalizing “Sweater onnnn!” and “Sweater offff!” Chai is doing perfectly fine with wearing it for short periods of time – the startle of the store person trying to stuff her into a sweater without asking permission had no repercussions. (I did not buy the sweater there, by the way.)

Here’s a brief compilation of onnn-s and offff-s I (that is future me on October 30, 2023) just recorded to illustrate this concept before I release this post I drafted in July:

In the video above, note how certain announcements – in this example only “harness onnn” – have the potential to turn into a cue (Chai can learn to push her head through the harness loop voluntarily). Others, like leash onnn or offf, can always only be announcements since Chai can’t put her leash on or take it off herself.

Below is another brief clip from today, showing an example of something that (A) will always be an announcement (“Brush” in the example: Chai can’t brush herself) and (B) won’t ever have a preposition because it wouldn’t make sense:

What is the point of announcing things? Why don’t you just DO them?

I want to maximize agency (where it matters for the dog in front of me) and clarity (where there can’t be agency or where agency is less important for the dog in front of me). When it comes to training, I want the dog to opt in. When it comes to grooming, I want opting in (cooperative care) if the dog doesn’t like being groomed – otherwise, I’ll just do an announcement. Why? Because teaching cooperative care is time consuming and it not a personal passion of mine. Therefore, as long as the dog in front of me doesn’t mind, I’ll announce rather than ask.

While announcements aren’t questions, they still give me valuable information

While the announcement isn’t a question (I’m not asking, “Would you like me to brush you?” but telling Chai, “I am going to brush you now!” in the video above), it still comes with valuable information: I tell Chai that I will brush her before I sit down next to her on the couch. (I always and only brush her on the couch.) This gives her time to leave. If she left, I would gain important information about how she feels about being brushed. As I am brushing her, I am not cutting off her exit route/cornering her. Unlike with “leash on” and “harness on,” there is NO treat after grooming behaviors. So Chai gains nothing by allowing me to groom her. She could walk away – but she doesn’t.

Here’s a COMPLETELY taken-out-of-context quote by M.E. O’Brien that, to my great amusement, fits very well: “If one cannot easily leave, one cannot choose to stay.” Dog training really is a metaphor for life. And that’s why I use announcements rather than “just do the thing.”

CHAIARY – TRICKS: front paw targets for 1 and 2 paws

July 6, 2023: targeting 3 objects with 2 front paws

July 10, 2023: single-paw target on “Paw” cue!

A compilation:

July 21, 2023: working towards a precise single-paw target

We worked on single-paw targeting. I’ve found a good tall object. Chai still tried getting 2 paws on, but I got 1 more and more reliably towards the end of the session. I’m going to get confidence and duration on this target, then remove the glass from under the lid and then play with different targets – including flat ones and smaller ones. I want Chai to become really precise with her paw targeting. I was originally going to get an object I could shave down – but this will work too and I already have it!

I am not sure whether to put this behavior into the foundations or the tricks category. It is, after all, a foundation for SO many other things! I ended up going with tricks – but know it is a foundation as well! Paw targets are the foundation of pushing easy buttons, door bells, light switches, operating door handles, closing cabinets with a paw … and the list goes on and on!

July 22, 2023: … and the journey continues!

July 23, 2023: paw target nerdery!

Single-paw target

I started with a brief session just like yesteday: feeding continuously as long as the paw was on the lid.

Then I started using “Good,” retreating my treat hand to home position and blinking as a transition behavior between marker and food delivery. This was clearly harder for Chai (and me!): she started getting dancing feet (well, less of a stable right paw) and I had to really pay attention in order to not blink and feed simultaneously.

For our next session(s?), I’ll volley back and forth between continuously feeding in position without a marker and then go back to trying good again, placing the camera next to the wall (closet) this time so I have better view of my treat hand as well as Chai’s right paw.

See what I’m doing here? I’m writing my training plan for the next session right after reviewing the video, which I did right after taking it (training). When I do another session later today or tomorrow, I just have to read my notes here and remember exactly what I want to do.

July 25, 2023: 3 “Paw!” sessions

I’ll work on the single-paw target and always keep it on the ground for now – for all 3 sessions I’m thinking of. If any of them don’t go as planned, I’ll go back to the drawing board.

Session 1

Plan: I’ll use the paw target glass and add the cue from different angles.

Session 2

Plan: if session #1 goes well, I’ll use just the lid – no glass, no cue – in session #2.

Session 3

Plan: if session #2 goes well, I’ll re-attache the cue to the flat (lid only) target.


Chai made two mistakes in this session (only 3 of 4 toes on target). I shouldn’t have missed the first one because reviewing the video, I can see her paw is on my finger – and if I can feel it on my finger, it can’t be on the lid. The second one was an understandable miss on my part. I want to reduce the error rate – will go back to session #2 (no cue) next time and make sure I don’t click when I can feel part of Chai’s paw on my hand! This should reduce the error rate. I’m loving these nerdy details, Chai!

July 26, 2023: paw target with cut-out in puzzle mat

We’re repeating yesterday’s last two single paw target sessions!

Session 1

Plan: no cue – make sure not to click when I can feel toes on my hand.

Chai struggled with the first session – my hand was in the way a lot andwhen I took it away, she’d topple the lid. So I cut the session short, cut a lid-shaped opening into the puzzle mat and tried again:

Final count on the video above, after reviewing it:
Perfect: 7
Less than perfect: 9
Can’t tell from the video angle whether it’s perfect or less than: 1

This looks better but not quite as close to perfect as I’d like it to be. I’m not re-attaching the cue in the next session (which I’m “dying” to do) – I’m going to do a session with the lid on the glass tomorrow (easier target), followed by another lid-only session without my hand in the way … And depending on how that one looks, we’ll take it from there. If it looks great – I’ll attach the cue in the session after. If it doesn’t – we may toggle back and forth between lid only and lid on glass a few more times before attaching the cue to the lid. I may also find a way to make the surface of the lid more prominent so it’s easier for Chai to feel when she’s fully on it.

July 30, 2023: our final 2 single-paw sessions (for the moment – we’ll build on this trick later when I teach Chai to cross her paws!)

Session 1

I did our session as planned: glass under the lid, no cue. Chai is doing much better about not letting her toes hang off on the side of the glass, but it’s hard for her to keep her toenails from sticking out in front. And I am now going for killer precision and making her work hard! (I know this dog and that I can wait her out. I would NOT do this with a dog I didn’t know well or who was less gritty about getting it right in order to earn that click in order to get that single piece of kibble!)

Session 2

Because this is DIFFICULT, I repeated the same set-up (glass under the lid) for session 2. I taped some of my non-slip surface to the lid – it seems to help! In this session, I focus on finding rather than staying on target and I ease up on the toenail criterion.

The non-slip surface lid really seemed to help! Go puppy!

For the time being, I’m happy with Chai’s single-paw target behavior. We’ll pick back up further down the line when I’ll use it to teach her to cross her paws (a trick I think I’ll name “Cool!”)

In case I want to get nerdier with precision again after all – here are my notes for the next session:

+ Repeat what I did today.
+ No toenail criterion but keep all the others.
+ Only loose the glass once it looks perfect with the glass.

Chaiary – week 13 digest (June 26 – July 2, 2023)

Monday, June 26 2023 (day 81)

Activity level: low

Not a lot going on today. We started off with an attempt at playing tug reinforced by fetch with two balls on a rope at Fresa Parque. Shade had suggested we move to a place where Chai can really run and I can throw the ball further than on the roof. While our last session went well, today we had some pretty intense dog interruptions – but Chai was able to fetch despite being body-blocked by a Whippety dog! Go puppy!

After toy play, Chai got to run around a bit with the other dogs at the park and then had her morning walk with Game. The rest of the day was lazy.

Chai stayed home alone while Game and I walked errands for about an hour – good puppy! And then a not-so-great puppy when I took a shower: I closed the door to the bathroom and Chai had an accident on my bed. Note to self: always lock Chai into the bathroom with me when the door isn’t open!

It has finally started raining this week, so Game and I walked around the block during a rain break and Chai got to practice staying home alone again. When I got back, I found that she had even worse diarrhea than she had this morning. Pobrecita! I hope it passes soon and we’ll be able to go back to eating and training!

Tuesday, June 27 2023 (day 82)

Activity level: average

Good news of the day: no more diarrhea! Chai gets to train and eat again!

Morning walk

Chai started her day with the usual 2-dog morning walk.

Staying home alone x3

She stayed home alone 3 times during the course of the day: when Game and I went to drop off laundry, when we went to pick up our laundry again and for Game’s evening walk.

Toy play

We played two rounds – the first one rudely interrupted by an entire manada of dogs – at a park Chai hadn’t been to before. I like it for training: it tends to have less food on the ground than some of my other favorite parks. Chai did well tugging and getting reinforced with fetch!

We used my Magic Hands1 strategy on a circle of stones. Magic Hands worked fast AND I got video of it:

Magic Hands

Loose leash walking – Manners Context

Heading home from the park, we practiced loose leash walking in collar mode. Chai was a superstar! 5, 15 and then 20, 20, 20 … steps for the win! Two of her 20-step treats were replaced by a “good” treat for waiting at the curb and one by a”get it” to reinforce a “leave it.”

Fun at the park with Alan and Kiba

Chai spent two hours playing with Kiba, Loki and a new pup. We then walked to the market, went inside and practiced lying down and chilling at the pet supply stand and the chicken stand.

A different kind of doing nothing: waiting patiently in a down in the presence of delicious chicken smells!

At the market with Alan and Kiba.

After another round of running and playing at the park, we walked Alan home and then worked on our LLW on a collar some more! Played-out puppies are successful loose-leash walkers!

Manners-context loose-leash walking back home

Chai’s collar walking is really starting to look good! More and more, I am able to swap the twenty-step treat for naturally occurring reinforcers: a cued wait at a curb followed by “good” and a room service treat, or a “leave it” followed by a treat toss behind me. These treats (wich I would be giving Chai anyways; Game also still gets them for stopping/waiting and “leaving” things) are starting to replace LLW treats. I have faded most hand touch treats and soon, I’ll add environmental rewards to the game! The biggest success of the day: we curved out into a quiet street past two leashed dogs while keeping up the 20-step treat rate! Go Chai!

“Floor” protocol

You’ll notice the dark blue arrow in my image above. “Floor” is a marker cue that means I will place a treat at the heel of my foot on the dog’s side. Placing it on the ground is arousal-lowering because the dog can’t sniff for it/eat it and bounce up and down at the same time. It is similar to what I’m doing when passing the Pitbull in this post (May 31; first video in the post), with the only difference being that the marker cue is “Floor” and the treat is being placed at my heel. When I use one “Floor” treat after the other – every step or every other step – I call it the “floor protocol.” When walking past new dogs for the first or second time, I will often use this approach with Chai and then change to feeding from my hand once she knows the dogs are there.

Wednesday, June 28 2023 (day 83)

Activity level: high average

Adventures in house training

After Chai’s and Game’s usual morning walk, Chai sadly had a pee accident on the bed when taking a moment’s break from wrestling with Game. I had everything washed after the accident yesterday, but it is possible that something got into the mattress and it still smells like pee … I also wonder if Chai is like one of these puppy mill puppies who have spent a sensitive period of their puppyhood in a crate and need to poop and pee where they sleep, and if therefore, she will never be fully house trained. Puppies don’t usually pee where they sleep (and start showing this behavior at 3 weeks old already, according to a student’s breeder!). Chai sleeps on the bed during the day, so if she had read the manual, she should technically not pee on it. Good thing I love Chai too much to particularly care about the occasional accident.

At night, she had another pee accident – next to rather than on the mattress, woohoo! We are making progress here! (This is me being sarcastic in case you couldn’t tell.)

Eye contact

Chai got treats for making eye contact and I added a cue to the behavior for the first time: “Watch me!” We played while Zane was having breakfast and learned to offer me eye contact rather than beg for his danish.

Relax while people are eating

When I stopped the eye contact game, Chai offered lying down. I fed a treat between her front paws any time she was not looking at me. Zane was still eating and she stayed relaxed – that is precisely the behavior I want around people having food. I don’t want Chai to focus on me either, so I am waiting for looking away to feed.

Dog fun and recalls at Fresa Parque

After my morning work, we went to Fresa Parque. On the walk there, we passed someone working with an angle grinder. Chai was neither impressed by the noise nor by the flying sparks!

My plan was to work on distraction recalls at the park. Before we got started, Chai got to play with two dogs her size who enjoyed running games and confidently met her first Irish Wolfhound.

Then I set up my camera and the first distraction (see this post) and casually skipped 10 entire steps of my distraction tracking protocol without even noticing. The protocol I have taught others for years! THIS, my dear students, is why I want you to print out your distraction tracker and look at it before every session.

I completely forgot that I hadn’t done the barrier stage “in real life” yet and jumped from barrier recalls in locations 1 and 2 straight to off-leash recalls at the park. Chai passed distractions 1 and 2 in flying colors but failed distraction #3 (kibble). Only then did I realize how many steps I had skipped! Note to self: practice what you preach! Print out Chai’s distraction tracker (I tend to only look at stuff I print).

I was going to get us quesadillas for lunch and passed the dog park on the way there. Since the dogs in in it seemed calm and there was a Great Dane, I decided to let Chai inside briefly so she could meet another large dog. She did phenomenal just like she had with the Irish Wolf.

Adventures at Fresa Parque and a Great Dane in the dog park. Yep, she’s a dog park puppy!

We got water, looped the park again, did some personal play and then headed to the quesadilla stand. Chai did a fantastic job lying down when I stepped on her leash! It is becoming a pretty solid cue, and like in the morning, I am treating – without marking, thanks to Matthias‘ post in the Canine Paradigm discussion group the other day – when she looks away: shaping relaxation in the face of distractions.

Standing on the leash as a cue to lie down and shaping relaxation at the quesadilla stand.

We got back home after about an hour and 20 minutes, having trained up almost all of Chai’s daily kibble meal. Chai was a fantastic (aka sleepy) coworking pup for the next several hours.

Being a good coworking puppy.


We worked on positions in the kitchen when I took a work break. Messy but fun!

Squirrels, toys, magic hands and sits!

I took Chai and Game to the plaza around the corner that we discovered for toy play yesterday – I want to get our daily toy practice session in there!

The two girls got to run around and chase squirrels for a bit and Game got brushed, and then I put her on her mat and played – interruption-free! – a brief game of 2 balls on a rope tug reinforced by fetch with Chai. She did awesome! I’m keeping things short and fun to build her stamina and joy for both games. (No video.)

Game, meanwhile, also did amazing and held her stay on the mat even though Chai and I were tugging and tossing balls right next to her.

Chai has started imitating Game’s tree jumps after squirrels. She’s going to like critter-chasing quite a bit with this role model!

Example of a trademark Game tree jump/climb.

We ended the field trip by playing in the fountain. Next to it, there is a suspicious metal lid with holes covering the loudly whirring water pump. We did Magic Hands and I added Game’s Magic Sit on the metal cover, and after a few reps with “Get it” treats tossed away from the fountain, Chai put two paws on the concrete rim around the metal cover! Brave puppy!

Chai also found a piece of chocolate today. Here’s to hoping it won’t mess up her stomach for the second time in a week!


+ Brushing

Thursday, June 29, 2023 (day 84)

Activity level: average

The AM

We started the day with our usual morning walk. Chai confidently met three new dogs of different ages and morphologies. On the way back home, I got lots of check-ins on the retractable leash while Game was off leash. Chai needed and hardly any circles! She realized when she was nearing the 5-meter mark and stopped on her own! Good girl!

Plaza work and another stab at real-world distraction recalls

Chai and I walked to a nearby plaza on her harness. After looping the park and greeting a few dogs (and eating grain someone had put out for the birds), we started over with barrier recalls in the real world: time to take another stab at those distractions! Chai struggled with distraction #2 (paper bag that used to have food in it) the first time, but tested out of all 3 barrier distractions over the course of the AM. After each session, we took a break and another loop and occasionally met another dog. I am proud to report: barrier recalls in the real world: achievement unlocked! Our next step will – or should anyways! – be off leash in the house.

Real world informal “pup-pup-pup” recalls have also been working well: I had two or three opportunities to use them when Chai was trotting towards a leashed unfamiliar dog and she nailed it every time. It’s only her friend Kiba who is difficult to recall away from!

We then had a toy play session: 2 balls on ropes; tug reinforced by fetch. I added the “Tug” cue and Chai did great – even when a young husky showed up! She kept tugging!

After another off-leash park loop, we played magic hands with the pump at the fountain again:

We walked the entire way back home in mostly 20-step collar mode. Real-world reinforcers have started becoming “a thing”: stopping behind me to sniff something? Absolutely! I will wait for you to be done! “Leave it”? Bring it on; another non-leash-related reinforcer! This route is also convenient in that it has several crosswalks to practice “Wait” at the curb reinforced by “Good” (room service), replacing another LLW click. We even dismissed and then walked behind a group of 5 dogs for about 30 seconds before they veered off in another direction.

Once home, we went up on the leash and took a video for a new Out and About (FDSA) bonus lecture: walking towards a distraction on a loose leash! Now, Chai is passed out on the couch next to Zane, being a most excellent coworking puppy again.

Chai then stayed home (in the bathroom – her “crate”) – with Zane while Game and I went to the market at Fresa Parque to get lunch. Thrusday is market day here – and the market doesn’t feel fresa at all. It was great! My favorite day at that park so far!

More loose leash walking challenges!

In the afternoon, we were going to film invisible-line challenge #2 on the roof … but right as I was starting to set up, it started raining. We worked on it in the house instead. This is significantly harder in small spaces but Chai was being a superstar and soon understood! This time, we did not walk towards, but past the distraction (2 pieces of kibble on a plate). Not only did we practice the manners context – we also practiced our “Leave it!” cue in the same session. In the end, Chai got to eat the distraction, of course!

Housetraining gamified!

We have not had any accidents in the living room so far! Go Chai! And go me: I have successfully kept full puppies in the bathroom and only let empty puppies into the living space. And I’ve turned my mattress into a Murphy bed to give the puppy less inconvenient (for me) surfaces to pee on. But – let’s not count our ostriches before they hedge. It’s only 16:45 and there is still plenty of time for accidents.

Final accidents-in-the-living-room count for today, right before going to sleep: 0! Woohoo!

I’m starting a streak game and aiming for 4 weeks with zero living room accidents! After 7 days without a living room accident, I get a fancy brownie. After 4 weeks, I get a deep tissue massage. If there is an accident, it only resets the current week. Once a 7-day streak is completed, it is locked in and cannot be lost (i.e. at the very must, I will loose 6 days.)

Wrestling and intelligence

I have been interrupting Chai and Game wrestling on the bed when Game starts barking. I announce to Chai that I will pick her up – and inadvertantly, I’ve been saying, “Let’s take a break!” before doing so. Chai has now picked up on this and stops playing and lies down when I say a sentence with “break.” As a result, Game stops barking and I won’t pick up Chai to put her away for a few minutes. I love observing this puppy learn!

Evening fun with the rest of Chai’s daily meal

We used up the remaining kibble of the day with positions in two sessions: one was sit and stand and one was down and stand. I need to get clear about when I want to room-service mark (good) and when I want to click. Chai, for her part, did great and she is FAST!

Friday, June 30, 2023 (day 85)

Activity level: average

After our usual morning walk, we walked in manners context from my house to the Plaza and back. Chai practiced 20 steps between treats, sniff reinforcers, waiting at curbs, dismissing dogs and “leave it”s and was a very good puppy. It was a little harder today than yesterday because she hadn’t had much of a chance to get rid of all her puppy energy beforehand!2

After a work break (work: me, break: Chai), we walked to Fresa Parque on Chai’s back clip harness and Chai got to run around there off leash and meet and greet several dogs. We also repeated the teeter and stairs exercises in the dog park we had done last week. It was only a 30 minute outing because I didn’t want to be late for a lunch date with friends.

Home alone

Chai then stayed home with Zane for 2.5 while Game and I biked to Condesa to meet friends and give Game her much-deserved only-dog time.

Two 20-minute Ecobici rides and a coffee outing later, Chai was ready to attack-play with Game!


I cut the crazy short by doing a single longer session of sits, stands and downs. Stand and down are going really well! We’ll focus our next session on sit versus down.

2 dogs on short leashes

After resting, wrestling with Game, drinking A LOT and more resting while I worked, I took both dogs on a short loop around two blocks to get milk. This is the second time I’ve walked them both together on short (2 m) leashes; Chai on her back attachment harness.

Usually, Game is either off leash or one dog is on a long line or the retractable leash while the other one is on a short leash. Like the first time, they did well! Chai’s initial excitement wore off soon and after some circling, she was able to sniff the world and not rush to the end of her leash. The reason I brought both of them out was that I wanted Chai to pee … and I knew she’d follow Game’s example. She did, and now the empty puppy and the empty Game are passed out in the living room without the danger of furniture being peed on. Plus they got to practice waiting outside the mini market together while I went in for milk!


We practiced off-leash recalls away from unprotected distractions #1 (empty plate) and #2 (plastic bag that used to have food in it because I couldn’t find a paper bag) in the house and got a single rep success on each of them. Go Chai!

For distraction #3 – the kibble – I wanted to go back a step due to my faux pas the other day where I skipped a few steps and she got the kibble. My helper was still working and I don’t have a barrier in my house, so I went back to a long line. And indeed: she hit the end two (or was it three?) times before we could end on a success: recall on a loose long line, chicken from my hand and release to eat the kibble. (No video.)

Toy play a la Silvia Trkman

Since I’m currently watching Silvia’s Puppy Diary (10/10 would recommend to sports and especially agility folks), I decided to play with their approach to toy play: create some sibling rivalry by playing with more than one dog – and more than one toy – at once. Game and Chai and I had fun with three always-out toys on the bed (decent grip for playing partly on the slippery floor!)

Husbandry and a lazy evening

Chai stayed home with Zane while Game and I ran errands and Game got some well-deserved only-dog time again. Chai was still sleepy when I got home, so after dinner, she got Zane snuggles, got brushed and then fell asleep on the couch until I transfrred her over to her luxury crate aka the bathroom for the night.

I said her potty cue right before she peed on her pee pad in the shower cabin – this is the second or third time I’ve named the behavior.


0 accidents in the living space! Streak counter:

Saturday, July 1, 2023 (day 86)

Activity level: average

The AM …

We were going to go on a hike today, but my friends couldn’t make it and I woke up REALLY tired this morning … So I decided to take it easy instead. We started with a longer morning walk with Game. Chai got to play with lots of different dogs at Fresa Parque and I recalled her running towards different new playmates two or three times successfully, rewarding with chicken and sending her right back. She was being a superstar and had lots of fun, again meeting dogs of new sizes, ages and morphologies.

Meanwhile, Game practiced being calm and getting fed for holding sits and just watching the craziness around her unfold. (Game is neutral with others but can tip over into bullying mode if dogs she doesn’t know very well are running like crazy, so I won’t let her participate.)

Chai continues being much better (hitting the end less often) on a 5 meter leash even when Game is off leash ahead of her. I let them play when one of them is wearing a long line or retractable leash but enforce a no-play policy when both are on short (2 meter) leashes. So far so good! At the park, Chai is off leash and Game, depending on how much dog traffic there is, on leash or off leash. In the streets, Game is off leash and Chai on a long line/retractable leash or they are both on short leashes.

After getting home and some morning wrestling, they are both contently sleeping on the living room floor.

Formal recalls revisited!

Since I fucked up my distraction plan and Chai got to the kibble in the park (what with me skipping a few steps), we worked back up slowly. After yesterday’s long-line stage, Zane agreed to be my helper next to kibble in the house with Chai off leash. She nailed it on her first attempt! Single-rep success: check!

We headed up to the roof after a little break. Here, Chai kept going after “Schnee” (my formal recall cue) the first time and then recalled in the second break of this session.

Since my criterion for moving on is a single-rep success session, we took a little “just be a dog” and ping pong recalls break on the roof and then tried again. This time, she succeeded right away, got her chicken and a release to the kibble … good girl! Achievement unlocked! (No video.)

Now Chai is in the bathroom with a chew to relax and unload. I’ve learned my lesson: only empty puppies get to be in the living room. The strategy has given us two days sans accidents. We’ll see how things continue …

Skipping recall steps again – and Chai knows how to exploit my absent-mindedness!

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go from kibble protected by my helper to unprotected kibble at the park we already failed at. Click here to find out what happened …

Human barriers out and about

Chai, Zane and I returned to Fresa Parque in the afternoon – the park where Chai has failed distraction #3 in the past. I didn’t want to repeat the barrier stage for the easier distractions, but thought it would be a good idea to give them another try with kibble and my friend’s help. I was right: Chai went for the kibble on the first approach, and my helper picked up the plate. Keep reading here to see the plot thicken!

2-ball tug

Zane went to get pastries while Chai and I switched gears: our homework for Shade’s class is to get a good strike.

“When you are about to let her strike, make sure the ball is still.
So, good “misses” look like:
ball is still, dog locks on to target, ball is whisked away, repeat.
Try that in your misses, so we can start teaching her to have a good strike. When she gets a good successful strike, she’ll like it more!”

(Shade Whitesel)

Post-recall dog socializing

We then headed home, needing almost no circles at all: I believe I have never seen Chai this tired before! Part of it must have been the sheer amount of food she got at the park and part of it the warm day.

Another short outing with Game

Since Chai hadn’t peed at the park, I took her out on Game’s pee walk. At this point, we entered the sleep-deprived toddler stage, needed lots of circles and threw ourselves at Game on the way down the stairs. Game peed right around the corner and Chai – good girl! – followed suit. We headed right back home and Chai fell asleep right away. No accidents so far today – the third day in a row!


+ “Claws!” (This is how I announce nail clipping and then just do it.) I try to do all paws once a week. Chai was great today – 3ish hours after our outing, she was still zonked and didn’t mind me clipping nails.

+ The last thing we did today – after a break after “claws” – I spent some time cutting the fur between Chai’s toes. She likes this less than nail clipping. Today, I introduced the announcement “clippers.”

+ Brush.

Home alone

Chai stayed home alone for Game’s evening walk. That’s the first time in 3 days she has truly been alone: for the last three days, Zane and I co-worked from my house and there was always someone there when I left with Game. After visiting for a month, Zane went back to Chiapas in the afternoon today. It’s going to feel lonely here without his company! I’ve been in this apartment for only two more nights than he has!

Sunday, July 2 2023 (day 87)

Activity level: high

We started the da with a short morning walk, a wrestling session on the couch (the dogs) and coffee (me).

I’m planning on working partly from Chapultepec today, so after coffee #2 and two FDSA forum responses, I’ll change locations before the parking at Chapultepec fills up.

Chapultepec and Chai’s first real swim!

Chai recalled away from strange dogs she was moving towards … and then swam (retrieved balls from Lago Mayor) for the first time! Go Chai!

And then – unprompted! – she pooped outside! Praise and treats! We take house training success wherever we can get it!

Chai met a younger puppy who had a blast playing with her, and then discovered she is a Border Collie: here she is bordercollying and then forgets what she’s doing, which I use as a recall opportunity.

2 toy fetch and tug

We played tugging reinforced with fetch – and I had the idea to hold the ball as if it was a tug toy! This may be our ticket to good strikes!

I settled down under a tree to continue working after about half an hour of water-and-dogs fun. Chai, wet and zoomy, is playing with Game around me and about to start inviting a younger puppy to play. Can’t imagine where I’d rather work from!

Water fetch as a recall reinforcer!

We had another swim, and for the first time, I used “chase” as a recall reward for “Schnee” two or three times. Turns out this Border Collie loves the water – it makes a perfect reinforcer! There was a lot going on the second time we were there. It reminded me of Silvia Trkman’s “all the toys and all the dogs are out” philosophy that teaches their puppies to not let anyone steal their toy – better bring it all the way back to your person! I created a similar scenario even though I hadn’t planned on it.

The video below shows Chai meeting a bunch of new dogs, Sunday chaos at the swimming spot, water fetch fun and formal recalls for Chai (recalling away from dogs other than Kiba is easy):

We then walked around the lake, followed by another brief water fetch session (I want to keep them short for the puppy to be sure they stay special and fun! I bet swimming uses muscles she isn’t used to using yet.)

Below our walk around the lake. There’s lots of people, animals and things for a puppy to see: bikes, people of all ages, rollerblades, kid cars, strollers, all the dogs, fish, birds, runners, music, street vendors, toys, giant soap bubbles, boats …

We ended with another walk the other direction, through the sculpture gardens where I took a few recall videos away from dogs Chai was approaching because I want to show them to a student:

After 3 hours at the park, we all piled back into the hot, hot car and headed home. Both dogs are passed out and content, and so am I. Content, that is, not passed out … yet.

Loose leash walking on the collar

After Game’s solo evening walk, I remembered I wanted to go to the bank. It’s just around the corner, so this time, I took Chai while Game stayed home. We walked on her collar there and back, practiced waiting at several curbs and passed a leashed barking, lunging dog up close (with one click-and-treat right after the other). In the ATM cabin, Chai got to work on her foot-on-leash-means-lie-down cue. She did amazing on this evening outing!

An interesting observation: Chai’s hand touches are already getting sloppier now that I don’t feed them anymore. (I only feed the first one that gets her in position before I attach the leash to the collar.) Of course, in other contexts, I still feed all hand touches – but they get used most often during LLW. I’ve started feeding some of them again. Today, I fed two and enforced some other slow responses with Chai’s leash pressure cue. It’s a balancing act between creating a behavior chain of pull – touch – feed (I don’t want that) and pull – don’t touch, or take your time responding – no food (I don’t want that either). See my June 30 leash walking video in this post to get a glimpse at hand touches not being reinforced.

As always, every dog is different and not every dog will create a behavior chain at all. I know Chai will, so in her case, it is important to keep an eye on her hand touches and their reinforcement history. If I get more pulling and beautiful hand touches, I am clearly reinforcing too many. If I get slow responses to “touch” and lackadaisical touches, I haven’t been reinforcing enough. We’re still looking for that perfect balance – and it will likely keep shifting since Chai is a juvenile dog who grows and changes every day!

Take-away of the day: observe and train the puppy you have today and stay aware of the fact that tomorrow, things may look different! Whatever the training project – never stop observing your puppy!


+ Brushing


0 accidents in the house and an unprompted poop at Chapultepec! Peed twice on cue in the shower cabin and got rewarded with a treat and the opportunity to join Game and me in the living room! Go Chai!

  1. There’s a brief explanation of how Magic Hands works in this post, under the Magic Hands heading (June 13). ↩︎
  2. Wanna learn how to do what I do in the video below? I’ll teach a class on this in December; mail me to learn more or sign up! ↩︎

CHAI’S DISTRACTION RECALL TRAINING – going rouge again! ROUND 2.3: level 3 (off leash), unprotected kibble at the park … followed by a (genius, I know) helper-fading training plan!

(Still) July 1, 2023

Well, well, well. No, I have still not printed my distraction tracker. No, I do not practice what I preach and keep my 3 environments the same at all 3 levels (level 1: long line; level 2: barrier/helper; level 3: off leash). I was aware of the latter but thought Chai could do it anyways. I was NOT aware of skipping yet another 6 steps, which is both wild and wildly amusing.

Future me chiming in from bird eye’s view:

Check marks are for the achievements Chai has unlocked, strike-through text for the steps I am skipping and the green arrow for what I’m trying on July 1st’s first park session below:

I’m about to skip 6 steps!

July 1, 2023 – off leash unprotected kibble distraction at the first park we already failed at.

Our most difficult distraction, and I just go for it! Watch me crash and burn entertain you and Chai, smart and pragmatic as always, enjoy her pre-recall kibble snack! Who knows where my brain cells are off to. Well, I know where they are off to but seriously – I’d expect to be able to keep all things recall straight anyways! Instead, I’m being hilarious these days. (Nobody’s perfect, dog trainers are just as human as everyone else etc. – I’m sharing this because some students are intimidated by professional trainers when really, there’s no reason to. If your trainer only shows you perfect sessions, that’s not because they only have perfect sessions but because they only show you those. I promise! Our humanness never goes away, no matter how long we’ve been in the field. We all have days where other things are at the forefront of our minds – no matter how much we love our dogs and their training! Personally, I think that’s a good thing. It keeps us humble and it makes for good laughs! So here you go!)

What do you think my rogue self did next? Nope, I didn’t go back to practice unprotected distractions in the house and on the roof. Instead, I got my helper to help and stuck with this very same distraction in this very same location:

Off leash kibble recalls at the park with a human helper (level 2 – barrier/helper)

Here are the next few sessions/reps Zane and I did. In the video below, Chai does exactly what I expected her to do: because she got the kibble in the previous session, she tries again:

We repeat the same set-up. I thought Chai would try again – but no: this puppy learns FAST and has already made the connection that Zane’s presence means there is no point in trying to get the kibble right away! Smart and pragmatic is a dangerous (and dangerously fun) combination!

Chai does well when Zane squats near the kibble plate

This gives me an idea about how to proceed: what if I gradually faded my helper rather than going from recalls with a helper right to recalls without one?

Fading my distraction recall helper at the off-leash kibble stage at the park: 1st step

NICE! Next, I’ll ask Zane to squat just a little further from the kibble …

Fading my helper: 2nd step

Superpuppy! Now I’ll ask Zane to stay at the same distance, but stand up rather than squatting. Gradually changing the picture for Chai …

Fading my helper: Zane stands up

Go Chai! Upwards and onwards: let’s ask Zane to move further back still …

Fading my helper: Zane moves further away from the kibble

Most excellent puppy! (See what Chai is doing here? She is building my trust back up at the same rate that I’m fading my helper. “Patience, grasshopper,” she tells herself. “You’ve got this. You’ll be eating out of your human’s hand again in no time!” This puppy has a master plan!)1

Fading the helper: Zane moves back EVEN further!

Unfortunately, Chai running towards the distraction is out of frame … but you can see her response! Go puppy!

Zane moves further back still – and we need to end the session due to an incessantly barking Dachshund

It’s a shame we had to end here – I would have loved to fade Zane all the way off the stage space and then try again without a helper in this location. Alas – not today! Zane was relieved from his helper duties and I, riding the wave of success, kept going in a bark-free spot of the same park against better knowledge.

No helper – empty plate. Same park, different spot.

Zane headed back to the apartment and I went to a different spot in the park, far from the barky Dachshund. My goal was still to work up to unprotected kibble recalls. I rounded up enough brain cells to start over with an empty plate in the new location: I didn’t want to make both criteria harder at once (new location AND no helper who might pick up the plate). Even though Chai had worked hard to re-build my trust, I wasn’t quite there yet … and as it turns out, that was wise:

Have I mentioned this puppy is whip smart? She knew Zane was gone, saw a plate and would have gone for it. A moment after my recall she realized the plate was empty and turned around to come back to me. I repeated the empty-plate recall in this second location one more time:

After this rep, I made the smart decision to end for the day. Back to the drawing board! I need to think about how to outsmart my puppy … And it’s finally dawning on me that I skipped steps! (It’s humbling to be a student of your own recall protocol and realize that you, too, very much need to print it out or become a person who checks things off digitally.)

Chai had shown me that she was not going to recall away from unprotected kibble in the park at this point! Her motto: “If you see something you might be able to eat – eat it!”

Back to the drawing board I go … let’s see what I’ll cook up next!

  1. I know, of course, that dogs don’t have master plans. If you know me, you’ll know that. But in case you just stumbled across my blog and started reading here, I’m pointing out that this is a joke. ↩︎

CHAI’S DISTRACTION RECALL TRAINING – ROUND 2.3: level 3 (off leash) in the house and level 2 (barrier/helper) revisited

June 30, 2023: I follow the plan! Woohooo!

After having succeeded outdoors, I stuck to the plan this time – hence the title: round 2 (the 2nd stab at distraction recalls) .3 (level 3: off leash) in our first location with our first distraction.


Steps we have already tested out of are indicated by a check mark, past steps I skipped are crossed out and the steps I am tackling in this post have a green arrow in front of them. Future steps have a square:

Off leash recall away from an empty plate in the house

Reinforcer: a piece of cooked chicken from my hand and “okay” release to check out the distraction.

Extracalifragilisticexpialidocious! Upwards and onwards: distraction #2 – the bag. I didn’t have the paper bag anymore and used a plastic bag that used to have pastries in it instead:

Off leash recall away from empty plastic bag in the house

Chai nailed this distraction as well! Go puppy!

According to my notes, I did not trust that Chai would recall away from kibble off leash. I did not take video, but this is what my notes say:

Long line recall away from kibble in the house

I wanted to go back a step due to my faux pas the other day where I skipped a few steps and she got the kibble. My helper was still working and I don’t have a barrier other than him, so I went back to a long line. And indeed: she hit the end two (or was it three?) times before we could end on a success: recall on a loose long line, chicken from my hand and release to eat the kibble.

So we did end on a success … but not at the off leash (level 3) stage.

July 1, 2023: revisiting the barrier/helper level (level 2)

I had my helper back and revisited the barrier stage with Chai off leash and Zane protecting the most difficult distraction – kibble – in the house. She nailed it on her first attempt! (No video.)

Next, we went up to the roof for an off-leash kibble recall with Zane ready to pick up the kibble plate: by now, I had realized I hadn’t done the barrier level for kibble on the roof the last time.

It took two sessions with a break in between: Zane had to lift the kibble plate in the first rep of the first session. In rep #2, Chai nailed it. We took a recall games break and then had another helper session, getting a single-rep success on the roof (no video).

At this point, future me with his bird eye’s view can proudly show you the following table:

Yay – no more skipped steps! But will I remember that I haven’t yet worked on off-leash kibble in the living room? Stay tuned to find out …