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

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

August 30, 2023 – session 1: Dead Poultry Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recall reward, ready to go!

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

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

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

Notes for the next session:

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

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

Location: Toy Play Plaza

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

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

Notes for next session:

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

September 5, 2023: a recall oops!

Location: Toy Play Plaza

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

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

Notes for the next session:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location: Toy Play Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location: Los Dinamos

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

September 11, 2023: another back-tie attempt

Location 1: Toy Play Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes for the next two sessions:

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

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

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

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

Location 1/3: Toy Play Plaza

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

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

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

Notes for the next session:

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2023

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

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

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

Two lessons for next time:

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

September 16, 2023: SUCCESS!!!

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

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

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

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

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 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 …

Chai’s distraction recall training – round 2.2: starting over with level 2 (barrier) at a different park

June 29, 2023

Since yesterday, we failed at off-leash recalls, I remembered: oops. I haven’t done barrier recalls in the real world, have I? No, I have not. So that’s what we did today. We went to our favorite toy play Plaza and started over there – with barriers in a difficult location that wasn’t the same one we had just failed in off leash. While we never did the barrier recall with our most difficult distraction that was still missing from our work on the roof of the apartment building, at least that was the only step we skipped: barrier levels at the park is what comes next according to my recall tracker! (There is a reason my recall distraction protocol follows the order it does: I’ve tried different variations with different dogs and found this order to be the most successful for most dogs.)

I’m titling this post “round 2.2” because I see it as my second stab (the first “2”) at distraction recalls, and I’m starting at level 2 (the barrier level, indicated by the “.2”).

Future me chiming in here from a bird’s eye view:

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

Empty plate behind a barrier at the plaza – success!

My reinforcer, as of yesterday, is a piece of chicken from my hand followed by an “okay” release to check out the distraction.

While Chai would certainly have liked to investigate the plate after my “okay” release, she DID it – a recall success, no doubt! Upwards and onwards: the intermediate distraction!

Paper bag behind a barrier at the plaza

This is more difficult! According to my recall protocol, we want a single-rep success at every distraction step. That means the very first rep of a session needs to be a turn on a dime. If it isn’t, the session continues until the dog is successful. Then, after a break of at least 15 minutes, we do another identical session – aiming for a single-rep success again.

In the video below, you’ll see 2 sessions: Chai isn’t successful on her first attempt. Therefore, our first session has 2 reps (the second rep is a turn on a dime). We then take a 15-minute break of park fun and repeat an identical session, getting a single-rep recall success in our second session! Achievement unlocked

Our most difficult distraction: kibble behind a barrier!

Wooohooo! Even though I had to change barriers and head to a different location in the same park – during our 15-minute between-sessions break, Chai didn’t only play in the fountain but also figure out how to get behind the first barrier – we are getting a single-rep success with distraction 3!

I can’t quite believe how well my puppy is doing and call a second time (going off the rails of my recall protocol, which calls for sessions to be ended as soon as you get a single-rep success) when Chai is looking right at the kibble, trying to get into the playground. She nails this second recall too and I’m convinced: my puppy has tested out of distraction #3 at the barrier level! Go Chai!!

Our reinforcer, by the way, is still chicken from my hand – and a “Get it” piece of chicken in the second rep in the video above – followed by a release to the barrier. I decided to not open the gate to the playground and give Chai direct access to the kibble at this point: look and smell yes, eat no.

Stay tuned to find out what I’ll try next …!

Urban art chase: I’ll run a second scavenger hunt – I just haven’t decided what piece of off-the-beaten-track CDMX art we’ll end with. But I already know I’ll make things more challenging – and potentially more fun – this time around by sending you all over the city!

Chai’s distraction recall training – round 1.2: level 2 (barrier/helper) in an easy environment!

June 25, 2023

I haven’t gone off the rails yet – still sticking to the distraction recall tracker (apart from the fact that the leash tightened for distraction #1 at the park and I did not repeat that session). So for the most part – good dog trainer, C! Click and treat!

Yesterday, we tested out of level 1 and are now at level 2 of my distraction protocol – the barrier/helper stage: the dog will be off leash and the 3 distractions in their 3 environments either behind a barrier or being protected by a helper who is ready to cover or pick them up. Zane agreed to be the guardian of my distractions. Sunday morning, we tackled Chai’s easy distraction – the empty plate – in our first (easiest) environment: the living room.

We took a brief break and moved on to distraction #2 – the paper bag:

This session looked even better than the previous one where Chai had every-so-briefly hesitated (which I ever-so-nonchalantly ignored): now she was sure I had chicken, and nothing (she knew of) beat chicken!

Upwards and onwards – distraction #3, the most difficult one! Kibble! What do you think is about to happen? Take a guess; then let’s find out:

Did you think I would crash and burn? Not at all! The master of puppyteers is lulling me in a false sense of security all the while concocting The Master Plan below her dark sunglasses deceptively big ears. She’s a poker player drawing me in with puppy dog eyes: she is letting me win and win again. She is pushing stacks of chips neurotransmitters, hormones and endorphines of proud dogtrainerness across the table: “I am anticipating your every wish! You can trust me, C. Would a creature as cute and perfectly eared as I ever eat your kibble? We are a team. You are my ride or die. Sunsets! And something about stealing horses in your native language! Raise the stakes, C! GO ALL IN! It is going to be a glorious day.”

Urban art clue #6: our art piece is located on one of the sides of a triangle formed by two major highway-ish streets (the a and b sides of the triangle) that appear yellow in the “map” or “terrain” view of Google Maps, and by one smaller street (the c side of the triangle). My triangle sides may not be properly named, but I’m the one naming them, so you’ll all just have to live with it. Triangle anarchy! 🏴‍☠️

Chai’s distraction recall training – round 1.1: level 1 in an intermediate environment!

Next stop: the roof of our apartment building! We’re off to a strong start with the empty plate. (The reason no one here is running full speed is the fact that it is HOT!)

Upwards and onwards: intermediate distraction on the roof – the paper bag!

This went so well – after a break, we head back for our third and most difficult challenge in the intermediate environment: kibble!

At first sight, the video above looks great: Chai recalled, didn’t she? Well – yes and no. Watch again! At 00:11, she does a double take. I should not count this as a win, but repeat the session. I saw the double take in real time and again when reviewing the video. And then I said to myself: you know what, she is doing SO well – nevermind that little hesitation. Oh, past C, my friend! Future C smiles at you and shakes his head. You lowered your guard! You don’t know it yet, past C – but nothing escapes the twentythird sense of The Border Collie. She won’t let that one slide …

Urban art clue #4: it IS in one of the neighborhoods that have more than one part (when I say parts, I mean the equivalent of Upper, Lower and Midtown Manhattan.)

Chai’s distraction recall training – round #1.1 (of many!) Today: level 1 in an easy environment!

Since the person writing this post is future C, I can tell you: this is the start of a very long strategy game between puppy Chai and me!

In this first round of distraction recalls, I planned on using my distraction protocol (the way I teach it in Calling All Dogs1 at FDSA). We’d work our way through it – should be a breeze! – and move on to more interesting training projects! (Future C laughs out loud. Oh, past C! You are too cute when you underestimate The Border Collie!)

3 distractions:

  1. Empty plate (easy)
  2. Crumpled-up bag that used to have food in it (intermediate)
  3. Kibble (difficult)

3 locations:

  1. Living room (easy)
  2. Roof (intermediate)
  3. Park (difficult)

3 levels of distraction protection:

  1. Long line
  2. Off leash, distraction behind barrier (helpers and fences)
  3. Off leash, no distraction

I have a distraction training tracker I ask my students to fill in because I know how easy it is to accidentally skip steps. I filled it in for Chai as well. This is what it looked like. The mistake I made was that I didn’t print it … so I soon stopped looking at it and eventually went rogue. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Like the good protocol-following dog trainer I am, I started with my empty plate in my living room and with my puppy on her long line:

June 22, 2023

After successful completion of the easy distraction, we moved on to intermediate:

Seeing how well this had gone, we took a break and then upped the ante: our most difficult distraction in location #1 on a long line!

What a superstar! We got to check off the first three boxes on the distraction tracker! (Or we would get to check them off, physically, if we had printed the tracker. Since I don’t own a printer, printing stuff involves exporting my Google doc to a PDF, transferring the PDF to a USB stick, walking to a print shop that may or may not be open … You get the picture. It’s easy to start out with good intentions and not follow through when printing is more than just clicking a button!) But hey – I shouldn’t be making excuses for myself. Truth be told, I thought I had taught and used this protocol SO many times that I knew it by heart anyways. Who needs a print-out! Not past C! (Future C cracks up. Oh, dear past C! You’re in for a surprise!)

  1. Which happens to be running this term in case you want to hop in! I’m giving away a free Bronze spot on Facebook – go grab it! ↩︎

Chaiary: the Kiba recall challenge!

Chai has a good recall away from dogs, even out of full-on play. Only Kiba is different: Kiba is Chai’s best friend. She is only a month older and they have the same play style.

Chai is able to recall … But only once they have played and Chai has satiated on Kiba. When she first sees her and hasn’t yet had an opportunity to play, she cannot currently respond when I call.

I love a good challenge, so I’m going to work up to recalls away from Kiba before Chai has had a chance to say hi!

June 12, 2023

Here, I’m trying an informal recall on leash: I will use the leash to stop Chai if she doesn’t respond. I will wait her out if she doesn’t respond and then “okay” release and drop the leash. Only once I get her to recall on “Pup-pup-pup” alone do I want to try and use her formal recall cue. That’s the plan for now anyways!

There were a two or three more recalls between June 12 and July 22 that I didn’t record and didn’t take notes on … And sadly, all I remember is that I did not get Chai to respond on Pup-pup-pup on the pink long line. Picking back up with a video on July 22:

July 22, 2023

Today, I decided to try a shaping approach: I would simply wait Chai out, release with “Okay!” and drop the leash as soon as she reoriented, weight-shifted or moved an ear back towards me. Well – I did, and Chai said, “Now what?”

Next time, I’ll either run up to Kiba together with Chai or call her when she checks in rather than releasing her right away: check in – recall – tongue click – chicken – “Okay!”

I don’t want to introduce that “Now what?” confusion into our recall!

Is one of the above options better or worse than the other one? No, they are simply different. Go with your gut if working on a similar challenge with your own dog!

July 24, 2023

I botched today’s training plan even though I went over it in my head before getting to the park: Alan and Kiba were late, so Chai and I worked on positions and personal play first. When our friends suddenly came around around the corner, I barely had time to hit record on my phone … And I ended up repeating yesterday’s session rather than doing what I actually wanted to do, which was call Chai when she reoriented. Anyways, here’s the video! Looking a bit better than yesterday, so we’ll take it as a win either way! And next time, I will call her!

My challenge: I only get a single recall to practice this because once the two Border Collies have had a chance to greet each other, I can call Chai without problems. The challenge is before they’ve said hi to each other! We’ll try again Wednesday.

July 26, 2023

I stuck to the training plan today, called “Schnee” as soon as Chai reoriented, got THE most enthusiastic response and ran back to Kiba together with her. I had planned on using my informal recall cue but the formal one came out of my mouth instead. It worked though – so all good!

Finally, things went (almost) according to plan … and I did not record it. Sad face. I’ll repeat the same step another time to get a video.

Today’s single salvageable picture of a great session isn’t very helpful!

August 3, 2023

Off leash Kiba and off leash Chai met at the park today. We hadn’t planned for it, but I felt optimistic, had chicken ready because we had just practice a food distraction recall, and just went with it! I used my formal recall cue (“Schnee!”) since it had worked so well the last time and Chai spun right around from running up to greet her friend, came back for her handful of chicken and then enjoyed a good play session. WE DID IT! I’ll repeat the exercise to get video proof. But oh-SO-proud of my girl!

Some pics from after the recall and after they played – by now, I had had time to get out my phone! Happy pups!

August 23, 2023 (the date in the video thumbnail is wrong)

FINALLY, I got my formal recall away from Kiba on video! Chai saw Kiba – checked in with me – looked at Kiba again – recalled on “Schnee” and got a piece of liver before being “okay”-released to play with her friend! SO proud of my puppy! (And SO grateful for these two friends – this human and his dog – and the fact that I can count on them unconditionally and for much more than just training dogs. Thank you, Alan.)

September 8, 2023: using the opportunity for another formal off-leash recall before saying hi to Kiba

I used today’s play-and-training-and-catching-up meet up for another recall away from Kiba before the dogs had a chance to say hi. I reinforced with liver and okay-released Chai to play.

You’ll see in this clip that recalling away from Kiba has become easy for Chai: as she’s growing up, she’s getting less playful which makes Kiba less of a difficult distraction than she used to be. Good girl, Chai. Sooner or later, I’ll have to stop calling you a puppy!

This video concludes the Kiba recall series! Recalling away from her bestie has turned into a walk in the – literal – park for Chai!

Day 60 – June 5, 2023: recalls, park time and leash walking foundations

+ Chai and I started the day with a round of tugging on the bed and then had a tug-and-flirt-pole session on the roof. (See this post for a video.)

+ We had our first session explaining the imaginary line (LLW)1 to Chai!

+ I took Game and Chai to our favorite park and park-officed from there while the dogs enjoyed free time at the park. I love working outdoors and Mexico City’s free wifi is decent here!

Bougainvillea season. I love the color. Stop and take a moment to look up at a tree. Beauty lives in small moments like this.

For the first time e-ver, I used Chai’s informal pup-pup-pup recall cue to call her out of a social interaction with a new dog (at a moment she was about to take a break anyways), and sent her back to socialize some more as a reinforcer. She did GREAT! I’m so proud of her! I then tried her formal recall cue as well and she rocked that one too.


+ “Claws!” and
+ “Brush!”

Social time

Chai enjoyed Zane’s company in the evening. He is quickly turning into a human she is excited to see! I love seeing her circle of friends expand.

(1) If you’re not familiar with the invisible line concept – click here for info about my December class and a micro e-book on different LLW approaches.

Taking Shade’s Toy Class with Chai – part 1

This is the first of several special-topics posts I am going to link to in future Chaiary posts rather than inserting all video links directly into Chai’s diary!

Shade Whitesel runs a fantastic toy play class over at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. I’ve taken it twice at Gold now simply because it’s SO good and highly motivating for me, too.

If you need help with toy play or know how to teach toy play but are looking for fun, community and accountability, hop into that class! Here’s a link where you should be able to find whenever it runs next (as well as Shade’s other classes – 10/10 would recommend anything she teaches!)

So this post is about Chai’s tug toy journey with Shade. We took the class in June 2023 so I’d keep up my own motivation and have accountability.

Since Chai already knows fetch games, I decided to focus on tugging – something I haven’t done with her at all. I’ll share all of my class videos, but if you want to know more details about how they came to be, what lecture they are based on or why Shade recommended what, you’ll have to check out the class yourself!

How to make sense of this post:

When there is text to go with my videos, it’s part of my class posts from June and partly thoughts I’m adding now. I sometimes copy/pasted my class posts into my video description which I can now (now being September 11, several months after the class) go back to and copy/paste into this blog post! When I ask questions or use the word “you”1 in the text that goes with a particular video, I’m addressing Shade. When I use the name “Shade,” I either added this thought today or changed the “you” from the original post to “Shade” because the name sounded better to me in a particular sentence or context.

June 1, 2023: tug baseline

Note: I have never played tug with Chai before (it didn’t seem a priority behavior for a foster dog who might go to a companion home). In this video, I’m just seeing what she thinks about various tug toy options, most of which are new to her.

I’ll have to bring down my own arousal for her next time! I can tell that Chai is not used to my Malinois toy play state of mind! It is fun how different she is from Phoebe, Grit and Game who all latched on to anything they were presented with and didn’t let go from the start!

June 3, 2023: a flirt pole and a fleece tug for Chai!

I am writing this post 3 months after the fact, so I hope to get things right – I believe this was my second class video. I made a flirt pole to engage Chai with a fleece tug. Unfortunately, Game’s mat was harmed in the making of this fleece tug: I braided two identical onces and cut up Game’s fleece mat for it.

In any case, we’re getting some lovely chasing and tentative tugging on this toy! It’s soft (perfect for teething puppies), it runs away, and the distance between me and the fleece tug that is created by the flirt pole (a broom stick and a strong – I usually make my own flirt poles) reduces pressure from my side. I’m happy with this first flirt pole session!

June 5, 2023: playing with the fleece tug on my bed and with the flirt pole on the roof

Clips from 2 short sessions. My Observations:

+ Chai will occasionally target my hands rather than the toy (that only happened when playing on the bed).
+ It is very easy to (accidentally) pull the toy out of her mouth. Is that okay because it will teach her to clamp down more should I be more careful so it doesn’t happen?

I have my own answers to questions like this last one, but enjoy very much following an experienced trainer’s advice. I do not remember Shade’s response but I’m pretty sure what I ended up doing is starting gently so Chai is unlikely to constantly loose the toy, but making it run away immediately and harder to catch anytime she did let go or I accidentally pulled it out of her mouth: critters don’t sit around waiting to be eaten by predators but will use any opportunity to escape!

June 6, 2023: Chai’s second time playing with the flirt pole and tugging on the roof!

I aimed for gentle, steady pulling (not jerky). What should I do when I have let her win and she’s shaking it dead, like at 00:12-00:18 in the video below? I kept the flirt pole string loose and just admired her strength this time.

At 00:20 she was holding it and lying down on it, so I got the second identical fleece tug out to get her off the one on the flirt pole without conflict. Then I reactivated the flirt pole.

At 00:34/35 I was about to let her win after steady pressure for 2 seconds, and right then I accidentally pulled it out of her mouth again. Ooops! Sorry, Chai!

01:28 in the very end: “Treats” is my scatter cue and how I end the session and get the toys back.

June 7, 2023: playing with the fleece tugs on the bed (my non-slip indoors surface) for the second time

A compilation of this morning’s best bed tug moments. It’s fun to work with someone so different from the Mals and GSDs I’ve mostly played with over the last few years! (I’ve also played with a ferociously tugging Border Collie, Mick, whose personality is quite different from Chai’s, and a ferociously tugging pug!) There must have been plenty of others, but these are the ones I actively and personally worked with a lot and had the most fun with!

Even in personal play, Chai is being really gentle. I’m used to blood, bruises, torn clothes, dog-head-hooks to the chin and battle scars from social play! (I love roughhousing – it’s only partly the dogs. And yes, I exaggerate!) It is only toys and humans Chai is gentle with though. When she plays with Game or crunches down on a plastic bottle, she crushes those sharky teeth right in!

June 8, 2023: playing with fleece tugs on the roof without a flirt pole!

Chai is pulling back VERY gently (I am saying that from a crazy Phoebe-Poodle/Mal baseline) – I just make it look as if she was pulling strongly. In the second rep, she caught the tug too fast for me to get a chance to present a good striking target. Otherwise, we’re having a great time!

June 11, 2023: tug attempts on the roof as well as on the bed – a comparison

Roof play:

Our tug attempt on the roof did not go as well this morning. Chai lay down and never brought the toy back, so I ended quickly. (It’s warmer than usual and she has had play time with Game before – tomorrow morning, I’ll try roof play before any of this and play earlier in the day.)

Or did I overdo it this time and tugged too long rather than making it too easy? (Shade has suggested I make things a little more difficult for Chai.)

Indoors play:

We took a second stab at tugging in the apartment. My floor is not an ideal tugging surface because it is slippery, but I know Chai gravitates to the bed – so I wanted to see what would happen if I tugged her off the bed and then ran away back TO the bed. She brought the toy back all the way every time. It’s about the bed I suspect, not me, because the bed is the best place to chew on something … Hrmmm …

June 12, 2023: another roof tug session

This session was right after getting up with a puppy full of energy and okay temperatures (it’s been really hot during the day but mornings are okay).

In this session, Chai brought the toy part of the way back once, about two thirds into the session.

What do you think about bringing out toy #2 when I can’t convince her to bring back toy #1 (like 00:20/21)? I can’t ask her, but I get the impression that she prefers tugging with me over chewing a toy on the floor – but she has not figured out that bringing back the tug is a part of that game …

What happens most of the time is that I try to encourage her after running away, and she then comes running but forgets the toy (see 00:41-00:43). I then ask her where her toy is, and she goes back to the toy and looks at me expectantly or lies down again to chew (00:47-00:49).

The last part of the clip (00:50-00:59) is the one time in this session she brought the toy partially with her when I encouraged her to come. I can’t tell if I did something differently in this rep than in the other ones or if it was a coincidence.

We’ve also had a session on the bed, and Chai continues predictably gravitating back to it when I’m on it. I’m flashing my hands in target-them-with-the-toy position. She does not target yet but runs towards me/my hands (because I’m on the bed).

Should I keep practicing in both locations or modify something?

June 13, 2023: a blanket target on the roof!

Shade had the great idea to use a blanket as a “target” to run towards on the roof – a stand-in for the bed. It worked like a charm every single time I ran to the blanket. (It’s clearly the blanket, not me. When I tried running somewhere else, she’d still go to the blanket.)

I have a second identical blanket – should I stick to one or try with two?

June 14, 2023: our second session with a blanket target on the roof.

Shade’s input:

“In order to transfer off the mat, we need to have physical signals (hands to target and frontal body position) that happen before she sees the mat.”

My response:

Good point, that makes a lot of sense! In today’s session, I only got the head thrashing movement once. In general, she is letting me lead her more with the toy now that I’m pulling more strongly – rather than pulling back, she’ll often walk with me with her mouth on the toy. I’ve been grabbing the toy to continue tugging as soon as she reaches the mat. I wonder if that’s not the best strategy. Should I only put my hands on the toy when she lets go of it – even if I’ve flashed my target hands at her before? The reason I wonder is that in the last rep of today’s session, she lay down off the mat (right next to it) with the toy rather than coming all the way back to me and the mat. I ended there with a scatter to get Shade’s opinion before I continue.

This was part 1 of our work in Shade’s class (our first 10 videos)! Here is part 2 and here’s part 3.

(1) In this particular post, “you” never refers to “you, the reader.”