Shade Whitesel runs a great 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! This is the second part of Chai and my class journey! Here’s part 1 and here’s part 3, each containing 10 videos.

June 16, 2023: TWO targets and ZERO targets on the roof!

It turned out that one target was better than the other! Oh well! The litte Border Collie knows what she wants!

June 17, 2023: hands near toys

Shade then asked to see me work on their “hands near tug toys” lecture indoors. This is a great exercise: when I say “toy,” it means I’ll hand the toy to Chai (this is not a cue she is familiar with but one I made up on the fly). Her eye contact is a start button for my hands moving closer to the toy. If she moves closer to it in return, I retreat my hand. The click communicates either that a treat is coming or marks Chai dropping the toy. I love this conversation because not only does it teach the dog you are not interested in stealing their toy – it’s also great for practicing going back and forth between food and toys!

June 18, 2023: two balls in the real world

Shade suggested we pivot away from teaching tug with the fleece toy as an independent game, but use “chase” (the 2-ball game Chai already knows) to reinforce tugging. That’s what I would have tried at this point as well if I worked on this independently. It’s fun to see how what different dog trainers will do and when is like criss-crossing paths: sometimes overlapping, sometimes briefly moving away from each other and then merging again …!

I always watch my video before submitting and think about what I would suggest next if the person and dog in the video wasn’t me, but a student team of mine. Sometimes it’s the same thing Shade suggests and sometimes it’s different. It’s a fun exercise – give it a go yourself if you’re taking online classes!

I believe I first showed Shade a 2-ball video baseline inside and then one in the real world – they wanted to see how Chai did in a place I was better able to throw and bounce balls (no risk of throwing them off the roof and having my dog leap after them!)

Below is the first video I showed Shade of our two-ball game in the real world. I say an “out” cue in this video right before Chai lets go – that’s how I teach an out cue if the dog would let go of the toy anyways: I just name the behavior, and voilà, I’ve got it on cue (German “Aus!” in my video).

The reason I’ve been playing on the roof rather than outdoors is that Mexico City parks are VERY distracting environments and I don’t have access to a calmer large space … except for days like the one in the video. (Which is a bit of a drive away, so not an everyday place.)

This is what I added with the video I submitted to class:

“Here is a 2-ball play snippet in a calmer space. My balls don’t squeak – the squeaking you hear in the video is my friend’s toy (the owner of the chocolate BC puppy who makes a brief appearance.) I’ve named the “out” once I knew she was about to spit the ball out reliably; this is how we currently play 2 balls. So far, tennis balls are the only toy that I’ve used “chase” with and the 2 ball game is the only context I’ve used “Aus” (out) in.”

Just for your entertainment – below is Chai playing with 2 balls in a busier environment that comes closer to what we have access to on a daily basis! She’s being a rockstar even though a lot is going on around her! I don’t think I submitted the video below to class, only the above one. The one below is from June 23; just Chai and I having fun with 2 balls and me throwing in my “out” cue:

Shade (I am writing this from memory so don’t quote me on my exact words!) suggested I drop my out cue for the purpose of this class. This isn’t what I would have done, but that’s okay – when I take someone’s class, one of the best parts is doing things a little bit different than you would without their input!

June 19, 2023: dropping the “out” cue

Here is Chai – back on the roof – without the “out” cue (showing that she’ll still drop the ball reliably):

June 20, 2023: holding the ball in 3 different positions and always getting a lovely return

Shade has a lecture on the 2-ball game where the toy the handler has is held in three different positions and the dog learns to return their ball seamlessly either way. Chai already knows this game, so here we’re showing off! The three positions are ball behind the handler’s back, ball next to the handler, e.g. on a shelf, and ball in handler’s pocket.

Brief notes I submitted with this video:

3 hand positions, no “Aus” cue!
We’ve also kept practicing the hands near toy exercise both on the couch and on the floor.

June 22, 2023: eye contact and an attempt at the two-ball game with rope toys

Next, Shade suggested playing the two-ball game with toys we could also tug with. I used two rope toys, hoping they would be less fun to chew than the softer fleece tugs. Here’s what I wrote with my video submission:

“I shaped up to (a little) longer eye contact for food! Aaaaaand we had a non-ball fail on the roof: I used 2 rope toys and they were fun to chew on. (I got eye contact, but no returns …) I suspect if I used my fleece tugs, it would be even harder for her to return them because they’d be even more fun to chew … Hrm …”

(The eye contact part is because we are using eye contact as a start button.)

Shade suggested that things might be easier for Chai if we played in the real world where I didn’t have to worry about the toys falling off the roof – despite the distractions. This is what we do in our next session, and it turned out Shade was right!

June 23, 2023: 3 sets of two toys in the real world

My comments with the video below:

I started out with easy balls (plastic – not fun to chew on), progressed to more difficult ones (tennis ball – one might want to lie down and chew off the fuzz) and progressed to rope toys (definitely something to chew on!) I lowered my eye contact criterion to just a single quick look when I saw her struggle with more than this in a more distracting environment.

I’m proud of how well Chai is able to deal with dog distractions!

Shade suggested to stick to balls on strings – they would be both bouncy and could be used for tugging. In the afternoon of the same day, we played with them in a different park and I waited for a tiny little bit of eye contact between throws.

June 26, 2023: 3 seconds of eye contact duration, and Mexico City park life for everyone’s amusement

“We worked on 3 seconds of duration for her eye contact (no problem for Chai) yesterday for a simple 2-ball chase game. We got lucky and had no interruptions (and no video) of our session at the park!1

Today, I tried adding tugging. This time, we did NOT get lucky in terms of avoiding dog distractions. This is what our normal looks like about 50% of the time (and the reason I’ve been playing on the roof!) The first half of this video is just for everyone’s amusement: enjoy some Mexico City park life! And no, this is not a dog park. It is just a park (any park will be like this).

I am impressed how well Chai did – the reason I even started the game was that all the other dogs were off again and Chai was giving me beautiful engagement when I got started. If the dogs had still been around, I wouldn’t have started because that is clearly not a fair level of distraction for a dog who is only just learning a game. The tugging I get (when the whippety dog comes back) is weak, but I am impressed that I get it at all, and I really do want to reward it with chase, so we get 2 messy whippet-disrupted chases there as well. (And then I am smart enough to end. Barking whippety dogs? Chai’s body language tells me that she can work through whippets who body-block her when she tries to return a toy to me, but being barked at does not feel good.)

00:38-00:42 In the first rep of returning the ball she drops it off camera: right at the tripod and my bag where I’ve been standing for a few minutes when setting up and waiting out the other dogs, and when Chai asked me to work. I suspect my history of standing there is what makes her gravitate to this spot. I don’t think she’s purposefully running past me/dropping the ball far from me.”

Keep reading here for part 3 of the toy class series (our next 10 toy videos)!

(1) If you take online classes with video submissions, I suggest you do this as well: take the occasional day or two to just practice rather than submitting videos. Also, only move to the next step after you have gotten feedback on the previous one. In order to get the most out of a video-submission class, quality beats quantity. It’s not about using every last one of your weekly video minutes, but about working at your dog’s pace, taking your time and not skipping steps. This looks a little different for every team – but the most important take-home message for you, the handler, is: don’t worry about submitting videos every single day or using up every single second of your time. That’s secondary – you and your dog training is what comes first!

In yesterday’s post, I promised CDMX readers who happen to be into scavenger hunts a daily clue that may get you closer to finding this piece of street art:

Here’s your first clue: it is right next to the abandoned building we climbed in yesterday’s post.

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