There are times that I think I'm seriously slacking in the training department, because I haven't added any new tricks to Ruby's roster or made a lot of progress on the reactive front, but I have to remind myself that we are training every day, just by interacting and more importantly by playing. Ruby has proven a few times recently that not only is she motivated by toy rewards, but she enjoys and even seems to ask for the training itself.
The other night Ruby brought me her JW Pet treat pod bone - a hard plastic bone with three colored squishy rings which can be filled with treats. I don't normally use it as a treat dispenser, but both dogs seem to like the different chewing textures. I started to tug on one end and Ruby let go. I tossed it across the rug and she just looked at it. She didn't seem to want to play either of her favorite games - tug or fetch. I took the toy and asked for a 'down'. She happily laid down and wagged her tail. I placed the toy on her paws and told her 'leave it'. More wagging. I told her 'get it' and she grabbed the bone. I grabbed it and said 'drop it' and she released it to my hand. I told her 'get it' and she grabbed it joyfully back. We played several more rounds of 'drop it,' 'leave it' and 'get it' - a spontaneously invented game that Ruby inspired with her enthusiasm for something new.
Another routine we've been practicing lately revolves around Ruby's nightly game of tug. I like to mix things up and incorporate some of her tricks into our game to keep her body and mind busy. One of my favorites is to ask for her "box turn" - a flyball dog move - in which Ruby jumps up onto the side of the sofa and down. Our cue is a sort of "schew" noise and sending my hand palm out away from my body. This is a great way to burn some extra energy, but I also wanted to involve more impulse control in our games - asking Ruby to go from a very high state of arousal to a low one. I thought a great way to do this would be incorporating her mat work into our tug games. I placed her pink mat in one corner of the living room, and opened her crate door in the other. In between throwing and tugging the toy, I asked her to go to either her crate (we call it a den) or her mat (or both) before releasing her to play again. I was really impressed by the way she ran to her mat and laid down - while not truly relaxed, just being able to maintain stillness in the midst of her favorite game took a great deal of self control. I was even able to say 'leave it' and throw the tug toy while she waited on her mat or in her den for release. Ruby seemed proud of herself for accomplishing each step, and over the next few days, I felt that my bond with her strengthened. I believe that our tug/mat/den exercise increased her confidence, that knowing where to go and when to wait in the smaller world of our play session extended to the bigger world. I plan to keep this up and expand on it throughout the winter.
Even when cold days keep us indoors, the possibilities for training games are endless. Figure out what your dog loves best and train around that. It doesn't always have to be food, and it doesn't always have to look like training - it can look a lot like fun.
This post is part of the Positive Training Blog Hop, hosted on the first Monday of every month by Cascadian Nomads, Dachshund Nola and Tenacious Little Terrier. This month's theme is 'Rewards' but any positive training posts are welcome - please join us!