Saturday, November 5, 2011

The game I played today

Tess has a hard time with the game fetch.  Her favorite game is tug - so the concept that we will be taking a really good toy and she'll get it and bring it, just to have it taken away so it can be thrown again isn't her idea of a really good time.  

I've tried pointing out that her father was a VERY good retriever so it is IN HER GENES to do this, but she just cocks her head and looks at me with an expression that says "just because you bought me a orange biothane hunting collar doesn't mean I have to act like a retriever". 

Knowing that she regards tug, treats, games requiring lots of movement and speed, and certain toys as extremely high value, I try to incorporate them to make the fetch game have a higher value than taking the toy, running, and playing with it herself all by her lonesome.

 This morning, I played fetch, combined with hide and seek. 

First I let her chose a toy out of the toy box.  This itself is a reward - I usually dictate what toy we will be playing with.  She chose a toy ideally suited for fetch, a hollow rubber/plastic stick.  She ran around with it growling playfully, trying to engage me in a game of chase the puppy, letting me know she regarded this toy as HIGH value - higher value than engaging me. 

I tried some of the other strategies I've been using to reinforce fetch (see list at bottom of this post) but it quickly became apparent that the games were too passive and not engaging enough.  

In a brilliant move of sheer genius creativity - I decided to play hide and seek!

You see - I'm not normally creative, or brilliant, or a source (as my puppy continuously reminds me) of spontaneous fun.  I'm methodical and have a tendency to harp on one concept about 3 reptitions too many. 

I'm quite proud of myself - I recognized the problem, didn't try to play or train in a way that was doomed from the start, didn't get frusterated, and instead found a way to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish - reinforcing the concept of - I am much more fun than any toy, I am the source of all good cookies, and if you lose track of me - you better find me QUICK.  

As a side note - being creative and finding an alternative way to train based on Tess's mood and distraction level, instead of getting frusterated, has been my biggest challenge.  I'm seeing real progress in this area.  More times in the last 10 days then ever before I've had training sessions where I didn't ask for too much, didn't move too fast, and was able to train the pup I had right then instead of the one I planned for.  This is real progress for me as a trainer.  

She likes hide and seek - we've been playing it as part of our recall project, there's treats involved when she finds me and she gets to run around like a crazy idiot looking for me and focus all that energy doing something GOOD (trust me - one of the most difficult things about having a high-prey drive/high-energy puppy).

I tossed the toy down the hall and then disappeared around the corner. 

She tore around the corner with the toy in her mouth and dropped it in my hand.  Good girl!  Treat. 

I threw it down the hall and ducked behind the recliner.

It took her longer this time, and she arrived without the toy.  I looked at her.  She knew she should be getting a treat for finding me - so when she didn't get one, she knew she was missing some element to this new game.  I looked at the toy to give her a hint.  She got it immediately, ran to get the toy and brought it to me.  Good girl!  treat.  (BTW - this is why I love shaping behavior - she thinks through new challenges and looks to me for hints as subtle as where my eyes are going, puts 2 previously unlinked behaviors together, and voila!). 

I hid in progressively harder locations and she got better and better at having the toy in her mouth when she finally found me. 

Success! I created value for bringing me a toy while still engaging her at a high level - I didn't have problems with her trying to run off with the toy, or sniffing around like a bored puppy, or becoming a "distract-a-puppy". 

Training ideas:
For those of you attempting to train or shape fetch, here's some of the other fetch games I've played:
  • Take the toy from my hand, then give it back for a treat.
  • Drop the toy in front of me, pup picks it up and gives it to me for a treat.
  • Throw the toy a short distance, pup picks it up, and I've moved in almost to the toy to give a treat.
  • Gradually throw the toy further and further and stay stationary for the toy to be brought back for the treat.
  • Have 2 toys - a good fetch toy (for Tess, this is balls and other stuff that moves and bounces quickly - she plays with them like a cat plays with a mouse), and a very high value tug toy (Tess goes nuts for the Skinz toys).  I hang the tug toy around my neck so she can see it.  I throw the high value fetch toy and when she brings it back and drops it in my hand I immediately go into a game of tug. This works best if the dog is highly tug motivated, and understands that tug is a reward for doing something I want that may be lower value than what they want.  It also works well for Tess because her biggest issue in fetch is veering off of me at the last moment, trying to engage me in chase, or taking a LONG time to decide to drop it because she wants me to tug.  
  • Run away from the pup when they get the toy in a game of "chase the human" 
  • Sporadically try to beat the pup to the toy after throwing it (nothing like a little competition to get Tess motivated). 
  • Put a pile of 4 or 5 toys a couple of feet from you.  Reward the pup for finding and bringing the toys to you.  Eventually I want Tess to retrieve a specific toy so this is done in silence for now, except for a "good girl" when she brings me a toy.  I reward her, take it away and put it aside and wait for her to bring me another.  
Most of my problems with fetch revolve around keeping her motivated and interested in the game, and having her bring me the toy after she picks it up, so most of my game combinations are centered around reinforcing this.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2 new games a recall project update

It's working!!!!!  Every week I'm able to recall her in more and more distracting environments.  I'm working through my distraction list  (I have listed all the distractions that might cause her to ignore a recall, and rated them from 1 to 10).  Since the zoomie incident in my previous post, I've added 2 more games to our recall games to try to cement understanding of the recall word when it involves her leaving something interesting, and what's likely to happen if she doesn't keep an eye on me. 

Hide and Seek
I will admit that I dismissed this game when I saw it.  *MY* independent puppy would NEVER search for me.  *MY* puppy is FAR too independent to care if I fell off the face of the earth.  *SHE* would continue to live her happy little life in the absence of my presence. Even if she DID notice I was gone - her superior nose would tell her I was still in the area, and she would feel no need to search for me.

I was wrong....oh so wrong...oh so HAPPILY wrong. 

The game is this:  In a secure, safe area, give your puppy freedom.  When they are distracted and take their eyes off you, without saying anything, hide.  Let them whine and get really upset before making a noise to help them out.  When they find you, praise them and give them a treat.   The premise is that THEY should be keeping track of YOU, not the other way around.

I tried it.  In the school homeroom after hours, she took her eyes off me to check out the empty kennels in the area and I ducked behind a couch.  It took exactly 30 seconds for her to start whining and running around looking for me.  AND SHE COULDN'T FIND ME! 

It was wonderful.

She couldn't find me.  I had to start making noises.  When she found me, she was OVERJOYED.

It didn't take her long to lose track of me again - I immediately hid in a different spot. 

It took her about 10 seconds to realize I wasn't visible.  No whining this time, and she found me on her own without help, but it wasn't easy for her to sniff me out! 

She seemed a little confused.  Wasn't the game that I kept an eye on her?  Why did I keep disappearing?????  It's so distressing for a poor little puppy!

Since then, I've tried it in the back yard.  After 2-3 "hide and seeks" I couldn't get away from her to hide - she was DETERMINED to not let me out of her sight. 

Cookies in the Corner
There is an excellent video on MartinisRanch Youtube channel (linked on the resource page) that demonstrates this game.  I like it because it incorporates the collar grab game, sending away from you, rewarding in the R zone, and the recall.  The basics are you send the dog away for a low value treat, and immediately call them back for a high value treat.  They learn that no matter how much they want to sniff around the area of the low value treat....the good treats are with you!  A lot of my recall issues are related to Tess thinking (and getting) reinforcement from the environment that (she thinks) is higher value than what I can give her.....this game proves her wrong!!!!