Jake and Lil had their teeth cleaned last week. The vet suggested I give them a raw “knuckle” bone to chew on for a while every day (lamb knee or hip-joint for small dogs) to keep tarter from building up again. After searching high and low for these bones, yesterday I found them at Whole Foods and they were organic to boot!
After seeing the bones in person, I knew they would be very messy, so my first thought was to put the bones in their crates (without crate pads) but I’d still need to clean the crates afterwards, which I didn’t want to have to do since I plan to give them bones for short sessions most days. I also thought it might be a good idea to control access to these super high value items vs. let Jake and Lil “go at them” unsupervised. I was also slightly concerned that a dog might get snarky about giving up the bone, not that I have any evidence to support that concern.
Given my initial thoughts, for the first bone gnawing session, I decided to hold onto the shank end of the bones and let each dog gnaw on the knuckle part. The dogs were in separate but open crates in case Lil decided to get snarky with Jake, which she occasionally does around super high value items. I had a hard time hanging onto the bones because they were very slippery along with being very gooey. I also suspected my hands would eventually get chomped down on since the bones were so short.
Jake and Lil loved gnawing on the bones but I needed to come up with a better plan and this morning I did! I started by drilling a 1/4” hole in one end (the shank part) of each bone and threaded a strip of rubber through the hole to give me something to hang onto. The rubber strip was a left over piece of rubber belting that I used to rubberize my contacts. The end result was that I now had two raw lamb bones attached to long strips of rubber (kind of like tug toys).
Then I thought: Why not use these super high value bones as a reward for training?
I’m participating in a year-long, on-line seminar led by Sharon Nelson, who uses feed buckets “Marks” in ingenious ways for foundation training so lately I’ve been sending the dogs to small feed buckets. With a dangling bone in plain sight, I started the session with both dogs in open crates with me standing a couple of feet beyond the mark which was about 15′ away from their crates. I released Jake and as soon as he hit the mark, I let him gnaw on a bone for 25- 30 seconds and then sent him back to his crate. Then I did the same with Lil and alternated back and forth between dogs maybe five or six times.
(above) video of Jake and Lil running from their crates to the feed bucket with a bone used as a reward.
You can see how tempting the dangling bone was for Jake but without any hints by me, he realized the way to get the bone was to step onto the feed bucket. Lil stopped on the bucket every time but she usually proceeded to offer a 2o2o so I just positioned the bone in a way that encouraged her to step back and place her front feet on the bucket to gnaw on the bone. I also decided to mix in some “Drop Its” followed by immediately giving the bones back.
Jake was very polite about giving up his bone 90% of the time. Lil was very intense when gnawing her bone and was reluctant to give it up more often than not… but she didn’t get snarky. Big Yey for that! I see many more “giving and taking” of bones in the future.
I love how this entire training plan unfolded organically as a result of me trying to figure out the best way to deal with messy bones. The next session, I plan to send the dogs OUT to the mark, where they will wait for me to deliver the bone.