This new bigger box feels good!

I love open-minded, expansive thinking, which could also be described as out-of-the-box thinking. The coolest aspect (in my opinion) is once people fully grasp the concept, they are able to not only SEE the box they are in, but they are also aware that breaking through one box places them in a bigger box vs. being free of all boxes.  This never-ending process of continuously searching for the next box to break out of is what expansive thinking is all about. For me this is the most exhilarating aspect of life, art, and dog training!
Yesterday I broke out of a dog training box.  This past week, I’ve been noticing that I have been feeling 100% trusting of Jake and thus letting him run off leash with Lil during our walks in the woods and I knew with absolute certainty that he would not run off.  But until yesterday, I didn’t know what had changed. He was still acting as high as usual, as rambunctious as usual, and even had that look on his face of “Go ahead, take the leash off, yeah, yeah, yeah, take it off, come on, you can trust me  ;).”  But yesterday,  I realized  what had changed.  Without realizing it, I have been playing the ultimate recall game all winter long.  It’s the GET OUT game, which puts running away ON CUE and by playing the game in a circle, Jake has been getting a ton of practice running away from me and then running back… full throttle!  The two big breakthroughs for Jake have been “Out-of sight-no longer means out-of-mind” and “Run away and keep running away until the cue for GET OUT changes to either WAIT, or HERE” which essentially keeps Jake mentally engaged with me while running ahead.

too bad I was still fussing with my phone when Jake raced away but I captured the recall!

With the distance training, I am using both verbal and motion cues.  The motion cues involve me walking slowly in the direction of the GET OUT, even if just taking tiny steps, with my body facing the dog’s path and arm extending forward.  When Jake and Lil are running away from me, either on the doggie racetrack or in the woods, when they check in visually, they see my motion which continues to support their path. My verbal cues are GET OUT followed by GO…. GO…. GO….
The 2nd Doggie Luge of the season is more like a racetrack due to bare grass.

The 2nd Doggie Luge of the season is more like a racetrack due to bare grass.

Above is a photograph of the current Doggie Racetrack.  The black mesh table on its side in the foreground is there to block off an icy patch (or puddle depending on the outside temp).  Each morning, I walk around the path to make sure there is no ice that would cause Jake or Lil to slip since they run super-duper fast around the racetrack.
Its funny, until yesterday, I thought we were only “working on” distance skills with the GET OUT games but now I am convinced the distance training is entirely responsible for Jake’s new-found love of running ahead of me off leash in the woods and then turning around BY HIS OWN CHOICE to either run back to me if I cue HERE, or to pause if I cue WAIT, or do a 180 turn and continue running away if I cue GO GO GO.
I love this new bigger box…Its so much roomier!  HA HA.   I can’t wait to begin figuring out where the walls of this new box are so I can break through those as well.   ps–The post preceding this one includes videos of a couple of  GET OUT sessions in the backyard.   Since those videos were shot, Jake is running faster than ever due to his increased understanding that the faster he runs away from me, the faster he can run back to get his reward.  How cool it that?

Over the river and through the woods…

Lately I’ve been inspired by all the great agility trainers who recommend letting dogs run off leash every day for general conditioning.  I tend to be an irrational worrier, but I have been able to get over it enough to let both dogs run off leash in the woods ever since Jake’s recall became 98%, which I owe to Susan Garrett’s on-line “Recallers 2.0” course.  ps–The reason I refer to Jake’s recall as being 98% vs. 100% is because I occasionally have to call him twice or even three times if he is “busy” sniffing something at a distance.

So yesterday morning I took Jake and Lil for a long off-leash romp in the woods.  They were both crazy-excited about various scents and were racing full speed ahead before turning around and racing back to me on their own initiatives.

This method of racing back and forth is a style of off-leash running that Lil has done since she was a puppy (her recall has always been trustworthy).  It’s a great game because it involves super fast running but also because Lil likes to stay within visual range and will immediately come running back if she turns around and can’t see me.   Jake is more independent, or perhaps a better way of saying it would be “easily distracted when high on life,” and is not as concerned about keeping me within visual range at all times, which of course makes me nervous!

At one point though, both dogs charged down a hill out of sight.  I could hear the loud rustling of dry leaves as they ran through the forest and suddenly Lil reappeared and ran back to me by herself.  I held onto Lil for a moment to listen for Jake and I could not hear any rustling of leaves, so I knew he wasn’t running further away which made me feel relieved.  But at the same time I had to keep myself from freaking out since I didn’t know exactly where he was.  Rationally, I knew he was close by and had just stopped to sniff something, but it was hard not to worry.   At that point I had two choices. I could either put Lil back on leash and let her lead me to Jake or I could let go of Lil and trust that she would come back when called if necessary.

Lil had been pushing firmly against my hands as I held her so as soon as I let go, she immediately raced back down the hill and quickly returned… with Jake on her heels.  Looking back, I think Lil may have run back down the hill to get Jake.  And later that morning, the thought occurred to me that I may have been back-chaining the behavior to “Go Get Jake”  without even realizing it.

When both dogs are out in the yard, Lil generally comes back first.  I always praise her and give her a couple of low-value treats for coming back on her own but lately I have been asking her “Where’s Jake?” to which she responds by looking out the glass door.  As soon as Jake appears at the door, Lil starts spinning, jumping up, and vocalizing while I say stuff like “There’s Jake. Hi Jake. What a good boy! Jake!”  I then let Jake in and race to the refrigerator and reward both dogs with high-value treats in a very excited manner.  My reason for doing so was to reward Jake for coming back on his own initiative, which he now does every time I let him out.  And it seemed only fair to reward both dogs since Lil had also come back on her own initiative.

So yesterday afternoon as a test, when Lil came back to the house, I sent her out to “Where’s Jake? Go Get Jake” and she ran straight towards him in the yard, then turned and ran back to the house… with Jake on her heels.

This behavior has a significant purpose because I think when Lil races by Jake, it has the potential to break him out of that trance-like state he gets stuck in sometimes.  So I guess I’ll be continuing to train Lil to “Go Get Jake.”