Takoda GETS barrels, May 20, 2015

Takoda will be 16 weeks old tomorrow and continues to make great progress in many different ways.  I’d say the most significant progress has been out on walks in the “real world.”  Today he offered heeling about 80% of the time. The other 20% he walked on a loose leash and checked in with me often.  Given where he started off a few weeks ago, which was a happy, enthusiastic, energetic, curious puppy who wanted to meet everyone, I thought it would take MONTHS vs WEEKS to get to this point.

I have to say the drizzly weather is contributing to our success this week because there are far fewer people out running and biking but we did encounter that same group of 30 or so runners with the whistle commander. Takoda did great and kept all four feet on the ground when one of the runners “just had to meet the super cute puppy.” As soon as she disengaged, Takoda reoriented to me instantaneously and completely on his own. He didn’t even watch her running to catch up with the group!  BIG YEY!

The rain has been fantastic for being able to change up our walking route. We’ve even been able to walk along one section of the ever-so-popular Boulder Creek Trail as a result of the uncharacteristically Scotland-style weather which apparently most Boulderites are not willing to venture out into. Having spent 20+ years on the East Coast, I guess I’m used to rain.

Since I don’t have videos of our walks, I uploaded a couple of videos shot today in the yard.

(above) Takoda ran around the barrel so well in both directions today, I decided to add some distance.

(above) Lil running around a table and doing some flatwork at 5 months old.

I thought it would be fun to compare what Lil and Takoda were learning as puppies.  This is the first video I uploaded of Lil in 2009.  She was 5 months old at the time (Takoda is now 4 months old) but we didn’t get Lil until she was 13 weeks old so that gave Takoda a 5 week head start on learning various skills so I thought this was a reasonably fair comparison.

I can still remember what a fast and fun learner Lil was as a puppy.. and still is as an adult.  In terms of running around an object, I think Lil figured it out quicker (she is super smart) but I had to gradually increase the distance with her.  Takoda took longer to figure it out initially, but once he did, the distance came “for free.”   The video of Takoda was the first time I tried adding distance. After I stopped recording because we’d be out of the frame anyway, we did a few more reps from 30+ feet away and Takoda confidently and consistently drove towards and around the barrel in both directions.. like he was born to do that. Hey wait a minute.. HE WAS BORN TO DO THAT! 🙂

I’ll have to get some video of Takoda doing the same type of flatwork like Lil is doing in the video. He is following my body cues brilliantly and enthusiastically.. just like Lil.

The next two videos are a follow-up on my post about tugging styles.

(above) This short video is an example of one of Takoda’s many styles of tugging. I refer to this style as moderate arousal level.

(above) A short video showing how Jake and Lil play tug. I think Jake’s tugging style and vocalizations are hilariously cute. Lil rarely vocalizes and is less-intense than Jake for sure. But then again, she is less intense than Jake is across the board.

I’m loving experiencing how ATs and BCs are inherently different and how they are the same which I suppose is largely due to them all having the same trainer.

50 Shades of…. Play (HA HA)

Since attending Sharon Nelson’s workshop last summer, I’ve been keenly aware of my dogs’ energy/ arousal levels.  Since Takoda enjoys tugging at a wide range of energy levels, I’ve been using the game of tug to explore Energy Matching with him.   Energy Matching while tugging would not work with Jake, who IMO tugs like a typical terrier… “all or nothing.”   He looks and sounds like he is trying to kill the toy, growling and intensely tugging with me.  Its fun to tug with Jake like this but if I bring my energy down a notch, Jake will immediately drop the toy.  Over the years I’ve had a number of people ask me what cue I’m giving my terriers to get them to release the toy since they both go from “all to nothing” in a heartbeat.  My only cue is that I lower my energy level, which they read as disengagement and they both immediately drop the toy in response.

In contrast, Takoda appears to enjoy tugging at a variety of energy levels that range from “a polite conversation between friends” to “YAHOOEEE!” but it never feels like he is trying to kill the toy.   When tugging like “a polite conversation between friends” we are both very low-key and the style of engagement is soft, like two little girls playing with dolls or Breyer horse models (my favorite kind of “doll” when I was a kid).  Takoda and I each hold one end of a tug toy and move it gently this way and that way while maintaining eye contact for the most part.  Takoda can tug this way forever and its a nice relaxing way for us to interact when I don’t feel like doing anything.  Its a perfect evening activity while I sit on the sofa with Takoda at my feet or in the morning when I am drinking coffee and not quite ready to start my day.

Takoda also seems to enjoy tugging at a medium arousal level which works well for loose leash walking around distractions (people, bicyclists, traffic…).   When we engage in this type of tugging, he is holding one end of the tug toy lightly in his mouth and I am holding the other end lightly with my hand (we use a long tug toy so I can remain totally upright).  There is just a slight amount of pressure on the tug toy and his leash is entirely loose.   In this situation, I think the tug toy pretty much functions like a head halter in that I can redirect Takoda by moving the tug toy but he generally does not need to be redirected when we use a toy in this manner.   He seems perfectly content to walk a little ahead of me, beside me, or a little behind me while holding one end of the toy in his mouth.  When the distraction is too great, he might drop his end of the toy but quickly reorients and grabs the toy again.  When this happens, which is not very often, I tend to increase our energy levels a little more for a few seconds of active playing/ tugging before continuing to move forward.

The thing I like about using a tug toy with Takoda when out on walks is that tugging is a duration activity and it is easy to match his energy level and then increase or decrease it based on what is happening and what I want to have happen. Treats worked really well for Lil, even when she was a puppy, but she has always been highly food motivated.  Takoda will take food when out on walks but that is because its the first thing I trained him to do…. take food when offered.. sort of like how my ATs were trained to always tug when a toy is offered… due to training vs. natural inclination.

So far, Takoda does not love food enough for it to be a jackpot when confronted with the range of distractions we encounter in the 2 block radius around our house.  You name it, we have it…. runners, bicyclists, kids, dogs, loud trucks, buses, cars, etc.  But when I have a tug toy, which BTW is tucked under my arm when not in use, 99% of the time Takoda quickly reorients to me (and the toy) and then I am able to match his energy level until the distraction is far enough away that it is no longer a distraction.   Its actually very fun to go for walks like this and it generates a lot of smiles from passers by because who doesn’t like to watch a puppy having fun and an adult acting like a child.  HA HA

The past few walks we’ve started going back and forth between a minute or two of obedience style heeling (with frequent kibble rewards) and a moving game of tug played at a moderate energy level (as described above).   I love the way this combination feels because its all about teamwork.  Takoda is focusing his attention on me when heeling and then he gets rewarded for all that great impulse control (not being distracted by what passes by) by playing tug.. with ME.  But just so no one thinks walks are 100%  all about ME (HA HA), I let Takoda do his own thing for short periods of time, which for him means trotting along at an easy clip with his nose lowered to take in all the interesting ground scents.

Since I don’t have any video of the above, I thought I’d share a few short videos from last week.

(above) Group Mark Session.  The reason I set up this “test” was to see if Takoda would be able to stay on his Mark while  Jake and Lil moved from Mark to Mark.  He did pretty well but it was interesting to see how much greater a challenge Jake’s motion was compared to Lil’s in this session and others as well.  I plan to practice this now and then as I believe it will help Takoda learn that he doesn’t NEED to bound towards Jake and Lil whenever they are in his sight.

(above) Takoda running between 2 Marks with a hoop in between.  We have only played around with hoops once before but since the hoops  were still out in the yard after Jake and Lil’s session, I figured it would be fun to see what Takoda would do.


(above) I was so pleased with his performance with one hoop, I moved the Mark further away so there were 2 hoops between the Marks. I also added more handler motion and ran a little beyond the Mark to see if he would stop…. which he did!

(above) another rep with more distance and me driving slightly beyond the Mark.

Takoda is different than Jake and Lil in many ways but they are all so much fun to work and play with due to their differences.. and similarities.. the biggest similarity is they all seem to really enjoy working!

Finding the balance

Over the past couple of days,  I have started working on improving my mechanics in order to reward my dogs by flinging a toy on a rope forward to initiate a game of tug.  Silvia Trkman makes is look so easy but there is a lot going on and it all happens while she and her dog are running super fast.  Based on my observations, here is a description of what I think she is doing:

Silvia drops the toy out of her hand at a precise moment to mark a behavior (such as her dog turning tightly while wrapping a jump at a distance).  She continues running with the toy flying behind her while her dog chases her and the toy.  The split second before her dog can grab the toy, she flicks the toy forward so her dog accelerates past her and grabs the toy as it flies forward.  Then they play a game of tug while walking back for the next rep.  Silvia’s timing is always perfect.  Her dog gets the reward while it is running super fast vs. the dog having to slow down to grab a toy dangling at her side.  It makes perfect sense to reward in this manner since dogs can run faster than people.

I have practiced the mechanics without my dogs for a few minutes here and there.  I run while glancing over my shoulder to see my imaginary dog, then I drop the toy out of my hand and let it fly behind me while I continue to run and my imaginary dog chases me and the toy.  Then I fling the toy forward so my imaginary dog accelerates to grab the toy.  After doing it a handful of times, it seemed to work well… but that was without a real dog.

When I tried it for the first time with my dogs, it didn’t work nearly as well. I thought the problem was solely with my timing and mechanics, but after a short session of just playing with my dogs and a toy on a rope yesterday, I realized that I had inadvertently trained my dogs NOT to run past me when I am also running.   Jake and Lil do a lot of freestyle tricks in heel position on both sides so they have been heavily reinforced for being at my side.  We also play “recall to side” games with distractions ahead (like the Manners Minder) and flat work where they know the game is to stay at my side no matter what I do, whether I am running fast and stopping abruptly, doing front crosses, post turns, or circling with my dogs on the inside and outside of the circles.  They both really enjoy these games, but I am fairly certain that when they are chasing me while I am running with a toy on a rope, they think they are doing the right thing by staying at my side vs. driving ahead to grab the toy when I fling it forward.  They are just being good dogs!

There are a lot of awesome dogs in Silvia’s Foundations class, including some amazing high-drive, herding dogs.  As I watch those dogs drive out of turns or tunnels in pursuit of a thrown ball, I am amazed at their speed and toy drive.  I suspect if I had a super high-drive dog, I’d make sure I played a lot of games that reinforced the dog for coming to side to keep the balance (like the games I have been playing with my dogs).

But with Jake and even more so with Lil, their natural tendency (combined with past training) is to respond to my movement (acceleration/ deceleration/ shoulder turns) so instead of running ahead to grab a toy that I fling forward on a rope, they will pace themselves to stay at my side.  This tendency has caused us to almost trip over each other and get tangled up with the rope a few times when I’m forced to decelerate to avoid running into a wall or something.  Not a pretty site and potentially dangerous.

Now that I am aware of this, I am going to shift the balance by playing more “Race Me” games and GO GO GO games (which are already part of Silvia’s Foundation class) so I can reinforce my dogs for running past me until each dog has a good balance.  I’m not saying I want my dogs to think it is OK to run past me when I decelerate or stop when I am calling their names, but when I say GO ON, GET IT, or GO GO GO, I want them to know it is OK and GREAT to race past me to whatever is in front of them, whether it is an obstacle, a toy on a rope, or a thrown ball.  I can envision this being a lot fun for all of us!

In the mean time,  I will continue to reward mostly by throwing a ball, while I play with toys on a rope as a separate activity until my dogs figure out how to play this new and fun chasing/ tugging game.

Update: I just used a toy on a rope to reward Lil for a few quick Loops and Wraps around a pole in the backyard and she flew ahead of me and grabbed the toy every single time.  WOW!  That didn’t take long for her to GET!  Now.. onto Jake…

I am enjoying this class so much.  It is challenging and I love learning how to become a better trainer and handler. Plus Jake and Lil’s enthusiasm for Silvia’s games keeps going and going…. they are like Energizer Bunnies.

Below are Silvia’s responses to comments I posted relating to my dogs and toys on ropes:

My Comment:  Gosh! Sorry to be posting again about toys on a rope but I just successfully rewarded Lil with a toy on a rope doing Loops and Wraps around a pole in my backyard. While I was running, she raced by me and grabbed the toy every single time. This new game certainly didn’t take long for her to get! Then she tugged like there was no tomorrow! Her best tugging ever. She wouldn’t even drop the toy like she always does when I say drop it. I think this is a very good thing for my normally very obedient little girlie. Prey drive won out! YEY!  She did eventually drop it and I immediately flung it out again for her to chase.  Sorry if I’m being overly gushy here but I can’t believe Lil got so crazy (in a good way)! I promise this is my last post about Toys on Ropes!!! :)


LoLaBu’s avatar

LoLaBu on March 6, 2012 at 19:13

Yay for Lil! Not dropping a toy is always a good sign, I agree!!! :)

Very good observation, it’s probably in fact the reason why they won’t drive after a toy! But if they will drive after a ball, that’s a good start already. I never understood why running past me and throwing balls would be bad – only heard it’s a bad thing a couple of years ago anyway :) – I think it’s great!!! I want my dogs to drive ahead as hard as they can – and when I want them to stay close, I just tell them so :) I want them to really understand both, handler and obstacle focus. Works great for me!

My Response:  Silvia, One of the things I love about the way you coach your students is that you suggest different approaches for different dogs vs. sayings stuff like: “All dogs in this class must do X, Y, Z and if you cannot get your dog to do X, Y, Z, then there is something wrong with your training or (worse yet) you have a bad relationship with your dog…” which is so ludicrous!

I heard chasing a ball is a bad thing to do with agility dogs so I stopped playing fetch with Lil for about 9 months (and Lil loves to play fetch). Silly me for not questioning that statement!


LoLaBu’s avatar

LoLaBu on March 6, 2012 at 21:46

Very often, finding ways to work around NOT-having X, Y, Z builds the best relationship :) I noticed that with my dogs – letting them be who they are and working around their weaknesses, focusing on their strengths instead, makes us a real team. I think they really appreciate I appreciate just how they are.