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Category Archives for How To

Tips for playing fetch in the snow

It finally stopped snowing here around 10 pm last night, so we got off the mountain today after plowing the driveway. The canyon was snow-packed and icy for sure, but not terrible. We got Ginny home safely, but we did NOT do any after-xmas shopping … other than to pick up some bags of wood stove pellets since another storm is coming tonight into tomorrow.

As the storms keep coming every day or two, the snow is really piling up. I thought it might help to offer this key snow fetch tips.

There is essentially one (and only one) kind of ball that Lilly likes. It’s filled with foam, includes a squeaker (until it breaks). I buy them at the grocery store (of all places). BUT, the problem is that it is fairly small, which means it gets lost in the snow easily.

So, in order to get the most bang from my I’m-freezing-my-butt-off buck, I’m happy to report that this special ball comes in a larger size. As long as there are only a few feet of snow, the bigger one fairs pretty  well in the snow.

(I’m sorry to say the phone fell into the internet abyss at some point, and I cannot find the original to upload again.)

So, if you find yourself needing to burn energy off your dog during a snow storm, I highly recommend going for a bigger fetch ball. Otherwise, the game turns into a really long, cold adventure in snow snorkeling.

Confidence in motion

One of the challenges of training a dog to run agility is teaching her that having something move beneath her is fun (or at least fine). Since Lilly still won’t do a full-height teeter, I’m certainly no expert. However, I thought these tips on training that motion is OK around the house might help.

Glider Rockers
I often sit on our glider bench with Lilly in my lap. I give her just enough help that she doesn’t fall, and we rock together back and forth. I think it’s a workable way for her to develop good “sea legs” as it were. She doesn’t usually sit there alone … hence the cautious face.

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Total Gym
We have one of those home gym things that slides on rails. We use it to practice two-on/two-off contacts, and I like it because when I clear her off it with a release word, she pushes off pretty hard so that it makes noise and moves away from her.

skateboard phobia and to add more motion training, I’m teaching (or trying to teach) Lilly to ride a one. So far, she mostly pushes it around with her front feet, while walking behind or beside it. But sometimes I can get her up on it, and I slide it gently back and forth. Once in a while, she pushes off enough herself to glide a few feet, but she usually keeps at least one foot on the ground.

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Lilly easily transfered this behavior from her ROLL IT trick, where she pushes an exercise ball around. Obviously, this photo was taken in the spring.

The Relaxation Protocol

You found the right place to learn more about the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs! When I first read about Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation in Leslie McDevitt’s book “Control Unleashed,” I had NO idea what it was about. None. Never heard of it. It’s considered baseline work for serious behavior modification training, like what I’m doing with Lilly. That much I got from the book, but it wasn’t until I saw the whole thing in print that a sinking feeling sunk me. I’m feeling better about it now, but here’s a bit about my journey so far.

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Thinking like Lilly

As I began trying to teach Lilly more complicated behaviors, it became oh-so clear that I needed to understand how she thinks. Once I figure that out, it’s usually pretty easy to break down the task, then click-treat and shape it to our goal. This really struck me for the first time when I tried to teach her to Roll Over.

From a Down, she seemed completely baffled about Roll Over. I tried all the tricks, like getting her to track a piece of food with her head. Nothing.

So, I taught her to Lay Flat from a Down as an intermediate step. I figured laying flat on her side on command might come in handy some day at the veterinary hospital. Once she got Lay Flat, then Roll Over suddenly made more sense to her. Victory.

I only had to ask for Lay Flat for a day or two before she automatically shot from Down to Roll Over.

Still, we haven’t had much luck with other tasks. For example, I still can’t get her to Bow (play bow) on cue, despite many attempts, many different strategies.

When we began training in Rally Obedience I tried to teach her her to Stand from a Sit. And, the best we’ve done so far is that I have to lure with one hand and touch her hindquarter, along with the cue.

She has a great Stand-Stay from a heel (we call it Freeze), but that’s it.

We have a similar issue with going from a Down to a Sit from a distance. If I’m close and can step into her a bit, she’ll sit up, but from a distance, she looks at me like, “huh?”

She can go from a Sit to a Down from a distance, but not the other way. It kind of makes sense, though, since Down is a more submissive body posture, and Lilly is often very happy to be close to the ground.

Our latest challenge — mostly because it’s getting embarrassing at our work-and-play class — is Whoa (which is supposed to mean stop right where are).  We’ve tried stopping her between cones, at a leash laid on the ground as a marker, in doorways, at the edge of stairs, and none of it makes sense to her.

Now, part of the problem is that I’ve ALWAYS worked with her and treated her up close. She’s very focused on me and being right there, so suddenly to ask her to stop far away seems weird.

Yet, she can hit her agility contacts without me standing right there. She can often make her weave pole entrances without my help, but stopping … just stopping, makes no sense to her.

Gigi Moss, our big-picture trainer, suggested this week that I try targeting, like how I first taught contacts. So, Lilly and I will spend some quality time with a paper plate and see what we can figure out.

While I’m at it, I’m also trying to teach Walk Up, which is a herding command. (I would like to try herding at some point with Lilly, but everything I’ve read and heard from pals who do it is that the training methods might not work well for a soft dog like Lilly.)

Anyway, I just went back and read what I’ve written so far and something dawned on me. I wonder if I should try Freeze as her overall stop moving word. Hmmmm…

We’re also working on The Hokey-Pokey. So far, we’ve played with Right Foot In, Right Foot Out, using a hoola-hoop on the floor. But, for the life of me I can’t think of a way to have Shake It All About make sense to her since she already has a Shake command and a Lift command (where she just picks up a front foot on cue as a calming signal when she’s stressed).

For “do the Hokey-Pokey,” I’m just using my hand gesture for Spin, so we’re good there.

But, after that the challenge will be coming up with something for “that’s what it’s all about.” I’d like her to bark a few times at that point. I guess I’ll need to introduce a hand gesture for Speak.

Do you see how I spend my time? I know these are just silly things, but I hope that if I can figure out how to make these fun things make sense to her, then maybe someday we’ll have a break-through in agility.

Tricks – Roll It

Sure, Lilly knows all kinds of regular tricks like shake, high-five, and rollover. In addition to all the agility things she later learned, Lilly originally jumped through a hoola-hoop and snuck across the floor on her belly. But, I’m always looking for ways to up the ante. So, I got out my exercise ball last summer and came up with something new.

It’s called Roll It, where Lilly pushes the ball in front of her, while walking behind it. She can go straight for long distances. She can make turns. It’s pretty funny. We do this up and down the driveway. People stare.

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Based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado (USA), Roxanne Hawn is a veteran journalist and author.


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