Balancing act

Scoop in tunnel

A couple students lately have asked me if teaching my puppy to remain in a sit or down position for a period of time will destroy his drive and put too much CONTROL on the focus of my relationship with my puppy. My answer was an unequivocal no. Scoop thinks staying in position for a minute and being rewarded with treats is really cool. He also thinks it is equally cool to hear me say break, and present his toy to tug like a maniac when he jumps out of position. If I had to correct him for moving, rather than reward him for staying in a position, that would be equally wrong. He is a puppy, and I try not to use punishment while training. Would I feel different about teaching him to sit or down for short duration if he would not play with me? Possibly. It is not difficult to teach a dog to stay if that is all they want to do. Scoop wants to go, go, go. I would still teach positions but I would be spending more time  teaching playing than staying.

I read recently handlers should not expect their dogs to tug or retrieve until they lose their puppy teeth, bulloney!:) Don’t always believe what you read. If you have the belief that your dog won’t tug/play with you till he is beyond 6 months old, then you won’t have the conviction to keep working on playing with your dog. Many years ago while teaching a pet general obedience class a puppy owner told me that the breeder of her dog said that her breed could not be taught to come when called. No matter how I tried to convince her in classes and in private training that she could teach her dog to recall, she was never successful. That breeder’s words echoed in her brain and convinced her that her efforts would fail, so why bother to make the effort. If you don’t believe you can do something, or teach something, then you can’t.

Some dogs are more interested in food than toys or vice versa. Of course I want my dog to desire them both. Sometimes it isn’t about what the handler wants though, it is what the dogs’ instincts and general nature is made of. I have struggled at times with dogs who would not always take treats while working when they were very revved, (Riot & Ace) and I have had to work very hard to teach good toy retrieves and tug to dogs like my border collie Panic and my sheltie Jack. It is all about balance. Read your dog and do what is right for them. At the moment you see a need to adjust, change, morph your training plan, do so. You have to be willing to change YOUR behavior to train and play effectively.

What I would never do is punish a dog who is not willing to play with me. Having a hard and fast rule that if your dog will not tug or engage in toy play with you he goes back in his cage could backfire on you. Don’t use the cage for punishment, number one. Number two, if you get your pup out to play with you and he won’t and you dump him back in his cage then he is even being punished for making the small effort he might have made to engage with you. You need to learn to play in a way that will be interesting for your dog. Retrieve and even tugging can be strengthened with clicker training and food rewards. Be flexible, remain balanced, keep reevaluating your training goal and plans.

If Scoop did not have a strong desire to tug and play with me, I would not do crate training games with food that emphasize being away from me and getting lots of treats for sitting still and doing nothing. I play crate games enough that Scoop is happy to jump in, drives out to a toy on release, and is calm when he needs to stay in one for a while. If your puppy won’t play with you, keep him out of the cage, instead of rewarding him for getting back in and napping.

Who taught you that?

While playing in the field and attempting to play “go round the can”, Scoop decided he wanted to get on top of the white bucket I use for various things. I thought he would tip it over, but he figured out the mechanics of getting on board and keeping the bucket righted. I said who taught you that? as he did it with such confidence and wanted to keep repeating it. I have to put the bucket away now when we are in the field or he runs and finds it to climb  on. I love these photos Marcy Mantell took of him looking all proud of himself for climbing up on his bucket.         




 I am going to rescue my puppy from his cage and go play some games now. His left  turn cue is totally perfect, maybe I will start teaching him to turn right today. Have fun with your puppy this weekend.  I am looking forward to spending the next few days at home with mine.



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