Monthly Archives: November 2012

Building Java’s Toy Drive

I love playing with a dog who goes crazy for a toy. We can tug, play chase, hide the toy or fetch… it’s all so much more interesting and thrilling than training with food. I love seeing Ruby’s eyes get wide with excitement when I bring out a ball or a frisbee, and sometimes the arousal gets so high it’s hard for him to think. That is a fun challenge to have.

I remember wishing that Ruby would learn to play fetch when he was a little pup. I knew very little about dog training and was in awe of labradors that would tirelessly retrieve tennis balls. It took Ruby many months before he would retrieve anything outside and when I talked to other whippet owners at the time this seemed a common problem to have. It took a bit longer still before he learned to love it. But learn he did and these days he will recall from deer for a chance to play fetch.

One of the biggest goals I have for Java is that she will learn to love toys so much that she will give me her best when training with them and I will be able to train agility without food. When I picked Java from the litter I knew that she preferred food over toys, but she did have a lot of interest in chasing/grabbing a toy so wasn’t worried about it.

However playing by herself and being jazzed up about playing with me (not just winning the toy and running away with it) are two different things. I want her to go crazy again and again so that I can do at least 10 repetitions of a behavior per session. And I want her to bring the toy back so I don’t have to wait for her to get tired of it first.

Through trying different things I settled on these games:

  • Playing with toys “just because”, without teaching her anything – this usually ends with Java sprawled over my legs chewing on the toy πŸ™‚
  • Play with the toy I’ve got 1 – I take two identical toys, play with one, ask her to drop, play with the second one etc.
  • Play with the toy I’ve got 2 – I dump five different toys on the floor and decide which one we’ll play with. After a while I choose the next one and so on until we’ve played with all five. Of course sometimes Java doesn’t agree with my choice of toys, but I work on it until she does πŸ™‚
  • Tugging on a toy for a few seconds, then run away so she chases me with the toy. Tug some more.
  • Retrieving toys for food.
  • Playing training games with toys (no food involved).

I would never have guessed that playing training games with toys could build love for playing with me. It seems like trying to put the cart before the horse: how can you reward with play if play is what you’re trying to build? But this is exactly what happened with Ruby when we started training agility, so I gave it a try with Java as well. And it works. With very easy, ultra short, very exciting training sessions both dogs began asking for more play. First we did 1-2-3 game where Java sits while I move away, release her and run. Second game was Cik & Cap around a cone. Both games can be seen on her 5-months video.

With these games the gap between food and toys is closing fast. She loves to fetch squeaky balls and almost doesn’t have time to eat food when she brings one back, she is so eager for me to throw the other one. I take that as a sign that she will soon start to refuse the food in this situation – the balls will win!

The other day I tested her understanding of a simple retrieve by having her fetch a bone she has been chewing on previously. How did she do? See the video πŸ™‚

I love how she is retrieving straight into my hand, which is something that I struggled teaching to Ruby. The trick was to teach her to target my palm with her nose whenever I present it. At first we did it when she didn’t have a toy in her mouth, later with a toy and finally we got the retrieve. (Thanks Susan Garrett for the idea!) Another trick was to put the reward into the palm to which she retrieved instead of feeding from the other hand. This way the feeding hand is not competing for her attention.

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Java – 5 months

Java turned 5 months old on Sunday and after some persuasion from a friend I made a video to remember this month by. I’m so happy I did. Thank you, Monika!

In the last two weeks Java’s focus on toys has grown exponentially. In just a few days we went from doing a few retrieves at a time in the apartment to going outside and having to hold myself back from throwing a toy too many times because she wanted to go on and on.
We are finishing our puppy class next week and a lot of behaviors on the video were taught as a part of puppy class program, most notably heeling, which I just love πŸ™‚ Some other games were added to teach self-control and of course the start of agility foundations tricks.

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Agility Java :)

Don’t worry, we haven’t started real agility training, but every new trick she learns is building some skill or muscle group that she will need for agility. Today we went to agility practice just to hang around and see if she can focus on me. She did really well, and was ready to do some tricks while other dogs ran.

However, I soon grew tired of doing same tricks over and over so when I spotted a cone in a corner I thought perhaps we could do a bit of Cik & Cap. This trick was popularized by Silvia Trkman and is used for teaching dogs to wrap jumps in agility, Cik for wrap to left and Cap for wrap to right. Since the beginning stages are done on the ground it’s safe to teach it to puppies.

Practicing Cik & Cap while another dog was running was quite a gamble: I had to unclip her leash and didn’t know if she will run off to chase the dog or if she will find Cik & Cap fun enough to work with me. Java really surprised me: not only did she not run away, she was BARKING as she wrapped the cone! She was clearly excited that I finally gave her some real work to do πŸ™‚

Of course that made me a bit over-confident, so later she did run off to see the dog running the course πŸ˜› But then again when I called she turned around in the middle of a full-out run, so she gets bonus points for that.

To see what Cik & Cap on the ground looks like, see below for video of Ruby doing this exercise after 4 months of rehabilitation from a shoulder injury. Cik & Cap is at 1:10 mark.

Speaking of Ruby, his sprained toe is doing very well and I can’t wait to be able to let him run freely in another two weeks. He is going to be sooooo happy… and so will I πŸ™‚

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Frog Trick

This is a cross post from our YouTube channel. If you already saw the video, feel free to skip down to see the photos.

I was teaching Java to put her head down on cue, but when I noticed that she’s rocking her hips forward as she does this I thought this would be a good way to teach the Frog trick (lying on her belly with hind legs fully extended behind her). She quickly caught on to what I wanted and within three minutes we had a frog! Well, at least with one leg. I shaped extending of the other leg the next day and she got it in just a few clicks. Love my girl!

Here’s what it looks like now:

A look from behind, just for fun πŸ™‚

And some bonus photos of Ruby and Java:


Such a pretty boy! I love Ruby’s eyes on this photo.

Puppy thinking this posing gig isn’t as much fun as people make it out to be πŸ™‚

Thanks to Mateja for these wonderful photos!

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Pivoting – Step 5

Java showing off – pivoting on a pumpkin πŸ™‚

Photo by Mateja Lugarič

Today’s video is more condensed than usual. This step could be broken down into two or three steps.

1) Once Java could do the whole circle smoothly in both directions it was time to move on to next stage, which is actually a beginning of heeling (finding heel position). I stepped to the target as she was pivoting so that she bumped into my leg – click! Position of my feet is important. I step to the side of the target, not the front. That way she lines up with me when she bumps my leg.
2) Next stage would be to replace the high target with something lower like a book or a frisbee, but Java was offering comming into heel position on her own, so we skipped this πŸ™‚
3) Finally, try it without a target. Sometimes she offers circling which is another trick that she learned, but eventually she will learn the difference between circling and pivoting.

Note: I am not competing in obedience so my criteria for heeling position is probably not as strict as ideal position for competition. I want Java’s shoulders to be in line with seams of my pants, not forging ahead nor lagging behind, back straight and roughly perpendicular to my shoulders.

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Pivoting – Step 4

Once Java was offering steps to the side reliably it was time to wait for more than one step before clicking… and then more and more. The goal was to have her do the full circle on her own, with my hands only to show her the direction in which I want her to turn. This took the longest time of all steps because we got “stuck” at some points around the bowl which Java preferred and would not move past. The most important tip for this step is to click while the dog is still moving. I probably clicked her for stopping too many times, that’s how the “sticky” points came about. But we conquered them eventually πŸ™‚

During this step I also removed my feeding hand between clicks which I have kept there during step #3.

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Java had a very nice surprise for me today at puppy school: she showed me that she can skip the final stage of teaching pivoting exercise because she already figured out where the exercise is headed. In fact I think she might be wondering why I didn’t let her do it a week ago. I am so happy with my clever and always ready Black Magic πŸ™‚

Pivoting exercise (or perchwork) is great for rear-end awareness if taught using free shaping and is also used to teach a nice heeling position. Here’s how I taught it:

Step 1: At first I clicked for looking at the bowl or interacting with it in any way, then for standing on it with front feet.

Step 2: Once she would stand on the bowl pretty reliably I started clicking any movement of the hind feet (but I still clicked just for getting on the bowl as well).

Step 3: At first I was clicking any steps to the side, but it soon became apparent that she loves the frontal position (12 o’ clock) a bit too much. So I decided to add some value to the opposite position (6 o’clock) and not click when she is in her favorite position anymore… well, sometimes I clicked despite my good intentions πŸ™‚
Another problem was moving my hand. Whenever I pulled it away she seemed to “reset”, so I was thinking perhaps it would be better if I left my hand there but keep it steady as to not lure her into moving hind feet (the idea of this exercise is that the dog moves her hind feet on her own, not because she was lured into such position).

Enjoy! I will post the rest of the steps over next few days.

Oh and she taught me a new game on today’s walk. It goes like this: she walks about 10m ahead of me, stops and looks back. If I crouch or run away from her she will sprint after me having a blast. Then she will go ahead of me again, stop and pointedly look at me like “Run, Rabbit, run!” I just love this girl!

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Eye-Mouth Coordination and Playing With Toys

I love seeing Java developing a good eye-mouth coordination! Beyond just being very entertaining to watch a dog catch food in the air the eye-mouth coordination is important when catching frisbees and for not biting my hand too often when I run away with a toy. I saw Java trying to catch kibble in mid-air a couple of times. I thought it’s unlikely for a 4 month puppy to be able to do it, but decided to test her anyway. Sure enough, she learned how to catch them really fast. Superpup πŸ™‚

It’s exciting to see how her view of toys is expanding and maturing. In the beginning toys were primarily something to chew on and occasionally something to catch, tugging was just means to win the toy so she could chew on it. Then she learned that it was usually more fun to play with the toy I chose to play with and to drop a toy in exchange for another one. About a month ago I started teaching her two training games using toys and now they are not just objects to chase and to chew on, they are becoming a way of interacting with me. I love training with toys. There is just nothing better than seeing a whippet smile because she is playing with you.

We are also working on some easy retrieves. For some reason she particularly likes retrieving pine cones πŸ™‚ Here she’s retrieving them at almost 3 months old (currently she is 4,5 months old):

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Little Thief

As Java was trying on her new harness I gave dogs chewies to occupy them for a while. But Java always thinks that Ruby got the better chewie πŸ™‚

We measured her today – she has 43cm at the withers. She is still such a tiny puppy in my head, but apparently she’s growing πŸ™‚ She’s also loosing teeth fast. The incisors (front teeth) were already replaced by their adult counterparts. I found one of her premolars yesterday. Yep, the puppy is growing up!

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