Work for it…

Because Kazee loves his raw grind mix (combination of beef, chicken, tripe, organ and bone), he is very rarely given a meal for free. Instead, I use meal time as a way to work small foundation behaviors. This also gives me a wonderful chance to work on our marker words (I will also sometimes use a clicker, but when using his raw food, I need another hand!).

My marker words:

  • “yes” – perfect, Kazee gets a cookie
  • “good” – good work, keep going and you will earn a “yes”
  • “oops” or “wrong” – kept very light, meant as an interrupter, try again

With my competition dogs, I want to be very clear. While I do not want them to be afraid to make a decision, I am also going to tell them if they did something incorrectly. At this stage, a negative marker is going to be very rarely used, but I will use it once and awhile. Normally, I will just wait the puppy out and see what he does because I love to see the little wheels in his head start churning. There is nothing better than having a competition dog (or any dog) who thinks and tries to figure something out!!

Kazee is starting to realize he has choices; but, only the correct choice will get him what he wants. While he may enjoy barking at me for his food, it is not going to earn him anything (unless I have asked him to “speak”, which was introduced in last night’s training session). He is also starting to try shortcuts. For example, he will barely touch my hand with the side of his head or target my arm, hoping for a cookie. My requirement is that he touch the palm of my hand with his nose. If I started to reward the less focused touches, it will make the criteria for the behavior very grey. I don’t like grey.

Below is a short clip of Kazee working for his breakfast this morning. I have just started to add some repetition to his hand touches (introducing the “good” marker word). While I am still often rewarding for just one hand touch, I will sometimes ask for 2-3 touches before he earns a “yes”. I also introduced “back” in the down position this morning, as well as continuing the “speak” command from last night. We are also working on Kazee not helping himself to the food in the bowl. When we are working, food comes from ME, not his bowl, even if his bowl if present. The sooner he understands this the better, but at this stage, I keep the food covered with one hand, to prevent any errors. If he gets too pushy, I just remind him to stay back and that the bowl is mine.

When teaching a behavior, I normally add my cue words right away. I do not believe  Kazee understands what “speak” or “back” means, but I still use the words. He will start to pair the cue with the behavior over time, so why wait? I just need to make sure my criteria stays consistent.

After finishing his breakfast, I decided to also do some tugging. Kazee is doing great with outing the toy and going right back to a game of tug. Because I do a lot of hands on work with my dogs, I am also shaping some collar grabs and collar bounces during tugging. Kazee does not like being restrained, so the fact that he is only stopped temporarily (sometimes not stopped at all) and he gets to go right back to his tug is patterning a positive association with his collar being grabbed.

Games like these are played several times throughout the day in short little bursts to keep his attention. If I noticed Kazee was not interested in what I had to offer, I would just stop and try again later. The goal is to keep all of these teaching sessions fun and full of energy. If he was giving me less effort than what I wanted, it would actually be counterproductive to my desired result. Remember, at this stage, we are simply shaping behaviors and teaching him that interacting with me is the best part of the game.

Train hard. Play harder.



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