What You Reinforce is What You Get

A tan dog with black muzzle is looking out from between two wooden steps. Her mouth is open and she looks very happy. Next to her on the step is a beaten up yellow tennis ball.

Clara and her ball

Bob Bailey said, “What you click is what you get.” There is a lot of wisdom in this simple remark. Among other things, it emphasizes to me that we don’t always realize exactly what we are marking and reinforcing, but the animal always does. Or rather, the animal’s actions reflect it.

Since I rarely use a clicker, my version is, “What you reinforce is what you get.” This is still a challenge to keep in mind sometimes. I tend to fail at holding my criteria steady, and it shows in the overly wide range of behaviors I tend to get from my dogs. Plus, putting something on an intermittent reinforcement schedule (reinforcing it inconsistently) makes the behavior really persistent. Not a good idea to do that to a behavior you are trying to get rid of!

So let’s see what that all this looks like. I’m going to share with you all one of my bumbles. I have a video where I can show first what I reinforced purposefully (and successfully). Then I show the dog doing what I subsequently reinforced carelessly. It happened to be very close to the behavior I had been trying to fix in the first place. My dog shaped us almost back to where we started!

I wrote in my crossover story that a turning point for me was when I learned that an animal’s behavior is a map of what has been reinforced. (Punished too, now that I think of it.) You can see the changing landscape in the movie.

Letting Go of the Ball

Clara is my first truly ball crazy dog. I love it. It’s so fun to see that pure passion; how completely thrilled she is about playing ball. She loves it so much, actually, that she has a rather hard time giving it back, even though she lives for me to throw it. She loves both chasing a ball and having a ball.

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.

Clara practicing “put it in the bowl”

I published a movie last year, Retrieving to a Container, about how I solved her problem of reluctant releases. I did this with the help of my trainer friend and also a great YouTube tutorial. I trained Clara to fetch the ball and drop it in a container instead of putting it in my hand, which was so very hard for her. (She will fetch just about anything else in the world to hand, from paperclips to poop,  just not a ball. With the ball, she approaches since she really does want me to throw, but then she usually does that head dodge thing when I reach out. Just c a a n ‘ t quite give it up.)

I could have stopped everything and worked hard and gotten a ball fetch to hand, but the container thing was an elegant solution that would also build us a new foundation behavior. And it removed most of Clara’s conflict about releasing the ball.

I tried teaching my other dogs as well, and Zani took to it right away. So now I had two of them who would drop things into a container.

Zani has a knack for getting in on the fun, wherever it is. So when I would get out the rubber balls and the container, she started barging in on Clara’s game. Clara is good natured about things like that, and I’m a sucker, so now there were three of us. Zani started to pick up the ball if Clara dropped it short of the bucket. Zani would grab it, drop it in the bucket, and I would give her a treat. (Told you I’m a sucker. She even got me to feed her.)

Experienced trainers are smiling now. With Zani’s help, I exactly undid the behavior I had trained. Clara and I play with two balls, so I can throw the second immediately when she delivers the first. The throw of the ball reinforces the previous behavior. So when she started dropping the ball short of the bucket and letting Zani finish the job, she still got reinforced by another throw. It didn’t matter that I was waiting for the ball to hit the bucket, since she wasn’t performing that part of the sequence. So she reverted to her natural behavior of tossing the ball down in anticipation when she got within a few feet of me.

How Eileen’s Behavior Got Shaped

So what about me? Did Clara cause my behavior to change through reinforcement? Yes. Her actions were shaping my behavior. She got me to do two different things. First, when I was holding the container, if she dropped the ball a time or two I got in the habit of reaching out with the container before she let go. I was doing the natural human thing of “catching” the ball with the bowl, rather than being a statue. I got reinforced for doing that since it saved the time of either of us messing around trying to pick it up off the ground. So in this way I also started taking over some of what “should” have been her job, and she got reinforced (again!) for not coming quite all the way to the container. By inches this time, but it only takes that much to miss.

A tan dog with black muzzle and a red ball in her mouth is rushing toward a woman sitting down with a white plastic bowl in front of her. The woman is holding a similar red ball in her right hand, completely covered, and out of sight of the dog.

Take a look at my right hand

Second, she also shaped me to put the second ball out of sight when she approached. Again, she’s so ball crazy that she had a very hard time taking her eyes off the ball I was about to throw long enough to put her own ball in the container. I could have started working on her self control around balls, but instead I  fell into the short cut of putting the other ball out of sight when she approached. This improved her accuracy at the container.

Where to Go From Here

All this makes me sound incredibly sloppy, but I’m going to defend myself a little. First of all, this is recreation. There are some things I put lots of energy into getting just right. Zen. Recalls. Mat work. I am even decent at being moderately precise, as in competitive obedience and Rally. So I cut myself a little slack when we are talking about something that is not life and death important. (Clara disagrees about that assessment, grin.)

Second, with multiple dogs you tend to make little compromise decisions all the time. It was a big plus in my mind that I could play with Clara and Zani at the same time, bizarre as the game was. My bottom line was for them to have a good time and me to be able to not work very hard.

However, the problem with being sloppy in any training situation is that one is changing criteria on the dog.

Changing criteria is unfair without using  clear cues for the different behaviors expected. That’s what cues are for. In this situation, with a different dog from Clara, my behavior might have been more of a problem. Clara is resilient and adaptable, especially when there is a ball involved. When I firmed up my criteria it took her less than a minute to switch from dropping the ball a few feet from me back into taking some care to drop it into the bucket. But it did take a little extinction burst. I try not to get in the habit of creating those!

So in the course of filming and writing about this, I have decided how to fix this situation in a way that hopefully will be more fair to Clara than the current mishmash, and still let Zani participate. I’ve realized Clara is very close to understanding the two different criteria for when Zani is there and when she isn’t.  I can do something to make it even more clear which criterion we are using. I’ll go back to sitting down when I play with her by herself. I think that change, plus Zani’s absence, would make for pretty clear situational cues that it she is in charge of getting the ball into the container.

Link to video for email subscribers.

Also, my friend Marge has challenged me to address self control for Clara around balls. So stay tuned. Finally, for extra credit: why is Zani hanging around me so close when she is part of the game?

And how about you? Have your dogs shaped your behavior? Have you noticed anything amusing that you have been reinforcing? Or noticed slippage into a different behavior as you relax criteria?

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Copyright © Eileen Anderson 2015

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When Management Succeeds

“Management fails.”

Have you heard this saying? Did you understand completely what the person meant?

I’m going to explain it in some detail for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology or concept, then tell my own management story.

A woman is sitting on a bench, holding a small black and white terrier who is sitting very relaxedly in her lap. A larger tan dog is on the floor looking up at the woman. The woman is talking to the larger dog.

Clara offers a calm down behavior in the presence of Cricket

Management

In the dog training world, “management” means the things you have to do if you haven’t trained your dog in a behavior appropriate to a certain situation. Some examples:

  • If you have a dog who persistently jumps on guests to your home, and you solve the problem by always locking him in a back room when you have company, that’s management.
  • If you put up a baby gate instead of either teaching your dog not to go in a certain room, or teaching him how to behave in there safely, that’s management.
  • If you have two dogs who fight and you choose to separate them forever using doors and crates rather than doing counterconditioning and/or training them in behaviors which are incompatible with fighting, that’s management.

Management is not a bad thing. If you have ever had a puppy, you probably learned pretty fast to manage some things, or you wouldn’t have made it. You can’t teach them everything they need to know at once, so you control the environment to prevent certain problems.

Management is also very important as a background for training. If you had the jumping dog in the first example above and decided to train him to behave nicely around guests, you would continue the management during purely social visits from guests while you were also training the behavior in controlled setups. The management would prevent him from practicing the undesirable behavior. If he was still getting to practice that with guests some of the time, your training during the rest of the time would go nowhere.

So what do people mean when they say, “Management fails”?

I have always seen that remark in the context of the third example above, or a similar example involving a dog who is aggressive to humans. They mean that if the safety of one of your dogs, cats, or even a child depends on certain doors always being closed and 100% consistent behavior on the part of all the humans in the household, odds are that some day a human will mess up, the wrong creatures will get access to one another, and someone will get hurt. They are emphatically encouraging people not to depend on management alone when someone’s safety is at stake.

The alternatives to simply managing aggressive dogs are counterconditioning and training the dog/s (while simultaneously managing as described above), rehoming a dog, or euthanizing a dog (sometimes done in the case of high level aggression where the dog is deemed unadoptable).

Susan Garrett is well known for encouraging training rather than management. She suggests making conscious choices whether to train or manage for each situation, rather than letting managing the dog be a default. She points out that a trained dog, as opposed to one who has to be managed (read: controlled) all the time, can go many more places, do more things, and can generally have a more interesting life. But she has also shared that she has chosen to manage at least one common problem: dogs getting aroused and barking when the doorbell rings. She uses a special ring on her phone instead of a physical doorbell to let her know she has a visitor . She (so far) has chosen not to train a doorbell behavior.

By the way, Susan Garrett’s doorbell solution fits under what Susan Friedman calls “Antecedent Arrangements.” Even though some trainers might consider it “only management,” from the animal’s point of view, it is less intrusive than even training a new behavior with positive reinforcement. It is one of the mildest forms of behavioral intervention since the animal is not asked to change. The situational trigger is just removed. This works well when the human’s routine is easy to change.

So why am I even talking about this? Because I’m a little bit of a contrarian, that’s why. No actually, because I discovered that there can actually be overlap between management and training. I had never thought of that, since lots of people who discuss the two talk as if they are mutually exclusive. But in one situation, I thought I was “only” managing my dog but she got trained without my realizing it! I was able to stop managing* and everybody was still safe and happy. Here’s what happened.

Clara and Cricket

When Clara came into my life in July 2011, my little rat terrier Cricket was about 15 years old and already frail. Clara was the smallest dog in the house for about two days– 11.5 pounds to Cricket’s 12–but outgrew Cricket (and everyone else) very quickly. As Clara grew in size and confidence, I quickly made the decision to keep them separated. Cricket disliked most dogs anyway, was getting dementia and didn’t interact with them well, and would only grow more frail. My worry was never aggression from Clara, but that lethal, wagging tail of hers and her bouncy habits.

I already kept Cricket separated from one of my other dogs. I decided rather than try to train Clara to be calm and keep her distance from Cricket, I would just keep her separated too. If Cricket had been a younger dog and more a part of the group, I probably would have made a different decision. But what I did decide had a very interesting result.

There were two exceptions to their separation each day. When Clara first got up in the morning, we would rush through Cricket’s space on our way to the back door so Clara could go out to potty. Conversely every evening Clara came through on the way to going to bed in her crate in my bedroom.

On these trips through Cricket’s rooms, I did not seek to train anything. I just made sure Cricket was out of the way and/or made sure I walked between them. I may have body blocked once or twice, but definitely not as a rule. That’s something I consciously avoid.  I just planned Clara’s route and made it easy for her to leave Cricket alone. Clara was always intent on our destination, which helped, too.

After a couple of months I noticed something. Clara was consciously avoiding Cricket. Clara the Rude, who body slammed dogs for entertainment and responded quite reluctantly to my other dogs’ requests to be left alone! Amazingly, she did not bother Cricket and actually avoided her.

How did that happen?

We Are Always Training Our Dogs

OK, this is another truism, but it’s, ahem, true.  I confess the first few times I heard it, I thought it was rhetoric. Only later did I come to realize that it was meant much more literally. All animals learn and change their behaviors because of consequences. Whatever your dog does, it does because there is something reinforcing about it. Some things are intrinsically reinforcing, of course, but one of the first things a student of learning theory finds out is that we have been training our dogs to do many of the problem behaviors we complain about.

It is dead easy to train our dogs to whine to be let out of their crates, steal our socks (what fun for a puppy when a human runs screaming after it!), dodge away when we reach for their collars, countersurf, and mouth our hands. I don’t mean that we are purposely training these things (usually), but that our behavior is creating the consequences that shape their behavior whether we want it to or not.

So, what of Clara and Cricket? Although I carry treats on me most of the time, I didn’t give Clara a treat for staying away from Cricket. But twice a day we went by Cricket, with Clara at a good distance, on a trip to something good. In the mornings the trip was to the outdoors and potty time. In the evening the trip was to the bedroom and Clara’s crate and soft bed, which she liked from the day she got here. So those were mild and rather non-immediate reinforcers, but the important part is that they were utterly consistent. Nothing fun ever happened around Cricket. Clara didn’t develop any kind of a history of interaction with her. Cricket was for going by at a distance and getting to a good place, and that’s what Clara learned to do. Getting to the good place was the end of a behavior chain that included walking far away from Cricket.

The movie shows the marked differences between Clara’s behavior with Cricket, and her behavior with Summer and Zani.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Astute viewers may notice the big obvious lip lick and lookaway that Clara performs upon seeing Cricket coming down the hall in one clip, when Clara was a year old. Those are common stress signals for dogs.  It’s quite possible I got a little help at times from Cricket, who could be pretty intimidating to other dogs, with the “stay away” message. However, given Clara’s habitual non-response to such cues from other dogs, I think in the long run this played a pretty minor role. In their last year together, Cricket had advanced dementia, and didn’t appear to be giving off as much dog communication to anybody. The last clips in the movie show Cricket’s typical behavior at that point in her life. They were taken in late April 2013, one month before she passed on.

A tan dog has backed int a smaller black and rust hound mix and is pressing the smaller dog into the wall with her butt

Clara smooshing Zani into the wall with her butt on purpose

I also want to mention that the movie may give the impression that I let Clara run rampant over my other two dogs. She would certainly like to spend her life bashing into them and smooshing them into walls, but I intervene pretty successfully in that most of the time. However, I think applying some of the principles I learned from her behavior towards Cricket would be helpful in that regard. I am always doing what I can to help the dogs get along well.

If I get brave, I’ll write a second post about Clara’s interactions with Summer and Zani and how they have built her current behavior toward them.

I hope this strong lesson for me about subtle reinforcers and the strength of consistent habits will be helpful for some others. I’m really curious as to whether this has happened to other folks. Have you ever accidentally trained a really good behavior? I hope it happens to me again!

*Please, please do not misconstrue my remarks as encouraging people to stop managing a dangerous dog, or testing the waters to check whether something magical has happened from management. Mine was a unique situation. Most important, as I mentioned above, Cricket was not in danger from aggression from Clara, only from careless behavior that might knock her over. If aggression were the issue, Clara never would have been walking through Cricket’s space in the first place.

Coming up:

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The Ex-Pen Garden

How about something light and pleasant to get ready for the weekend!

One of my life goals has always been to have a big vegetable garden. And when I got my own place I did it.

These are low res photos because hey, it was 2001. Scroll over an individual photo for the caption. Click it to enlarge (a little). See the nifty little fence my friend designed and helped me build?

That was my garden in 2001. I expanded it in 2004.

My garden in 2004

My garden in 2004 with a cameo by Gabriel, my late rat terrier mix

But all that was before I had agile dogs. Summer and Zani could both happily jump the fence but I left it there and did garden some. Then this happened.

Link for email subscribers.

That’s 11-week old Clara climbing a fence made of chicken wire and PVC, inserting her little paws in the holes in the chicken wire. I pulled the fence down the next day, since it had gone from useless to dangerous.

As a formerly feral puppy, Clara had all sorts of unexpected skills which she demonstrated with confidence.

So now my garden looks like this. I.e., mostly fallow and overgrown except a couple of leftover herbs and perennials, and being used as a dog playground.

My non garden in 2013

My non garden in 2013

Kind of like a weedy desert out there….

But this year I realized something. Exercise pens can keep dogs out as well as keep them in. Voila: the Ex-Pen Garden.

Ex pen with dogs outside, plants inside!

Ex pen with dogs outside, plants inside!

Introducing the Ex-Pen Garden!

I can cover it easily when hardening off plants

Ex-Pen Garden showing baby pepper plants

There they are:  baby pepper plants

I’ve got five hot pepper plants in there now: a jalapeño, a poblano, a serrano, and two habaneros, and a basil plant. Plus I have another ex-pen. I can expand! It was REALLY nice to plant something!

Of course what has created a decent barrier for dogs (two of them really could jump it but so far are not motivated to try) has turned out to be a magnet for the neighborhood cats. More on that in a future post.

Release the hounds!

Release the hounds! (That was a 50 foot group stay, in case you thought there was no training in this post!)

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But What if Your Dog Runs Out Into Traffic?

A traffic light with three colored bulbs: red, yellow, and green. The red light is lit up.

Stop. It’s not safe to proceed.

Anyone who spends any time on FaceBook reading the arguments between trainers who train mainly with positive reinforcement and those who don’t has seen this question. Just lately I have seen three different versions of it:

  1. But what if your dog runs out into traffic? Are you going to save him by throwing cookies at him?
  2. But what if your dog runs out into traffic? You’re going to pull on the leash. That’s negative reinforcement and the same as using a shock collar.
  3. But what if your dog runs out into traffic? If you grab him that could cause stress, and I thought you’re supposed to be 100% stress free?

I’m going to answer these questions. Perhaps it will help others formulate their thoughts in these kinds of discussions.

The traffic question is an interesting meme. The underlying message is, “When push comes to shove, positive reinforcement training is ineffective. It’s dangerous because you have no acceptable way to control your dog. Your dog could die.”

There are further messages:

  • In #1, juxtaposing “cookies” with this life and death situation is both mocking and implies we have no methods of controlling our dogs.
  • In #2, the implication is, that although we can prevent our dogs by pulling the leash, if we do, then we are hypocrites because that causes pressure and that’s aversive. These folks are claiming that the bottom line is that there no way to distinguish between what we do and what shock trainers do.
  • And in #3, the subject is stress. This writer got the idea that we try to completely eliminate stress from our dogs’ lives, and that therefore we would let them risk their lives rather than grab them.

Here are the briefest responses I could come up with to the three versions of the question. I’m also going to describe an actual conversation I had about one of these that turned out all right.

  1. No, throwing cookies at a dog running into traffic would not be an effective way of stopping him. But with “cookies” (or more properly, positive reinforcement of all types) I can do the following: 
    • train him that staying by my side is the best thing ever;
    • use classical conditioning to teach him not to flinch from a collar grab or quick movement from me;
    • train a beautiful recall;
    • teach him a great “leave it,” which often generalizes well; and
    • train him to lie down on cue in all sorts of situations. I can use the “distance down” when coming to me would not be a good solution.

    Also I can use common sense. I don’t know anyone personally who would have their dog offleash in busy traffic, whatever kind of trainer they are. Those whose dogs are reliable offleash are likely to be very careful where they do that, plus they have all the above tools at their disposal.

  2. Likening pulling on a leash (in an emergency no less) with the habitual use of a shock collar to force a dog’s compliance is an example of the logical fallacy called the continuum fallacy. I will be discussing this further in a future post. But the short version is that the continuum fallacy erroneously claims that because there is a range of possibilities between two extremes, there is no meaningful difference between them. In this case the extremes are pulling on a leash to remove a dog from an emergency, which can constitute negative reinforcement, and using a negative reinforcement protocol with a  shock collar as a training method to make them come when called and perform other behaviors. It doesn’t matter that these have a small commonality (negative reinforcement). The respective quantities of aversive used (as a one time emergency move vs a regular method of training) are hugely different. You can see Jean Donaldson’s elegant rant on this subject here.
  3. The question about being 100% stress free misrepresents most trainers’ outlook and constitutes a straw man fallacy. That’s when you argue against a version of your opponent’s position that you or someone else made up, instead of what they are actually saying. Valuing kindness to our animals is quite different from claiming we can and should provide them a completely stress-free existence. And similarly to #2, what a person does habitually (try to make their pets’ lives as pleasant and fun as possible and build up a relationship of trust) and what she might have to do in an emergency (grab them in a potentially startling way) are completely different. You can break a person’s ribs doing CPR, but that doesn’t mean you condone going around punching them the rest of the time.

A trainer who promotes prong collar use recently asked question #3 on a FaceBook thread. He said that his question was genuine. He asked, “Do you allow your child to run into the street because holding their hand stresses them?” He said he really wanted to know because he was trying to understand. So I answered. Here is a slightly edited version of what I said.

I am going to take you at your word that your question is geniune. Good for you for asking and really wanting to know. But I find the question about allowing a child to run into the street rather than holding their hand very, very strange.

Like [the previous poster], I would have established a long time before that moment that holding my hand had very positive associations. But I will add that in any life or death situation, I would do whatever it took with a kid or a dog to physically prevent themselves from running into harm. Including something that might startle or even hurt them if necessary.

The point is that a training session is not a life or death situation. It is a controlled environment. There is no analogy between these two situations. And in the training I do with dogs I want them first to learn that I will protect them. I won’t hurt them. They can come to me for help. I am going to set them up to succeed from the beginning.

The second thing I want to teach them is confidence and competence in problem solving. Training does sometimes  introduce stress. But it needs to be added in a very controlled way. It is well documented with many, many species that fear and/or excessive stress are impediments to learning. So I will indeed, like other posters, be watching my dogs for signs of stress. The more I learn about dog body communication, the better I can do that.

I find the argument that we need to hurt or startle our dogs to help them develop life skills completely empty. (Not sure you said that exactly, but I certainly hear it a lot.) A mature dog has the cognitive ability of what, a two year old child? We are not preparing them to go out in the world on their own. (And even if we were, we wouldn’t have to hurt them.)

We are trying to prepare them for things they will likely encounter. And pain associated with or dealt out with by me (or other humans) is something they will encounter very infrequently as long as I have any say about it! It is something they can be specifically conditioned about, for instance receiving shots at the vet and other husbandry skills.

My correspondent wrote back and said he appreciated my answer.  He said he had recently seen some parents do the very thing he described (give up on grabbing their child in a potentially dangerous situation because it might upset her, and she did run into the street) and that’s why it came to mind. He said that he understood the other point of view better now, and pointed out that we even had some common ground: that some stress is OK and should be introduced gradually.

I panicked a little internally, wanting to write back “But our definition of stress is completely different!!” Then I thought to myself, just back off. We actually have a point of agreement. Don’t ruin it.

This person is not going to stop using a prong because of a Facebook conversation. My friends are not going to condemn me for my comments about stress that could be taken amiss or quoted out of context. Instead, why not just enjoy the moment and figure that one person out there who uses prong collars may stop believing force free trainers are like permissive parents? And that might lead to some other realizations, who knows? I really did appreciate his politeness and apparent interest.

Besides the irritation of hearing it with such repetition, I do not like the “traffic” question because I don’t think it is kindly to bring it up lightly as a point of argument. I have known of accidents to happen to dogs belonging to the most prudent people and the most careless. I’m sure none of them appreciate hearing the subject thrown up as a threat.

So I will end this by asking for comments about safety behaviors. What do you teach your dogs that could save their lives? I wrote a short post with a couple of videos about what I do: Safety Behaviors: Down at a Distance and Recalls.  I hope for comments about some other important behaviors and perhaps some videos. (Does anybody train extreme collar grabs?)

Tan dog is lying down in a grassy yard while a woman wearing a read sweatshirt holds her hand high in the air, palm forward

Clara downs on a hand signal

Here is a demonstration of Clara’s down at a long distance. I can’t claim that much credit for it. It’s a huge advantage with a ball crazy dog that they learn that the reinforcement can happen “out there” as well as near their handler, so it’s not a big leap for them to do stuff at a distance.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

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7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

Two Dogs’ Experiences with the Flirt Pole

If you have been following the blog, you may have seen that young Clara is an absolute maniac for the flirt pole. It is right up there with playing ball in her list of favorite things.

a tan dog is stretched out at her whole length, chasing a toy on a rope attached to the end of a pole

Clara Stretching Out to Get the Toy

I waited quite a while before introducing Clara to the flirt pole because teaching “release the toy” was a real struggle with her when we played tug and ball. I had visions of her getting overly excited and breaking the flirt pole by pulling on the toy endlessly.

When I taught her to release a tug toy, I didn’t use food. I used the method of reinforcing the release with resumption of the game. I had a pretty hard time with that, since hanging onto, chewing on, and dismembering toys is very reinforcing to Clara, and I lacked experience teaching the behavior. You need pretty good timing. I finally got it though, and Clara was dropping the toy pretty consistently.

But it turned out that playing with the flirt pole actually improved Clara’s releases. First,  we lucked into the perfect toy. Marge Rogers gave me this skinny little tug toy from Dog Dreams Toys. It is perfect to chase, but not as fun to chew as, say, rabbit fur. Our flirt pole has a gizmo where you can attach different toys. It works and they do not come off! Second,  the flirt pole helped me make the game immediately exciting when she dropped the toy. I could zip it away instantly and irresistibly. Much more quickly than I could when we were playing tug. The right behavior (release on cue) was set up to predict more fun than the holding and chewing.

Here are two of Clara’s nice releases, so you can see what I mean.

Here is a link to “Releasing the Toy Means More Fun to Come” for email subscribers.

But enough about the flirt pole champ. We have an up and coming talent. Little Zani, the challenger.

small black and tan dog chases a red toy at the end of a rope on a pole

Zani Enjoying the Flirt Pole

I had first tried her with the pole months, maybe years ago. And Zani didn’t care for it. She was a little afraid of it, and I didn’t have the interest to work on that at the time. But Zani has developed methods of inserting herself into virtually every fun thing that happens around my house, and she finally had enough of watching Clara play with the flirt pole from the sidelines. One day she asked to play with it.

She went for it! Fearsome little dog! She was so excited that half the time she just jumped into the air or snapped at me before she remembered to chase the toy.

small black and tan dog is leaping into the air, snapping at the sleeve of a woman holding a toy attached to a rope and pole

Zani Slightly Confused about What to Bite

She has a different style from Clara’s when she catches the toy. Clara grabs it and holds. She loves for me to grab it and tug with her. But Zani has to give it multiple killing shakes. I have long suspected that Zani is part Russell terrier. And yes, she does know how to kill small animals efficiently. But I don’t mind her “killing” the tug toy at all.

I hope you find Zani’s sessions as delightful as I did. I just loved how she would  jump around and snap before she got it together enough to chase the toy. If she were a bigger dog, it might have been a problem, but she is a small dog with great bite inhibition and a wonderful sense of fun. She always knows exactly where her teeth are. You can see in the still photo above that she is actually not quite connecting with my sleeve. That was the case every time she jumped at me.

Here is a link to “Zani Discovers the Flirt Pole” for email subscribers.

7 Benefits of Flirt Pole Play

  1. It is great exercise.
  2. It teaches coordination, for both the dog and the human! I am continually having to develop new “moves” as my dogs learn to outwit my old ones.
  3. You can use it to teach impulse control.
  4. You may have a better chance of teaching a good release than with tugging.
  5. The dog gets to chase something at high speed but also stays close to you (you are part of the picture).
  6. She can’t run off with the toy, and thereby develops a habit of sticking around you with it.
  7. As long as the dog has a reliable release, the human doesn’t have to move at all. It can be outdoor couch training!

The toy we are using is a Chase It toy purchased at CleanRun.

Note: I have heard that flirt poles are illegal in some areas because they are associated with fighting dogs. I have not determined any specific locations for which this is true, but I am certainly not condoning dog fighting or encouraging anyone to break any laws.

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