Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

A tan dog is lying on a green cot while a white dog with brown ears sits on a low platform next to her. Both dogs are looking at something to their left that we can't see.

Lewis and I have achieved two of my personal holy grails of dog training. He can both wait quietly in another room while I train Clara, and he can station successfully in the same room while I train her. Hallelujah!

The effects of these abilities are far-reaching. Since the end of December 2021 when I got Lewis, I have spent most of my training time with him. That means that Clara, my stalwart, lovely Clara, hasn’t been getting as much fun training time with me. I’ve been exhausted from training and managing Lewis. And she loves to train. As you might remember, we were working on her trick titles, ahem. We haven’t stopped, though. We’ve been working on finding lost objects and keeping her other trick behaviors alive. But we’re not working every day as we did before.

A tan dog with black ears, tail, and muzzle is lying on the floor looking seriously at the camera
Imagine these eyes gazing at you every time you go to train the other dog

Lewis came to me with a huge Fear of Missing Out. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have symptoms of separation anxiety or isolation distress. But he had been in a state of deprivation, living in a vet clinic for crucial months of his puppyhood. He suffered from that and learned a huge palette of demand behaviors as well.

For months, I couldn’t do something so simple as leaving him in the den while I took Clara into another room to trim her nails for five minutes. He would yell and rattle the gate. And sometimes get it open, dammit. Talk about great reinforcement.

But he has learned, over almost five months, that he will get a turn. He will get some . Not every time, but enough to make it worthwhile. (Clara would like me to remind you that he’s been getting more of everything for months.)

I am not great at precision training, but if you need patience and a slow, gradual progression, I’m your person.

Training Two Dogs

I wrote a blog post on training multiple dogs a few years ago, and I still follow that method. The principle of teaching one dog to wait while another gets the active training is very simple. I learned it from Sue Ailsby. When you are training a dog to wait on a mat or other station while you work with another dog, train the waiting dog. Don’t focus on the active dog and give the waiting dog a treat now and then, or even every time you treat the active one. Give the waiting dog more attention, more reinforcement. When you do something with the working dog, start with very little movement and immediately turn back to the waiting dog and reinforce. As you progress, build up to more movement and object interaction by the working dog and continue to reinforce both dogs richly.

The high rate of reinforcement for the waiting dog won’t be forever. You can spread out your schedule later and lower the value of the treats once they learn that in the big picture, they’ll get a turn. And getting to work can become the biggest reinforcer of all.

I haven’t found the videos where I started this with Lewis. But here is one of my old videos starring Zani where I take a methodical approach to teaching this behavior. The video below shows my latest triumph: Lewis waiting nicely on a Klimb platform while I take Clara through some very active training—getting on and in objects. This was a long time coming.

Three things about this movie.

  • Sorry about the crappy camera angle; I almost cut him off.
  • I think Lewis fusses as I cue him to lie down on the Klimb because he doesn’t know how to do that yet with his front feet stationary, and there’s not much room behind him. He figures it out.
  • Clara has a bandage on her left front paw because of a raw spot on the side of her foot and she is holding it up (superstitious behavior) even more than usual. It doesn’t hurt her to use her paw; I think the bandage feels weird.

Next, I’ll teach Lewis to hold his position while I give Clara an object to hold, then finally while I play tug with her. This will be a challenge. Lewis can hardly bear it when Clara has something; whatever she has, he wants.

Zen/Leave It/Impulse Control with Two Dogs

Leaving available stuff alone is a lifesaving skill for dogs.

People have various reasonable criticisms of the terms impulse control and self control but I’m OK with them. They have precise definitions in behavior science. If I had a criticism, it would be that environment controls behavior. The “self” isn’t controlling behavior, but consequences and history of consequences are. But whatever we call the behavior, we can teach dogs, with positive reinforcement, to leave an available goodie alone for extended periods if we start gradually and make it worth their while.

Methods for teaching dogs to leave available food alone are becoming more and more positive reinforcement-based . Marge Rogers and I no longer use approaches based on extinction and negative punishment. There are no periods where the animal tries and can’t get the food as part of the training plan. That creates unnecessary frustration. Dogs don’t have to try to get it and fail in order to learn to leave the food alone.

Instead, I’ve learned from Marge to teach eye contact and fade in visible food as a distraction. Then extend “this food is just a distraction” to other behaviors. The presence of food finally becomes a cue to reorient to me and do fun stuff. To be honest, when I teach the behavior, I inevitably make a couple of fumbles. So there may be some negative punishment involved if I progress too fast, they go for the food, and I prevent access. That’s a mistake on my part; I’m not a perfect trainer. But I’m getting better at this low error approach.

A white dog with brown ears is lying on the floor with his front end on a tan mat. He is offering eye contact to a human we can only partially see. Human has her hands visible and closed.
Lewis is offering eye contact in the presence of two closed handfuls of food

I started with eye contact, then fading in food in my hands, then moving the food around. Then, once Lewis had the basic idea, I transitioned to teaching him to ignore food on the floor (no eye contact required). He now pauses and looks at me even in real life when I drop something by accident. Another Hallelujah.

A woman in a red shirt and black pants leans over and drops a toy in front of a white dog with brown ears who is lying on a mat.
We work on leaving dropped toys alone, too

In the video, we are working on dropped food. The dogs are on platforms but I’m not requiring a particular behavior on there. I start by placing food on the floor, then work up to dropping it and having it bounce around. Note that the presence of Clara makes the stakes higher for Lewis. There’s another dog who could get the food!

You’ll also see an error on my part where I progress too quickly for Lewis—too many kibbles coming straight at him too fast. When that happens, I don’t even try to keep him from the food. He gets reinforced for the wrong behavior—jumping down to grab the food. But I’m not worried; I can keep the matching law on my side.

I do have a verbal cue for leave it: “Pas,” the French word. I picked it years ago because I had taught Summer “Leave It” with corrections and needed an un-poisoned phrase. I sometimes feel a little silly using it (and people think I am saying “paw”). But I can say the short word with the plosive consonant very quietly and the cue is very recognizable. I think I picked a good word, after all. (Thank you, Lynn Shrove, for suggesting it. I haven’t forgotten!)

I practice dropping treats so much, though, that staying away from them becomes a default behavior for all my dogs. In most situations, I don’t need the cue.

When I have time to dig through my series of Lewis videos, I’ll post more of the steps we took for the behaviors in the videos above. But in the meantime, if I can do it, especially with Lewis, I bet you can do it with your dog, too. Please know that I understand how taxing it is to have to devote all sorts of time to the “hard” dog while the patient dog just has to be patient. The good news is that this is usually a fixable problem.

It’s such a relief to include Clara in most training sessions again.

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Photo Outtakes

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

A tan and black dog lies on the grass holding a ball and a brown and white puppy runs toward her

Or: The Magic Buffalo Tug

In my post about the challenges of living with and training Lewis, I mentioned that the worst problem we faced was his hassling Clara to play. We’ve made some progress.

When he first came, his most frequent behavior toward her was humping. I remember telling Marge Rogers I had removed him or called him away dozens of times in a day. The humping diminished, thankfully. He does it far less frequently and less intensely and will happily dismount when I call him away.

But the next phase was tougher. A more troublesome problem emerged. Instead of humping, Lewis initiated play with Clara dozens of times a day. Sounds nice, right? No. First, she didn’t want to play dozens of times a day, but she is too retiring to tell him off convincingly. Worse, his methods of initiating play included: 1) growl the meanest sounding play growl imaginable and chew on Clara’s face and neck relentlessly; 2) bite her tail and pull; 3) bite one of her hind legs and hang on; and 4) in the yard, body slam her with no warning at top speed. But since every once in a while she did want to play, she put his rude behavior on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, which increased his natural persistence.

I’ve seen Clara tell Lewis emphatically NO only twice. Once was when his food toy had escaped under the couch and he considered swiping hers. She gave a strong warning bark right in his face and he backed off instantly. She did something similar with a toy she really wanted one day when he made a play for it. But otherwise she has been a pushover. Even when she responds to his chewing on her with growls and unfriendly chomping, he reacts as if she is not serious—and she doesn’t prove him wrong. So I needed to intervene.

Management

Early on, I wasn’t able to get Lewis’ attention to interrupt him out of play or attempted play. He was lost to the world. Both of them were; I couldn’t even get Clara’s attention when she was into it. So once he started, I had to physically remove him if Clara didn’t want to play. That’s why he (still!) wears a harness and often drags a leash: so I can remove him or prevent him from launching at her. I’m not proud of this, but I have to protect my other dog.

I’m well aware of the risks of dogs playing while wearing collars or harnesses. Life with dogs is full of calculated risks and this is where I fall on this particular risk. Clara wears only a breakaway collar and we are working toward one for Lewis. But she is far less likely to chew on him than he is to chew on her.

Back to the problem at hand. I realized that my management method of physical interruptions hadn’t diminished the problem behavior at all. We always hope, right? So I started thinking about what else to do. Crating or otherwise separating him, other than using the tether, was not an option then.

Two Resources

When I considered how else to address the problem, two things came to mind. First, Kiki Yablon posted on Instagram a video of using a structured tug game to teach a lab puppy not to bite at flapping garments and other objects. Second, I remembered something I’ve heard Marge say many times, that when she has a puppy in the house she always has treats in one pocket and a toy in the other.

A toy! I always have treats in a pocket, but I’ve rarely carried a toy. But I liked Kiki’s approach of using toy play as an alternative to play-driven behavior, and had Marge to encourage me. So I bought the tiniest tug toy I could find at Clean Run. I wanted it to be a novel toy, and it needed to be small enough to fit in my pocket. Enter the buffalo tug.

Behavior Chain

From the first, I worried about creating a behavior chain. If the tug play was attractive (and you’ll see how much Lewis delights in tug) and the only way he could access it was by bothering Clara, then guess what was going to increase? Bothering Clara. So I gave it a few tries on the first day but consulted with Marge quickly before I created a problem.

The first time I whipped out the tug toy to lure him away from Clara, it was like a bolt of energy shot through him. He was thrilled out of his mind. He raced to me and we played for a minute or two, then I traded him a couple of pieces of kibble for the tug toy. He has a very good “out” cue already, but I liked the kibble trade for this situation.

Closeup of a brown and white puppy's face as he grips a tug toy
Lewis with the buffalo tug

So I learned I had a powerful tool, something that competed with his favorite reinforcer, poor Clara. Even on that first day, he would advance on Clara, then turn and look at me. “Well? Where’s the tug?” This was both good and bad news. Good because he was stopping before grabbing her. Bad because it could lead to a chain and increase the Clara-bothering. I texted Marge so I wouldn’t create a worse problem.

Punishment

You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned punishment. I do use negative punishment from time to time. But in this case, it would be as a timeout, removing either him or Clara from the situation quickly, contingent on his undesirable behavior. But removing him from the action would be a whopper of a punisher for him. He’s got a giant case of Fear of Missing Out. I never knew how bad that could get. And removing Clara with a clear contingency (“she’s leaving because you were being a jerk”) would be hard-to-impossible. I do separate them to protect her. But I don’t see the management actions I take decreasing the behavior. I would much rather concentrate my efforts on preventing him from doing it in the first place.

Tweaking the Plan

Marge helped me add three tweaks.

  1. I asked for a behavior or two before tugging. I had his full attention, and he was happy to do anything to get the tug. The behaviors he had on cue at the time were sit, down, eye contact, hand target, and go to mat. He defaulted to sit since he already knew to sit to start a game. But I switched it up and asked for different things.
  2. Once he could turn his attention to me instead of jumping Clara, at times I reinforced with food instead of tug. Tugging is what allowed me to get his attention so quickly though, so I still used tug most of the time.
  3. Most important: I produced the tug toy at other times. It was vital that attacking Clara was not the only way for him to get access to such an attractive game. I didn’t want to get clobbered by the matching law. So I also whipped out the tug sometimes when he just came up to me and gave me eye contact or sat. I liked the idea that he could just come and ask me in those ways (rather than grabbing my arm or walloping Clara). I also just popped it out randomly.

Here’s a video from two days after I started using the pocket tug. I was about to interrupt the play because Lewis getting rough and obnoxious. But at that moment he interrupted himself and reoriented to me. Tug game on!

Unexpected and Expected Effects

OK, a professional trainer could have predicted these, but I didn’t.

Tan dog and brown and white dog are chewing on a hairy tug toy together
“Sharing” the buffalo tug
  1. Clara wanted the tug. Of course she did. Why do I always make these plans as if there isn’t another dog in the mix? So of course I had to let her have it, both to play tug with and to chew on. She is the reason there is no long hair left on our tug (see the photo below). And sometimes she and Lewis played with the tug together. This sounds a little like I shot myself in the foot, and perhaps I did, but he was much nicer when they played with an object than if it was just tooth and claw. That’s one way I ramp down their play anyway: get a toy in the mix.
  2. The day I introduced the tug toy and forever after, I could instantly get Lewis’ attention merely by saying his name, no matter how intensely they were playing. Sweet! This added to the safety of the household. I need my dogs to be able to ramp down after they have ramped up. I had already been interrupting their play a lot and encouraging them to do so, but the tug supercharged my ability to get their attention and tone things down.
  3. I became even more of an entertainment center for Lewis. This is a mixed blessing for me, of course, but it’s great to get his focus when I need it.
  4. As hoped, providing him lots more mini-sessions of play during the day seemed to reduce his need to pester Clara. It’s hard to say, because she also started to say no a lot more often and more convincingly. But a combination of approaches switched his play focus more to me (and the neighbor dogs—more on that another time!).
A small, well chewed tug toy made of buffalo hide
The enticing buffalo tug after weeks of heavy use and recreational chewing

Where Things Stand

These systems are working well. Clara and I have figured out several ways to dissuade him. Besides the buffalo tug method, there’s a mat next to my place at the kitchen table she can get on; it’s hard for him to access her there. Sometimes I’ll cue her into a crate or she’ll get in on her own. Clara and I sometimes go off to another room of the house (not contingent on a play attempt, just as a planned activity). This is a big deal because formerly, Lewis’ FOMO would have made him scream. He is learning that he gets a turn.

I wish I could say I’ve solved the problem and Lewis only approaches Clara with respect and finesse. Bwa-ha-ha-ha, if only! These are living creatures, and I’m dealing with a strongly driven behavior on Lewis’ part. But play behavior can be shaped, and I hope he can figure out some ways that work better than ramming folks like a violent cartoon character.

I’ll close with this recent clip of Lewis playing with some balls and **not** slamming Clara, who gets to chew on hers in (comparative) peace.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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That One Leftover Negatively Reinforced Behavior

That One Leftover Negatively Reinforced Behavior

It took only four pieces of kibble to fix a problem I’ve had for about eight years.

Long ago, I sought to stop using body pressure to move my dogs around in space. This was a conscious and serious effort. For me, and for my dogs, using body pressure was not a benign endeavor. You can see two of my very early YouTube videos about it. Negative vs. Positive Reinforcement and Teaching a Dog to Back Up without Using Body Pressure.

Maybe it’s because I have had a fair number of scaredy or sensitive dogs, but I have seen the fallout of using body pressure so frequently. And I don’t want my person to be something a dog avoids! I want them to be comfortable with me, to approach me, to move into my space, and not flinch or flee if I move gently into theirs. I want them to have pleasant associations with my physical presence.

But from the title, you can see I didn’t completely succeed. There was one last behavior I taught with R-.

I’m not talking about the accidental ways R- creeps into our lives with our dogs and even into our training. That probably still happens sometimes without my knowing it. And I’m not talking about things like letting a dog leave a training session, which may be a planned choice but still represents a mistake on my part. I’m talking about a deliberate choice I made to apply pressure to get an escape behavior. Yes, reader, I did it.

How We Got There: Arranging Dogs on the Bed

Clara didn’t get “sleeping in the bed” privileges until she was almost two years old. That didn’t have to do with her behavior. It was the reality of having a household with four dogs, one of whom (Summer) really wanted to take out another (Cricket). I had a size 300 crate on my bed for Summer, Cricket and Zani were loose on the bed, and I didn’t have room for Clara the hulk. She slept as she had from the first night in my house, in a crate on the floor right next to my place on the bed.

A large bed with a dog crate on top of it with a brown dog in the crate. There is a smaller black and white dog loose on the bed. There is a lump under the covers where another dog is lying.
Summer in the crate, Cricket up by the pillows, and Zani under the covers in the foreground

I dismantled that whole setup after Cricket died in 2013. I moved Summer’s crate to the floor (she still slept there most of the time). Clara got bed privileges and never left. I’ll never forget her first night. She planted herself right up against my leg and didn’t move all night. Anthropomorphizing just a little: she seemed incredulous at this development and stayed still as if not to blow the opportunity. She has never once gotten off the bed at night unless she was about to be sick.

The Unwanted Behavior

A black and tan dog rests her head on the bed covers and looks seriously at the camera
I’m pretty sure this photo from August 2013 was Clara’s first night getting to sleep on the bed

So what was Clara’s undesirable behavior on which I used negative reinforcement? Was she bullying other dogs? Being noisy? Trying to play or otherwise making trouble at night? No. It was that every night as I was getting ready to go to bed, she got in bed before me in my exact place. She got right up against my pillow and made herself comfortable right where I planned to sleep. Every. Single. Night.

So every night when I was ready to go to bed, I needed Clara to move.

Years before, in another context, a trainer I respected told me that while she let her dogs get on her bed and sleep with her if they liked, she never used treats on the bed. She said the bed was rewarding already and hanging out on the bed was a privilege. Also, she discouraged play on the bed because she wanted it to be a place for relaxation.

I took these words to heart, probably out of the context in which she originally meant them. No treats, no play on the bed. Check.

The result: I left myself with no potent positive reinforcement methods to move my dog. And it didn’t occur to me to try a hand target, for instance, and reinforce with petting and sweet talk. Or I could have made some other area on the bed extra enticing with fluffy blankets. Neither of these would probably have worked against “that special spot” but I wish I had at least tried.

How I Used Negative Reinforcement

Every night I made Clara move over by saying, “Move,” and nudging her or pushing into her space. I did this knowing it was not in concert with my ethics, but I couldn’t think of any alternatives. I wasn’t forceful about it, but R- is R-. You can get avoidance with a tiny stimulus. And in the typical progression of negative reinforcement, Clara started moving away earlier in my behavioral sequence, before I even said anything. All I had to do was walk toward my place on the bed and she leaped up and out of the way. (She never stopped getting there in the first place.)

I didn’t like this. It made me sad for my dog to see me coming and move away as if I had prodded her with a stick. That’s the thing about R-. I wasn’t even touching her at this point. I didn’t have to. She saw the precursor, which had become the (aversive) cue to move, and she moved. And the move was recognizable as a move away from something unpleasant. It didn’t have the look of a happy, positively reinforced behavior.

This has bothered me for freaking years: my beloved friend springing out of the way as if I were a danger to her.

What I’m Doing Now

Enter Lewis. Nothing like a new dog in your life to make you rethink things.

The first couple of nights, Lewis chose to sleep in a dog bed on the floor. Then he got up on the bed with Clara and me. Then he moved close to me and started to snuggle.

Then he decided he wanted Clara’s current place right next to my head and upper body. He is an ambitious little guy, and whatever Clara has, he wants. It was not OK with me for him to bump her out of her place, but Clara wasn’t assertive enough to stand her ground. I was going to have to move a dog around on the bed again.

So I thought about it for two seconds and decided the “No food on the bed” rule was going to go. I took the ridiculously easy option of grabbing four pieces of kibble from a jar, getting Lewis’ attention, and tossing two of them where I wanted him to go. Then I used the other two to bring Clara next to me (her usual spot) when he was out of the way. (Neither of them resource guards kibble.)

Instead of a dog looking up at me worriedly as I approached, I had two cheerful faces looking up at me. “Here come our last two treats of the day. Where are you going to toss them?”

One Other Change

Lewis’ arrival brought another change: my bed is now covered with chew items and toys. I see two Nylabones, a water buffalo horn, one of those hard tree roots, three stuffed toys, one unstuffed toy husk, and a piece of cardboard. Obviously, the “Bed is only for sleeping” rule has gone away as well. (All chews have risks; I’m not making recommendations for anyone else’s dogs.)

This means there are other forms of reinforcement available for Lewis besides comfort and cuddling. So when I direct him away from my spot, I’m not sending him to a desert. I toss the kibble toward one of his favorite items. He may settle there, or he may return to cuddle against my legs. His choice.

A white dog with red ears and red freckles is curled up on a colorful blanket
Lewis doesn’t look too unhappy with his “second choice”

Fallout

No aversive is too small to be concerned about. I know of a dog who started growling and snapping at his owner when she brought out the Scotch tape to work on the “hide your face” trick. I know of another who became dangerously aggressive after his owner used a squirt bottle on him. I even know of one who started biting the family after being removed bodily from the couch, quite similar to my issue.

Clara has never been aggressive, lucky for me. The fallout for us was the avoidance. Her positive conditioned emotional response to me was damaged. Probably only in a small way, since there were so many pleasant experiences on the other side of the scale. But I really don’t want any of my dogs to see me coming and think, “OMG, better move!”

The Reason for This Post

I imagine I’ll get some horrified responses from fellow positive reinforcement-based trainers at my admission of recently using negative reinforcement to get a behavior. But this is not a new admission. Here’s a post where I listed situations in which I may have used it. I don’t condone it; in fact, I hate the insidiousness of it, and I always strive to figure out a better way. As I improve as a trainer, I can eradicate it and make things more fun for my dogs.

But I also expect the opposite reaction, that the issue is ridiculous and beneath consideration. “She wrote a whole post about how sad it was that her dog had to move over!” These readers may say my dogs need to toughen up or even that I am letting them dominate me.

But my reasons for the post are bigger than that one small behavior. One reason was to share that I took something too literally and didn’t think for myself. That is a mistake I make as a non-professional. I just don’t have the breadth of experience to avoid misapplying things as “rules.” The other, more practical reason for sharing is that I—and all of us—can always reconsider a training technique. Nothing should be below scrutiny.

I regret using my body as something to avoid.

Clara and Lewis

I’m glad Clara now gives me an eager look when I approach the bed at night, waiting for her pieces of kibble. (Kibble! That’s all it took!)

And Lewis doesn’t always vie for her place now. He waits next to the bed to see where I will throw his kibble. Sweet!

And the irony: Lewis is not a sensitive soul. I never tried it, but I’m pretty sure from other experiences that he wouldn’t have yielded to my body pressure at all. He is a master at getting suddenly limp and very heavy.

I’m glad for both of them I finally used my brain and stopped listening to a voice from long ago.

A white dog with red ears and red freckles is sitting on a maroon rug next to a bed, looking up at the camera
Lewis waiting for his directional kibble

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

There are thousands of people searching for that perfect stuffed toy: the one their dog will love playing with and which will last longer than a couple of days.

The Tearrible sounds like that toy, but for us, it wasn’t. It’s a toy meant to be played with in one limited way—a way a dog might or might not enjoy. Surely there are dogs for whom this would be a great toy. But be sure to understand how the toy actually works before you assume your dog is one of them.

Even though it is advertised as very tough, and gives hope to us guardians of super chewers, the company advises against letting the dog just play with it. They recommend playing tug using the toy, but a very specific kind of tug game that stretches the meaning of the word. The toy is not well suited for normal tug play at all.

Tearribles

Tearribles was a Kickstarter project of an innovative dog toy in 2017. The inventors got great backing and set up manufacturing. The toy was a sturdily made stuffed monster featuring removable appendages the dog could pull out: legs, arms, and a tail fastened with Velcro. After the dog ripped them out, the human could press them back in place.

They now have an adorable (yes, it’s really cute) virus toy with16 protein spikes to pull off.

I was an early donor/investor and paid enough to get the Extra Large Tearrible. It seemed like a good idea—if the dog did indeed enjoy playing with it the way it was designed.

That turned out to be a big “if.”

Pros

  • The toys are absolutely adorable.
  • They are made well.
  • They are tougher than a lot of toys.
  • For certain dogs it could be a favorite toy.

Cons

  • I believe the signature removable limbs are of limited interest for most dogs.
  • Dogs can shred and destuff the toys, despite the advertising.
  • They are marketed as tug toys, but they lack the most basic features of a good tug toy.
  • There is misinformation about dogs on the website.

The marketing takes advantage of our desire for the impossible: a toy that is fun for a dog to rip up that doesn’t rip up.

My Experience with the Tearrible

The Tearrible out of the box

I received mine in early 2018. I gave it to Clara and Zani with some other toys. Within just a couple of minutes, Clara had removed an ear from the Tearrible. She swallowed it before I could intervene. She usually spits out the things she tears off, but this piece went right down.

I supervised more closely and let her continue with the toy. She did pull the bottom legs unit off (as the toy is designed for). Then she immediately set to work chewing out the seams she had exposed on the bottom corners. She pulled out a fair amount of stuffing while I made sure she didn’t swallow it. But after she tore off two more pieces of the outer fabric, I traded her some goodies and took away the toy. I didn’t want her to ingest any more fabric after that entire ear.

I had my answer. Despite the marketing, the toy wasn’t magically tough.

Full disclosure: What I did was not how the Tearribles are now instructed to be used. The toy didn’t come with instructions to use it as a tug toy then, although they did say to play with it with your dog. My goal was to check the sturdiness and observe how much pleasure the dogs took in ripping the limbs off, the main selling point. They didn’t. The limbs were just one more bite to remove and discard. They wanted to get deeper into the ripping.

Perhaps breeds that have had the dissection part of the predatory sequence diminished would enjoy them more, unlike my Arkansas varmint dogs.

YouTube and Social Media

I searched for videos and posts about dogs having a great time with Tearribles. I found no video on YouTube of extended (or even more than brief) play in the manner the company recommends. The company marketing video has two short segments of a dog playing with the toy totaling 23 seconds: a few seconds of ripping appendages off while playing tug with a person and a few solo kill-shakes. There is a video review by a fellow who only shows the features of the toys and never shows his dogs playing with them, and there’s a video by Dr. Patricia McConnell of her border collie happily pulling the spikes off the virus, but not playing tug with it. She does have two dogs who enjoy removing the appendages and don’t do further dissection. On her blog, Dr. McConnell cautions not to offer the toy to a dog who swallows small, removed parts.

I found a couple of positive posts about dogs who liked their Tearribles in an enrichment Facebook group. They played with the toys as intended and the toys lasted.

Social Media Addendum

I found some videos. Instagram, of course. Keep in mind, though, that it’s the perfect medium to show a dog tearing the toy apart…once. IG videos have to be short. So it’s hard to tell how how long a dog’s interest lasts. But you can see some very happy dogs pulling limbs off toys.

The Marketing Is the Problem

So while there seem to be some dogs out there who enjoy the Tearrible, the company doesn’t sufficiently clarify the very narrow intended use of the toy.

Original Marketing

There was originally no real caution in the whole Tearribles website that dogs could actually tear the toy up. They implied the opposite. And they made the following strange statement:

In our tests, we played tug of war for 45 minutes with our 80lb destructo-dog, Izzy. The results? Not a single tear on the toy, and one really tired dog.

I took this text directly off their site in 2018, but it is no longer there.

The statement is odd. Playing tug with a human is not how dogs usually rip up toys. Supervised tug doesn’t test a toy. Any well-made toy can have a good lifespan if you play tug with it rather than giving the dog unfettered access.

These tug toys belonging to Marge Rogers are about eight years old. Her dogs and her client dogs have played with them several days a week for years.

Current Marketing

The Tearribles company has amended its claims and includes some qualifiers now. This is from the FAQ page.

Question: Are Tearribles chew toys/indestructible toys?

Answer: No. Dog teeth, no matter how small, are built to crush bones and tear tendons – there is no material (safe to be in your dog’s mouth) that your dog cannot chew through.

True! But they still focus on their toys’ toughness. Their YouTube movie says dogs can destroy any stuffed object in seconds, then says, “It’s time we stopped insulting our dogs’ abilities with weak toys.” That’s not how you sell a tug toy; it’s how you sell a chew toy.

They state on the website that if you play with the Tearrible in a structured way with your dog, the dog will learn it is your “together” toy and will stop trying to “annihilate” it. My take: true if you remove the toy after your “together” time, but that’s something you can do with any toy.

And they top it off with this false statement:

Dogs chew non-food things for two reasons:

  1. they are teething
  2. they are bored

No. Chewing is a natural and necessary behavior for dogs. Dissection is one step in the predatory sequence. Giving your dog a full and stimulating life will not prevent him from wanting to chew stuff up. In fact, chewing stuff up is part of a full and stimulating life for most dogs.

Lewis and the Tearrible

Here’s the hero of our story. I wrote much of this review three years ago. But I never published it, because I didn’t want to post yet another grouchy review. I felt bad about criticizing a well-meaning company that sought to create a novel toy for dogs, even though I disagreed with their claims.

I still have the toy, even with its holes and leaking filling. When Lewis first came, all the Velcroed appendages still worked. He figured the toy out and pulled it apart. He did seem to enjoy that. I put the toy back together and he pulled it apart a few more times, sometimes while I held it. But the minute I stopped putting it back together, he started working on the seams. He removed one of the Velcro strips (I nabbed it before he or Clara swallowed it). So now the bottom legs no longer reattach. But although Lewis likes the toy, even he doesn’t want to limit himself to pulling off arms, legs, and the tail. He wants to continue on to destuff it. But I did finally get a dog who seemed to enjoy the signature aspect of the toy. One dog out of four pulls the limbs off, but zero dogs out of four were happy to stop at that point.

Stuffed Toys and My Dogs

Every one of my dogs has enjoyed pulling toys apart and destuffing them. I’ve tried tough toys, and the tougher they were, the less fun they were for the dogs.

I finally decided the only stuffed toys that made sense for us were cheap ones they could rip up while supervised. I supervise as they pull them apart, then throw away the husks when they become unsafe. Before the pandemic, I would pick them up at garage sales. Nowadays, I concentrate more on edible chews and playing tug and scent games.

Clara and Lewis played with the husk of this Snoopy toy for a long time after it was completely de-stuffed

Why Isn’t the Tearrible a Good Tug Toy?

Unless you want to redefine tugging as a dog repeatedly pulling off discrete appendages and starting over, this is not a tug toy. It does not have the features of a good tug toy: long and slender, attractive to chase, a clear target area for the dog, and a handle for the human. The torso of the Tearrible is a nightmare for the human to hold on to.

The company didn’t originally advertise the Tearrible as a tug toy. Check out this post from July 2018. There is no mention of tugging. They may have added the directions to tug after too many people (like me) tried to use it as a regular chew toy.

Alternatives

  • If your dog likes to tug, make or buy a real tug toy. There are hundreds on the market. The best tug toy is something your individual dog wants to chase and grab and that you can hang onto. Try Clean Run or Dog Dreams Toys. You can even try a flirt pole if they are permitted in your area. Playing with a flirt pole is like tug on steroids; your dog gets to chase and tug.
  • If your dog prefers to shred and dissect, you are probably already letting them tear up stuffed toys. Be sure to supervise your dog closely so they don’t ingest fabric or plastic squeaker parts. There are always risks of swallowing, however. Check out the Canine Enrichment Facebook group for more ideas for safe shredding activities.
  • If your dog enjoys chewing and/or squeaking a fabric toy and you don’t want them to rip it apart, there are some decent options. The Outward Hound Fire Biterz toy is made of firehose material. The goDog toys might do for some dogs. My dogs don’t chew up the canvas-covered toys like Kong Wubbas. The Tearrible may be tough enough for some dogs. And maybe you’ll just want to get one to support an independent business with a very cute and sturdy product.

Bottom Line

The Tearrible may be the perfect toy for some dogs, and I hope it finds its way to them. But it looks like a chew toy, and they market it that way. At the same time, they instruct you to use it as a tug toy and it’s not designed well for tug at all.

Related Posts

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Photo of well-used tug toys copyright 2022 and courtesy of Marge Rogers. All other photos copyright Eileen Anderson.

Training a Teenage Puppy

Training a Teenage Puppy

Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
Clara looks as tired as I feel. (But notice how happy she is!)

Whew! It’s more than a month later and I maybe, possibly, barely can write about how things have been with Lewis.

Preparation

I had only a couple of days to prepare for Lewis before he came. I did three main things.

  1. I moved Zani’s old crate to my bedside. It is a good size for him and has a lovely cushy bed and blanket in it.
  2. I got a 48-inch-tall exercise pen that’s been in my garden for several years and set it up in the main living area of the house. I outfitted it with a good-sized donut-style bed. The bed is not puppy-proof, but it is sturdy and doesn’t have a lot of tempting chew areas.
  3. I inventoried and cleaned up my food toys and chews.

Number 1 was a bust, Number 2 didn’t work out the way I expected, but Number 3 paid off.

1. The Crate

Lewis had been living at a veterinary clinic for the past two months, so I assumed he was accustomed to being in a cage or crate. It turns out that accustomed to and accepting are two different things. The first night, after a very active day which was undoubtedly stressful for him, we went to bed. I showed him the crate door, and he went in. I gave him some treats and closed the door. He instantly tuned up to yell. I, just as instantly, let him out. I have experience with hounds. They are persistent and loud. For both his benefit and mine, I knew not to even try to let him cry it out. So I caved ASAP.

Lewis wandered around my room a little, then settled into a dog bed I had stashed in a corner. He slept there the first night and half of the second night. Midway through the second night, he got up onto my bed with me and Clara. First, he slept on a throw blanket at the foot of the bed. Over time, he moved closer to me and now he cuddles.

I scrapped the sleeping crate idea and returned it to its normal location. I found out much later that part of the problem was the plastic crate. He likes wire crates a lot better. But he still probably would have protested. I got super lucky with my last two dogs, Clara and Zani, who both came to me thinking crates were nice.

Why had I tried the crate?

  • I had no idea of the status of his house training.
  • My bedroom is not puppy-proof.
  • I didn’t want him to bother Clara.

Luckily, his house training is great. He has woken me every morning (at first on veterinary clinic time, yawn!) to go out to potty. My bedroom is not puppy proof, but I wake up if an animal gets off the bed, so he is safe at night. And the extent of his bothering Clara has been to become more assertive about getting a prime spot on the bed. Nothing Clara and I can’t handle.

I am doing very slow and careful crate training with Lewis in a wire crate (see photos at the bottom of the post).

2. The Ex Pen

I had this idyllic mental image of Lewis chilling in the ex pen when the rest of us were also in the room. (Bwa ha ha!) In my defense, I did that with Clara when she was a very young puppy. She was so little that I suspect she hardly registered it as an enclosure. Ex pens, in a household of four not-entirely-compatible dogs, were just a fact of life for her since she came to me so young. Zani, who came to me as a teenager like Lewis, also did fine with them.

But Lewis had three problems with the lovely ex pen.

  1. Lewis is not good at chilling. In fact, he is in the dog life stage probably least amenable to chilling.
  2. Lewis showed early on that he would try to climb out of the ex pen. Whether he could be successful I’m not sure, but he would have hurt himself the way he was trying. He probably would have toppled the whole thing on top of himself or gotten his toes hurt in the wires. He is a capable, near-full-grown dog, not a malleable puppy. Think of those awful YouTube videos showing beagles escaping impossible situations or climbing impossible things. He’s like that.
  3. Lewis tuned up to yell about the ex pen confinement the moment he wasn’t eating something or the moment I left the room.

So I kept the ex pen but only closed it when I was right there. In the last month, I have helped him build up good feelings for the ex pen. He bounds to it to eat. I can now leave the room for a few minutes, off and on, while he is eating from a food toy. I pull the pen closed, but I make it my business always to return before he might object. I don’t want to trigger the song of his people or a climbing incident. And we’re working on chilling skills.

3. The Food Toys

The food toys have been a success and are very helpful. So far, I have used frozen Zogoflex Toppls, Zogoflex Tux, and Kongs; a Kong Wobbler and a couple of other action-based food toys; gullets and buffalo horns; and tendons using holders to prevent choking.

Behavior Issues

Here are some of the problematic behaviors Lewis already had going strong when he came to me.

  • Grabbing sleeves.
This is a very early video, and the grabbing behavior is virtually gone now. I taught him something else to do to get my attention when I was seated, and he learned it quickly.
  • Biting/mouthing hands.
  • Grabbing arms with his teeth or scratching with his paws when the person is sitting.
  • Jumping up when the person is standing, including from the back, sometimes while biting or scratching.
  • Grabbing items from human hands.
  • Trying to grab other dogs’ treats.
  • Opening baby gates (see video below).
  • Mild toy resource guarding from Clara.
  • Mild reactivity to strange dogs and humans.
  • Humping Clara.
  • Repeatedly trying to initiate play with Clara when she doesn’t want to. This is probably our biggest ongoing problem. I should also mention that Clara does like playing with him and they play a lot!
I was trimming Clara’s toenails. I have not put him in this position again.
  • Demand barking in general.
A red and white hound mix dog wearing a harness sits on a hardwood floor and barks.
  • Finding and chewing up all sorts of things I should have put out of his reach, including the hardwood floor (which would be hard to put out of reach!).
  • Expert and ongoing countersurfing. Not just kitchen counters: every counter, dresser, desk, and table in the house. And not just for food. Even a view seems reinforcing.
A red and white hound mix dog shreds a large, raw baking potato on a mat on the floor.
He scored this raw potato and chewed up a fair amount of it before I even realized he had it
A red and white hound mix with a curled tail stands on top of a large crate
Lewis has expertise in climbing and escape
  • Asking to go outside over and over, not to eliminate but because the rest of us are just being too boring.
  • Eating dirt and acorns.

Lewis’ Needs and Emotions

Just because I wrote out the above list of behaviors from the human “problem” point of view doesn’t mean I don’t see these as what they are: Lewis expressing his natural doggy needs.

The behaviors above are either hard-wired dog behaviors, such as the scavenging-related ones and the humping, or ones that have worked in his previous environments, such as hopping along behind a person with their shirt in his mouth and clawing at their back.

As difficult as Lewis’ behaviors are for me and my household, our behaviors and constraints are at least as difficult for him.

Besides food, water, health, and safety, Lewis needs human attention, doggy companionship, love, and novelty. The ways he asks for these things are part of who he is. I am respectful of that in the ways I attempt to influence them. (This is between tearing my hair out and trying not to yell. I don’t always live up to my intentions!)

Two dogs are walking together in a yard with trees. We see them from the rear only.
I’m breaking the photography rule of “Don’t show the south end of an animal going north.” I like the companionable way Lewis and Clara are walking, though.

As for Lewis’ emotional needs: I am more accustomed to dogs whose primary difficulties center on fear. Lewis’ primary uncomfortable emotional state, per my observation, is frustration. This is new for me, but I’m giving it my best. He definitely led a life of deprivation for the 10 weeks before he came to me, and his life experience before that is unknown. My goal is for Lewis to get a lot more of what he wants and needs without 1) endangering himself; 2) hurting humans; 3) terrorizing other dogs; or 4) damaging property excessively. It’s a given that he’ll damage some property, even with my best management attempts.

In the following clip of Lewis and the Manners Minder, he frustration-barks when I ask him to lie down. I have a couple of theories about why; see what you think. He hasn’t done it in any sessions since then. This is a minor example, but frustration, and the attendant barking and throwing of behaviors, is usually right under the surface for Lewis.

Lewis shows apparent frustration when I cue him to lie down

My Training Philosophy

I want Lewis to be happy. I want him to express his dogginess in all the ways that are in keeping with my four caveats above (not hurting himself, humans, or other dogs, or damaging much property). So I am in a paradoxical situation. I have to limit some natural and learned behaviors while I try to satiate his need to express himself and satisfy himself in dog activities. This is, of course, a normal paradox for those of us who live with dogs. But because of his previous deprivation, it’s extreme with Lewis.

I believe in training dogs. I wouldn’t always have felt the need to say that. But there are trends, even among professional trainers, that are actually anti-training. I understand this as a response to the common tendency to over train and over-control dogs’ lives. I do not understand it as an achievable primary goal with all dogs. There are some dogs who fit into the human world easily and naturally. I think there are more like Lewis, who need to be taught ways to get what they want without hurting themselves or others.

When I look at the list I wrote above, I wonder how I could address those issues without training. For instance, the pestering of Clara. It seems to me my choices are:

  1. Let him do it and ruin Clara’s life for the near future.
  2. Prevent him with a leash, barriers, and constant supervision.
  3. Somehow teach him different behaviors with her. Or teach her. She doesn’t tell him “No” convincingly. But anything besides positive interruption of him, which I already do, is likely beyond my skill level.
  4. Teach him that going into a crate or ex pen or even another room with a nice chew object and being alone there for a short period is pleasant. Ask him to do that when he is ramped up in a loop of bothering Clara.

Right now I am doing #2 (barriers, a tether, and constant supervision) while I work slowly on #4. I don’t know any acceptable long-term solutions except training. But this training is not obedience-based. It’s heavy on classical conditioning because I don’t want him to hang out in a crate just because he has to; I want it to be pleasant for him. I want Lewis to be happy.

Progress

I’ll use the list above as a framework for future posts. I’ll fill in links to the follow-up posts as I address the issues. I have already gotten a good start on one (door behaviors) and linked back to it above in the list.

P.S. My dear friend who also lives with Lewis just pointed out that I didn’t mention that Lewis is good-natured, sweet, a love-bug, and a lot of fun. More posts on that in the future!

Related Posts

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy

Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy

What are the first things to train a puppy? I’ve seen so many lists. Behaviors at the door rarely make the top five because there are so many other important things! But I work on doors early on because I’ve always had a household with multiple dogs. My dogs need to learn how to respond to my traffic direction. This is something I take entirely for granted until there is a new dog in the house. Whoops! I make the smooth “go ahead” motion with my hand, indicating to the pup to go ahead into the next space (room, crate, outside) and get a blank look. Or, in Lewis’ case, a gleeful leap to grab my hand or sleeve. Yay, this must be a tug game!

Continue reading “Out and In: Door Training with My Puppy”
Puppy New Year!

Puppy New Year!

Meet Lewis, the newest member of my family. He arrived Tuesday, December 28, 2021.

I wish I had time to write about all the things I am learning about this sweet boy, but—adolescent puppy in da house! I barely have time to take a shower!

Lewis’ History

Lewis is eight months old, a mixed breed who obviously has plenty of hound in him. I got him from Out of the Woods Rescue here in Arkansas.

Continue reading “Puppy New Year!”
6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

firecracker exploding in the air with lots of orange sparks

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to start worrying about it! You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do today.

1. Check with your vet about medications
If your dog gets very anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so now. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. And if you can’t get in before the holiday, do your best with some of the other ideas here to get through it and call your vet as soon as you can. This is a long-term problem. Sound phobias tend to get worse and are not something to be taken lightly.

Continue reading “6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW”
If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now

“What are we here for this time?”

Every year I post an article that lists last-minute things you can do to help your dog who is afraid of fireworks. We are coming up on New Year’s Day, and that means bangs and booms. Over the years, I have tweaked my list. I’ll be posting it tomorrow.

But here is an earlier reminder with the most important tip of all.

Continue reading “If Your Dog Is Afraid of Fireworks, Contact Your Vet Now”
Clara’s Intermediate Trick Dog Title: Three-Minute & Three-Month Behaviors

Clara’s Intermediate Trick Dog Title: Three-Minute & Three-Month Behaviors

Hurray for Clara: we got her Intermediate Trick title from Do More With Your Dog this week. It got me thinking (surprise!). We had the beginnings of a lot of the tricks already from previous work. Am I achieving my goal of widening her palette of behaviors?

Foundations

Even if you are a sloppy trainer like me, if you’ve done a lot of training over the years and built some foundations, you can often sit down and train something new quickly. Sue Ailsby calls this training “three-minute behaviors.” And truly, a couple of the new tricks took only a few minutes.

Jumping a baton was one of those. Clara knows a hand target, and she knows a 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe means jump. (If I had used a piece of dowel, she would have bitten it instead!) The hand target is allowed, so I sat down and targeted her over the bar and gave my “jump” verbal. I mentioned in a previous post that she, alone among my dogs, responds to the verbal. My agility dogs never needed to learn it. She probably didn’t need it either, in this situation. But I included it because I’m a word-oriented human.

Anyway, I could have fancied up the trick. I could have taught Clara to jump the bar back and forth without a hand target, as a chain, or with repeated verbals. But that would have taken a long time for very little gain. Plus, she’s 10 years old and doesn’t need to do a lot of repetitive activity.

I’ll come back to the “How solid do I want to get the trick?” question in the ethics section below. I’ll just say here that getting behavior is by far the easiest part of training for me.

This isn’t from the clip I submitted, but she is so cute holding the orange donut!

The hardest trick in this batch was the hold of an object. Luckily, I struggled through teaching a hold first with Summer. God knows how long it took, since teaching the hold was new to me, and it’s difficult. Hint: if you’ve never done this, the hard part is teaching them not to drop it when you reach your hands toward it. Oh no, wait, it’s getting that first duration hold out of a grab. Or maybe getting them not to chew it. And, and.

Clara and I progressed faster, but we still took some months. That was years ago, and I have kept the hold alive as a foundation for other behaviors. So that was easy to perform and record even though it’s a hard behavior.

“Directional casting” was another three-minute behavior with months of invisible work behind it. The trick instructions are:

Dog will be sent by handler to one of 2 or more platforms or low marks. Handler should show dog being sent to at least two platforms in a row. Platforms should be spaced 3–4 feet (~1–1.2m) apart. This trick is about showing the dog understanding and responding to directional cues and not as focused on the platforms.

Practicing a directed retrieve

This is probably easy to train with only two platforms. I say “probably” because I didn’t have to train it. I have worked on a directed retrieve with Clara on and off for years and more seriously this year. She started to “get it” in the spring and I have been generalizing and proofing.

The directed retrieve generalized beautifully to the directed “go to place.”

Finally, Clara had never done jump wraps before, but that was a three-minute behavior too. A benefit of growing up in an agility household.

Matching Law

You expected this section, right?

I don’t like how we performed one of the tricks, but I let it go. It’s the figure 8s around my legs. I don’t like our rendition because I must cue with both my hands and my legs. I feel like a squirming mess to get her to do the behavior. But the person on the demo video for the trick uses both, so I figured my excessive body English would be OK.

We used to have the figure 8s with leg cues only. I messed around with that trick years ago. But leg movement now means something else for Clara: peekaboo. These days, if I move my legs apart, she will get between them and stay. Matching law! I have a verbal cue for peekaboo but not for the figure 8s. So I added the hand cues to the figure 8s for clarity. But I find it inelegant. I love seeing the freestyle dogs do that behavior with no repeated physical cues (that I can see) from the handler.

In another life, maybe. I sat on my trick submission video for about two weeks because I didn’t like how that behavior looked. But I can’t get it clean until I get peekaboo completely on verbal cue. Right now she still cues off my legs for that, with the verbal cue at the probable level of “lady says something when I’m behind her and she’s holding her legs in a certain way.” So squirmy figure 8s it is!

So here is our trick title video. The behaviors are peekaboo (while walking), directional casting, shake hands, fetch-to-hand, figure 8s around the legs, barrel racing (“fly”), baton jumping, target mark (run to a flat target and lie down on it), hold an object five seconds, stay out of sight 20 seconds, jump wraps, and close the door (drawer).

Ethics

My goals with the trick training are 1) enrichment for Clara; 2) get out of a rut and train some new behaviors; and 3) improve my skills.

I noticed that even though I made a goal to train new stuff, I chose mostly behaviors related to things we already knew. It is so easy to focus on numbers: do enough tricks to get the title! But I’ve pushed back. I’ve also picked new things: rolling out the carpet, biscuit on the nose, and peekaboo in its different versions. Also, opening a drawer, although it didn’t make it into the video because of an execution detail.

With a video submission, if all you want is the title, you can take shortcuts. Do as many takes as you want and use the one out of 20 or more that meets criteria. People do that in public competitions as well, of course. In my agility days, I remember seeing trainers whose dogs were not solidly trained, but they had advanced to the excellent level because the people had the means to go to trial after trial until they had lucked into enough qualifying runs. They were competing above their level.

Closing a drawer was easy because of the targeting exercises we did in the Training Levels

I had this in the back of my mind as I chose, worked on, and recorded tricks. The rules state only that the dog has to do the trick and meet criteria, not that it has to be proofed or even put on cue solidly. This is not a public activity; videoing tricks allows you to curate what you show of your training and your results. I wanted to be fair. But many of these tricks were not things I needed to put on cue and get solid.

I submitted clips that were a little above our actual skill level for only a couple of tricks. One was target stick, believe it or not, but only because I used a stick she wanted to bite. A fit of perfectionism on my part that didn’t work out. So even though I turned in a fairly lucky clip of this novice trick where she bopped the end of the stick correctly several times and didn’t bite the ball at the end, I felt the clip fairly represented her ability to touch a target stick. She has been targeting all her life. I picked a hard target stick, then decided the discrimination (don’t bite the enticing ball instead) wasn’t worth the time. I could have switched to an easier stick and gotten a billion targets, but I went with a recording in which she was just learning not to bite the tricky stick.

Another trick I kind of rushed through was “shaking hands.” She had this behavior from husbandry tasks, but I had never alternated feet. I trained enough that she could do this, recorded it, and will probably never ask her to do that again. She changes feet fluently enough when we do nail trims and that’s enough for me.

On the other hand, we worked methodically on the peekaboo/walking trick because it’s important to me. I want to train her to get in that position out in the world when we encounter something challenging for her. And I’ve only started to get three puppy pushups, though the time when that trick would count has passed. We still work on them!

I’ve let my conscience be my guide. I’ve taken the challenges that interest me and only pushed through “for the camera” a couple times, with reasons I hope are decent enough.

Next Time

I’ve realized it’s more interesting for people if I show my method and our progress, warts and all, rather than presenting a finished video and discussing it. So I think that’s what I will do next.

And regarding “warts and all,” here’s a video of two bloopers. The tricks are to run around a tree (our cue for counterclockwise is “away”), and go lie on a flat target. I’ve sent Clara around things forever, but I had never done it from that angle with the tree, and I didn’t have her complete attention. The lying on the flat target problem is self-evident and cute. Clara is delightful.

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Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

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