Tag: tugging

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.

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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

Puppies Need an Off Switch! (Puppy Lesson Four)

Puppies Need an Off Switch! (Puppy Lesson Four)

So how many of you with puppies out there wish sometimes that you could flip a switch to turn them off, just for a little bit? Catch your breath, do the dishes, sit down for just a minute?

I have it on pretty good authority that most of the puppies would also appreciate having an off switch, too! Just as human babies can get all wound up without knowing how to come down on their own, puppies get overwound too.

Some of the advice that gets passed around is off the mark.  Owners of high-energy dogs are told to exercise them more and more to burn off the energy. Every time the dog leaves the house it’s for a rousing run or play time. While stimulation and exercise are vitally important, taken by themselves, they can actually exacerbate the problem of being wound up. The dog rehearses a pattern of arousal.

That’s why learning to relax and settle is an important life skill. Marge is really good at teaching it, in my opinion. She teaches “relax” as a behavior, just like teaching sit, down and come. And it’s a win/win for puppy and caregiver.

Black and white parti-colored Portuguese Water Dog puppy in a bright blue plastic kid's pool. The dog is on his stomach with his back legs stretched out straight behind him.
Zip takes relaxation to a whole new level

Resources

There are many, many resources for this. A lot of what Marge does with her dogs, including what you will see with Zip, is from the work of Leslie McDevitt (Control Unleashed, Control Unleashed– The Puppy Program, Control Unleashed Seminar DVD) and Dr. Karen Overall.

Lots of other trainers have methods for teaching this behavior, too.  Sue Ailsby teaches it in her Training Levels program.  Nan Arthur has a method in Chill Out Fido, Laura VanArendonk Baugh has a whole book about it, and Emily Larlham has some videos. I have some resources here in the blog as well. You can search the blog under “1,000 Treats” to see Clara’s progress in relaxation. 

The goal of all of these methods is far beyond just getting the dog to stay still. It is to teach the dog to chill out and relax.

From Practice to the Real World

Being able to recover and think through increasing levels of arousal can be taught. Most people play with their dogs and puppies without breaks. But breaks allow the puppy to reset, and to learn how to transition between different states of excitement and arousal. They also can keep the pup from going over the top. 

In the movie, you will first see Zip relaxing in a non-challenging situation. Then Marge transitions him back and forth between relaxing and getting up to play.  Marge works with lots of puppy owners, and has them start with play increments of 5 seconds (one banana, 2 banana, up to 5.). Reset/relax, then start again. Gradually increase duration and difficulty.

At 1:06, watch Zip’s right front leg. He is not just lying down; he is relaxing his muscles. Later you can see him also change his breathing when asked to relax. I’ve watched the movie several times, and keep seeing other aspects of the relaxation.  In the last tug session, between the 2:00 and 3:00 minute marks, Zip is growling–a symptom of high arousal for him. You can see how hard he has to work to control himself when Marge asks him to release the tug and relax. “Ohhhh I wanna bite that shoe……but I won’t.” This is yet another version of impulse control.

Take note as well, how Marge reinforces Zip for the relaxed behavior. She is using food rewards, delivered with soft body language right to his mouth. Nothing active, no tossing treats. This is in contrast to the active play with the toy during the “up” states.

The final part of the movie shows a real world application. You can’t see it in the movie, but while Zip is chilling on the floor at the animal hospital, there are two very active toddlers and another dog nearby. This is where you can see yet another benefit of playing tug with a puppy (with a rule structure such as Marge uses).  Environmental stressors can also bring about an aroused state. A dog doesn’t have to be jumping around to get over-excited. But playing tug has helped Zip learn how to “come down” from that state, and his lessons carry over beautifully to the new environment.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

 Just like last time, this is another lesson on how to teach a puppy not to do something using positive reinforcement-based training. Notice all the things Zip is not doing?

  • Biting
  • Running around screaming
  • Stealing the toy and running away
  • Leaping up to investigate the other dog or the kids at the vet

All because Marge has “filled in the blanks” with desirable behaviors, and is teaching Zip at a very young age how to calm down.

How about you all? Does your puppy have an off switch? Also, any guesses about Lesson Five? Because we have left out something BIG!

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Marge’s Channel on YouTube: Subscribe and see Zip’s next lesson!

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Impulse Control. Impulse Control. Impulse Control. (Puppy Lesson Three)

Impulse Control. Impulse Control. Impulse Control. (Puppy Lesson Three)

OK, wait a doggone minute! How is it that in Zip’s last lesson, I was being all poetic about how the behaviors didn’t matter all that much, but all of a sudden we are zeroing in on just one thing? And it sounds so…cold! How did we get there? Does this mean that Marge has given up on bonding and positive reinforcement and creating fun for her puppy (and rainbows and fairies while we’re at it)?

Of course not! What Marge has done is make learning impulse control a win/win situation. With good teaching of impulse control (including what people call “Leave It,” “Zen,” or “It’s Yer Choice,”) dogs learn that when they control themselves around stuff they want, they can get even better stuff! As Sue Ailsby says:

It’s not my job to control the animal. It’s the animal’s job to control herself. It’s my job to put the animal in a situation where she can learn what I want her to know as quickly and easily as possible.

Sue calls it Zen, since the way to get the thing is to leave the thing alone. It’s just something else to learn, and Zip has already had many lessons in “learning is fun!”.

Zip on rug

That Puppy Sure Sits a Lot!

For a puppy that didn’t have any formal training sessions on “sit” Zip sure sits a lot. How did that happen? While Marge may not have done any training sessions on “sit,” she was still teaching Zip to sit by reinforcing that behavior when he offered it. Since, as Marge would say, Rewarded Behavior Continues, Zip started sitting more. When barking doesn’t work to get out of a pen, he’ll try sitting and will get rewarded (you can see this in the movie). If dashing towards the door doesn’t work, he’ll try sitting. That’s how highly reinforced behaviors can start to fill in the blanks. I love seeing puppies put two and two together and try it out, like Zip does.

Having default, highly reinforced behaviors are one of the lovely things about positive reinforcement training. At first, when teaching impulse control, any behavior but lunging toward the desired object or goal is usually reinforced. But soon, the trainer can select out of these other behaviors that she has already been reinforcing what she’d like to have. You can see that Marge is building in eye contact and a general orientation to her in all these situations, as well as sitting.

By the way, one of the reasons Marge hasn’t done any formal “sit” training is because she wants to teach Zip a “tuck” sit and just hasn’t gotten around to it.  Zip turns 10 weeks old today. She has plenty of time.

What Do They Practice?

So, what did Marge show us in Lesson 3? Zip is working on impulse control in the following ways:

  • Waiting for permission to grab the tug toy. Getting the permission by looking at Marge.
  • Staying away from food in Marge’s hand (at puppy level). Getting the food by looking at Marge.
  • Being quiet in his pen when Marge approaches.
  • Sitting quietly to get his leash put on (see, she is teaching sit, but she still has yet to say the word!)
  • Waiting to go out the door. Getting permission by looking at Marge.
  • Reorienting to Marge after they go out the door together.

Not only is he learning to control his impulses, he is learning to look to Marge when he wants something. A huge part of impulse control is focus on the handler. And Marge has been building that since Day 1.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Using Positive Reinforcement to Teach the Dog Not to Do Something

So many of us came to dog training because our dogs had behavior problems. We wanted them to Stop. Doing. That. And that is also one of the main questions that people ask about positive reinforcement based training: how to you teach a dog not to do something? Today’s whole movie, plus the two before it, do exactly that, but you have to know what to watch for. When you increase some behaviors, some others decrease without a whole lot of work. Some of the things that Zip is learning not to do are:

  • Lunge for the toy
  • Run off with the toy (since Marge has made herself the entertainment center–and also because the toy has a handle on it!)
  • Help himself to food without permission
  • Jump around when Marge puts his leash on
  • Run out the door without permission
  • Go nuts once he gets outside
  • And countless other behaviors that humans do not prefer!

All without a harsh word, a stern look, being forced into a position or held in place, or any kind of physical punishment.

How do you teach your dog about impulse control?

Zip holding tug

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The Second Thing To Teach Your Puppy

The Second Thing To Teach Your Puppy

A lot of people have enjoyed seeing what my friend Marge Rogers decided to teach her puppy first.   She taught Zip (and continues to teach him) that she is FUN. So I asked her what she was going to teach him second. (I love to watch her training, too!)

She said, “Now I’m going to teach him that learning is fun.”

Teaching a Dog that Learning is Fun

Why would this be so important that Marge would embark on it so early on? Doesn’t she need to train Zip how to behave acceptably?

First, we need to shake the notion that training is something we do to the dog. It is something we do with the dog. Then, it wouldn’t hurt to drop the “obedience” model from the back of our minds. With positive reinforcement-based training, we can get something better than obedience. We can build a joyful, trusting partnership between two species, and along the way we can ease our dog’s path into the weird human world.

And right along with that:  Using aversives in training is known to inhibit learningIf you went to math class and the teacher hit you over the head with a ruler every time you got the answer wrong, you could still learn math.  It probably wouldn’t be your favorite subject and you probably wouldn’t learn it as fast as you would if you enjoyed it.

What if, instead, the teacher valued above all that the student be happy, relaxed, and enjoying himself, and did all in her power to make that happen? This is not only humane and kind, but also very practical. If Zip is “in the game,” if he and Marge are partners, he will value the game. She can help him build resiliency. If at some point she makes mistakes or gives unclear information, he’ll keep trying.  And that’s where we see that the partnership works both ways. Zip will teach Marge to formulate training plans, improve observation skills,  and work through timing errors.

Marge goes so far as to say, “At this stage, the behaviors I’m teaching him don’t really matter.” Wow. So obviously true, yet so radical.

What she wants, what she values, and what she is building: an eager student.

A dog can learn a behavior at any age if he has the physical skills to do it and the trainer has the mechanical skills to teach it. That’s why the lesson right now is two-way communication.

If learning is fun for him, Marge can teach him anything.

Zip holding tug large

What Do They Practice?

So, what did Marge show us in Lesson 2? Keep in mind that the actual behaviors they work on are less important that the growing partnership. But I know some of you will be curious about some of what they do, so here is a list with short explanations.

  • Name training. She is teaching him that hearing his name predicts something great. He is learning to shift his attention immediately to her when he hears his name.  The name game builds a positive classical association to hearing his name and to her, and also builds a recall.
  • Puppy retrieve (with optional somersaults!). What all is this good for? Let us count the ways. It is an interactive, cooperative game.  It’s great for exercise: it drains the dog’s tank, but not the owner’s.  It’s a great interaction for kids and dogs. Also, Zip is rehearsing returning to her and releasing things to her. Deposits into those “Let Go of Stuff” and “Return to Me” accounts are always good!
  • Impulse control. Just about all of life with dogs boils down to impulse control, doesn’t it?  Many “good dog” behaviors share the principles of that exercise: do not help yourself to things you want. Look at your person when there’s something you want.  Do it in the face of distractions (starting with a food distraction).
  • Turns. Those are some agility moves Marge is making, and they teach some nice lessons. Prime among them are moving with Marge, turning, and switching seamlessly from being on Marge’s left to her right. For many of us, the days of teaching our dogs to walk exclusively on the left side are long gone.
  • Perch work. This is for both hind end awareness and strength. It will help in sports, everyday coordination, and tight turns for competition heeling. Plus cool stuff like a “tuck sit” as you can see at the end of this short video.
  • Hand targeting. Hand targeting teaches puppies that hands near their face are a good thing.  It teaches them to use their nose on hands instead of puppy teeth.  It is a foundation behavior for a recall. The dog is at point A, and you want them with you at point B: use a hand target.  Marge says it is a great way to start a training dialogue.
  • Experiencing new things. Just like in Lesson 1, Marge is continuing to introduce Zip to new things. Can you see that she has made it more challenging?  Dogs are great discriminators, and as they get older are quick to categorize things as abnormal and scary if they haven’t seen them before. So the more surprising and rare stuff she can show Zip, as long as it happens with good associations, the better. What she shows in the movie is the tip of the iceberg. She is taking him every day for different levels of observation of and interaction with the world.
  • Conditioning praise. Did you hear all the utterances of “Good boy good boy good boy”? This is not just filler. Dogs find repeated sound stimulating.  You’ll hear that kind of  repetition from many good trainers when they are having an exciting fun time with their dogs. But also: how many times in his life is Zip going to hear “good boy” and get a treat or special play? Answer: a lot. Marge is also conditioning praise as a secondary reinforcer. If she keeps it conditioned well, the phrase by itself will gain some reinforcing power. This is another foundation she is laying down in their training relationship.

What About Sit, Down, and Stay?

Zip profile 2Have you noticed the absence of certain behaviors that many of us are brought up to believe are the absolute foundation of proper dog behavior? How come Marge hasn’t taught Zip to sit or lie down, or stay on cue?

[8/26/14 Edited to remove a comparison with traditional training that wasn’t quite accurate. Thanks, reader S.T.] It’s not really that she isn’t reinforcing sit and down. They are some of the many behaviors of his that she is capturing and reinforcing in contexts. She is putting money in the bank for later. She has Zip’s whole life to teach him specific behaviors and put them on cue. Now is the time to establish a bond, show him that certain things pay off bigtime, to reinforce a large variety of desirable behaviors in an informal way; to teach him that learning and trying stuff aren’t scary. This will give Zip a palette of behaviors to default to in life situations. Sit and down are definitely in the palette, and a tiny puppy “stay” is developing as she waits a little longer and holds eye contact a little longer. And the more of these good behaviors he knows, the less time Marge will have to spend diminishing undesirable ones.

And the verbal cue thing? Believe it or not, you really don’t need word cues at this point. Zip has already picked up situational cues to do certain things. Dogs are geniuses at this; so good at it that we don’t even notice it half the time. We think they know a verbal cue but they are really reading the situation. Zip is already developing a default sit (you can see that in the impulse control section), eye contact, and can walk nicely on a leash.  A word is just a label. There will be time for that.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Have you shown your puppy or dog that learning is fun? (And what do you think Marge’s next lesson will be?)

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P.S. Editorial remark: I’m so glad Marge didn’t say she’s “teaching Zip how to learn.” I’ve always thought that was a very human-centric thing to say. Animals already know how to learn. Many of our problems come from the fact that they learn stuff that we don’t want them to.  Marge is teaching Zip how to be her dog, have fun with her, communicate with her, solve problems, and be happy in a human world. And with her gradual challenges, she is helping him develop his brain power.

The First Thing To Teach Your Puppy

The First Thing To Teach Your Puppy

My friend Marge has a new puppy, Zip, a Portuguese Water Dog. I just love what she decided to teach him first.

Marge is a professional trainer. Depending on Zip’s interest and aptitude, he may eventually be able to to help her in her business as a neutral dog, play therapy dog, or uncle dog. He’ll be introduced to a variety of fun dog sports. I think I heard whispers about agility as well as water dog sports. All these are possibilities, of course. No matter what his temperament, health, and inclinations, he will always be a beloved family pet.

Seaworthy's Won Direction "Zip"
Seaworthy’s Won Direction “Zip”

Marge said, “Do you know what the first thing I’m going to teach him is?” I didn’t know, but I figured it would be good.

“I’m going to teach him that I’m FUN.”

I have to say that was not what I expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

That first lesson accomplishes so many things.

  • It sets the tone for a lifetime bond.
  • It associates Marge with terrific things. Most of us get strong associations with food with our dogs. That happens almost automatically if we train with food, and if we are careful how and when we feed. (See my article “Double Your Money” in the Spring 2014 issue of BARKS magazine, page 19.) But in addition to being the provider of food, Marge is setting herself up as the entertainment center in her pup’s life. Via classical conditioning, she is building an association with herself to joy as well as nurturance.
  • Zip’s play with her is something he can learn to “take on the road.”
  • The behaviors that happen in the play (little proto behaviors that will be built on for skills later) get imbued with the fun–more classical conditioning.
  • Finally, fun and anxiety are mutually exclusive. Play creates a joyful world.

Marge’s lesson would not be appropriate–as a first lesson anyway– for every dog. She’s got a well bred, confident, socialized puppy (of a social breed, no less). She picked the sassy one of the litter. When we get a dog with a suboptimal or unknown history (Marge has had plenty of rescues too, I might add), the first lesson we often need to teach the dog is some version of  “You are safe.” Or “I won’t be mean to you.” Or, “We’ll always go at your speed; I won’t force you.” Those things look a bit different. What you see Marge doing in the video is appropriate for a confident, dare I say “pushy,” little guy.

But even with our fearful dogs, the sooner we can get some  joyful fun in their lives, the better. And the more I think about it, the more similar the approaches are. Whether you are showing the pup a rollicking good time or giving him a place to feel safe, you are prioritizing his emotional state over mere skills or obedience.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Do you see all the sub-lessons in the movie, all the bricks that Marge is laying for Zip’s future skills?

  • Zip is getting experience on stable and unstable surfaces, including a metal surface.
  • Zip is climbing through things that touch his legs.
  • He’s getting to put different things in his mouth and getting an outlet to chew and be mouthy.
  • He’s experiencing things that make sudden noises.
  • He is learning to tug.
  • He is learning to release and trade.
  • He is learning a puppy retrieve.
  • He’s learning that Marge will direct him to things that are OK to play with. (Did you notice that there is only one “real” dog toy in the whole video?)
  • He is learning to come when called.
  • He is learning to settle down and to be handled.

All this in a few minutes of play with a really fun lady.

Small tan puppy with black muzzle and tail looking up at camera
Clara on the day she arrived (about 10 weeks old)

I’m trying to remember the first things I taught Clara. In a four dog household, I think one of the first lessons was, “This is how you can happily fit into the group.” But I also taught her “You are safe with me.” (Actually I just remembered: The very very first thing I taught Clara was, “I have spray cheese, the ambrosia of your world.”)

I didn’t set about using play cleverly like Marge. Frankly, I let Zani babysit Clara a lot, since I was really in over my head with a geriatric dog, a reactive dog, and then a feral puppy, most of them incompatible with each other. If Clara and I hadn’t had such a strong bond, all that babysitting could have been a bad idea. Luckily Clara is up for just about any kind of fun with me, and has always played any kind of game I offered with enthusiasm. But I do wish I had been as deliberate as Marge in setting the stage for a playful relationship with Clara. Even more so with Zani, a born party girl.

I’ll remember for next time: there are some things that are even more important than sit and down. Build the relationship. Then the skills will likely be a piece of cake.

What was the first thing you taught your puppy or new dog?

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

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.

Continue reading “7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog”
Play with Your Dog: For Research

Play with Your Dog: For Research

Clara flirtpole waiting

Alexandra Horowitz and her Dog Cognition Lab are investigating play between dogs and people. So was there ever a more fun way to participate in a research study?

Clara flirt pole still

For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Horowitz, she wrote a great book called “Inside of a Dog.” She is also the one who authored the study that demonstrated that dogs’ appeasement behaviors after being scolded have no relationship to whether they did the deed in question.

So here’s the link to the new research study on play. Let’s all flock on over there and submit videos!

Dog-human Play Study

The hard part for me was choosing what game to play. But Clara’s current passion for the flirtpole is such fun, even though our releases need a little work. Ahem.

Our submission is below. There’s a time limit of 60 seconds, so that’s why it ends pretty abruptly. It was actually our 5th session of the day. I had cut my head out of the first several takes. She is moving more slowly by this time, but still In the Game for sure.

I hope lots of people participate. I can’t wait to see what comes of the study.

Imminent post: Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking

ADDENDUM, 12/20/12

At the request of a couple of friends, here is more of Clara with the flirtpole. This is a session earlier in the day than the one we sent to Dr. Horowitz’ study, and Clara is very very excited. She also outsmarts me to get the toy back.

Enjoy!

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